It's Time To Start Watching For Deals On Summer Air Travel

As spring break fast approaches, we are seeing deals left and right, so if you are looking for a trip you need to act fast. It's another matter if you are wondering when to buy summer travel. Remember the saying that patience is a virtue, because if you buy too early, you will likely overpay.

The airlines are slowly extending their travel dates during sales as we move closer to summer. In January, most of the airline sales we saw were for travel through March 10, then we started to see deals for travel through May 26 — but Florida destinations were blacked out for travel beyond March 10. The next airfare-sale move still gave us travel through May 26, but opened up travel to Florida for April and May. During the past couple of weeks, we have seen AirTran extend sales through June 9, and Southwest offer sale fares for travel through June 24, so we are starting to see early summer deals. In the coming weeks, most sales will continue to be for travel in April and May, but be on the lookout for sale fares for travel in June, July and August as we approach mid-March.

Eighty percent of sales start on Tuesday, so if you want to nab a good deal, you have to check each week. I like to look around 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and also on Wednesdays, so I can see my options after other carriers have had a chance to match. The cheapest days to travel are usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays and often Saturdays, but not always. Southwest recently had a sale that offered cheap fares Monday through Thursday, but Friday through Sunday fares were much higher.

So that you'll know a deal when you see one, you should get a pad of paper and jot down the fares for your destination during sales in the next few weeks for travel in April and May, and then look at what it would cost you for travel in July. A week ago during a sale, the cheapest nonstop fare from Dallas to New York for travel through June 9 was $229 with taxes and fees, but the fare for travel in July was $469 with taxes and fees. That's a $240 difference.

Once we start seeing more summer dates included in sales, July fares may not be as cheap as spring fares, so if you see summer fares for up to $40 more, you should buy them. For example, a $269 round-trip fare from Dallas to New York would be a pretty good deal for summer travel, especially when you compare it with the $469 fare we recently saw. This strategy of tracking fares for spring sales to get a better idea of summer deals applies to almost any destination in the 48 contiguous states.

If you want to go to sun-and-fun destinations such as Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean, you'll save a considerable amount by traveling midweek. Airfares with departures on Friday or Saturday can be $100 to $500 higher than Tuesday and Wednesday travel. You can save up to $1,000 per couple by leaving and returning midweek.

If summer fares to your destination are high, you don't have anything to lose by waiting for sales. Once you get 60 days out from your travel date, you can start sweating, but for now, relax, put your feet up, enjoy your Sunday paper and look for those sales.