The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets? It's Not So Simple Anymore

The days are growing shorter. The candy aisles grow larger and the Halloween costume pop-up stores occupy all the vacant storefronts. That can only mean one thing -- the holidays are around the corner and it's time for travel. First we'll go over the woods to Grandmother's House and then we'll be planning our Caribbean getaways in the depths of the tundra that is February.

There's a lot of information out there about the best time to buy plane tickets. The collective common knowledge Lifehacker says that Tuesdays at 3 p.m. Eastern and two months out from the date of travel is the ideal time to snag the lowest fares. However, it's not that simple anymore. Here are a number of other considerations to make when shopping around for flights to your next great escape.

Social media deals
It pays to follow airlines on their social media channels and through their email newsletter sign ups. Airlines such as JetBlue  (NASDAQ: JBLU  ) and Southwest  (NYSE: LUV  ) offer travel deals to their followers and subscribers that are not advertised to the general public.

For example, last year JetBlue offered a Go Pack -- an "all you can fly" up to 10 one-way flights deal between select cities for one flat price for three months. Other airlines have toyed with similar deals. They are not advertised in traditional ways and instead are reported through travel blogs, social media, and e-blasts. These channels also advertise cheap last-minute deals for those who can and/or want to jet to a new destination on a whim.

Go to the source
Flight shopping aggregator sites like Kayak.com and AirFastTickets.com are great for scanning many flights on a wide range of carriers. However, they're only baselines.

When you find a flight that matches your needs, quickly walk your fingers over to the airline's website to look for the same flight. Many times airlines make the flights on their websites slightly cheaper than what they offer on aggregator sites.

Want to really take it to the lower limit? Nomadic Matt, the king of travel hackers, has been known to shop for flights in other currencies via the international websites of popular airlines to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities. That might sound crazy, though Matt is a guy who travels around the world many times over with travel costs close to zero.

Airline alert sign ups
Ever wish you could set some kind of web alarm to alert you the moment a given fare drops? AirfareWatchdog.com is the answer to your travel prayers. Set your alerts and get back to planning the fun parts of your travel.

AirfareWatchdog.com will do the tedious task of finding your best deals for you. Many sites also offer low-fare guarantees so that if you find the same flight you purchased through them at a lower price, you will receive a refund of the difference.

Break out the travel crystal ball
How many times have you thought, "I wish I knew if this fare was going to drop or if I should snap it up now"? Though not a perfect science, many sites such as Bing Travel have price predictors that tell if the price of the fare you're looking at will hold steady, drop or, rise. Think of this nifty tool as help from the dealer at the travel blackjack table.

Put it all together
If you have two months of lead time and are available to be in front of a computer at precisely 3 p.m. Eastern on a Tuesday, by all means see what you can find. If your life makes this set of circumstances difficult, don't despair. This doesn't make you destined to pay outrageous sums for airline tickets.

What's true at the gym is also true in the case of airline tickets: work smarter, not harder. Follow your favorite airlines through social media for inside deals and last-minute sales.

Once you purchase a ticket, set up an alert to track the fare so you can claim your partial refund if the fare goes down before you take to the friendly skies. Before buying a ticket, find out what a couple of predictive airfare sites say about the likely not-to-distant-future price of the ticket.

With a bit of homework, a lot of automated monitoring, and a keen sense of adventure, the sky really is the limit.

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