The real deal on great airfares

FRESNO, Calif.

Not so fast. When you try to snag a great airfare online, sometimes it can vanish into thin air. That's what Consumer Reports' shopping expert, Tod Marks, found when he investigated how to cut the cost of flying. Tod said, "You see a lot of airfare deals out there that sound great. But hidden fees, fine print, and blackout dates can make locking in a great deal as tricky as a soft landing in turbulence."

For example, Travelocity had a "deal" on a roundtrip flight from Philadelphia to London for $277. Once you book, it actually costs almost $666.

Spirit Airlines promotes flights that cost as a little as $9. But to qualify you have to join its $9 club, which costs around $60, and you also may be subject to a lot of additional fees, including up to $45 for each piece of checked luggage, up to $40 dollars per carry-on, and $1 to $199 dollars for a reserved a seat.

There are ways to get a good great deal on a flight. Tod said, "Ideally, you want to book in advance, and never within two weeks of travel. For domestic flights, start looking three and a half months before you fly out."

And take advantage of alerts that many airlines and travel sites let you set up to track fares. And time your purchase! Experts tell Tod that there is a best time to book -- 3 PM Eastern Standard Time on a Tuesday. Believe it or not, that's when the greatest number of discount seats hit the market.

Other money-saving moves -- Consumer Reports says don't skip looking at airline sites, in addition to third-party ones like Expedia, Kayak, and Priceline. And don't assume discount carriers are the cheapest. Major carriers can't afford to be more expensive than low-price operators because that lands them a lower listing in search engine results.

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