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Here's how to beat system, save money

Bags are checked in at curbside at Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Thursday, May 22, 2008. Higher fares and new fees are irritating air travelers, but airlines still can't raise money or cut flights fast enough to cover ever-higher fuel prices. (AP Photo/Mike Derer)

There are ways to reduce your summer vacation costs; but being proactive, flexible and creative are key, travel experts say.

BestFares Chief Executive Officer Tom Parsons notes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, airlines sometimes hold airfare sales, but he advises consumers not to book first thing in the morning. Wait until around 4 p.m. to see if any other airlines will match the sales, he said.

To make sure you don’t miss out on any sales, sign up for all the free air fare alerts, and check for deals on Twitter, said George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com.

“If you want the most convenient flight times, the air fares are really high, so if you want to save money, you have to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday,” Hobica added.

And you may need to consider booking “the 6 a.m. flights, the flights that people don’t want to take,” and that includes red eye flights, he said.

“If you see a price that fits within you budget, take it,” said AAA Chicago spokesman Beth Mosher. “Prices are more apt to go up than they are to come down.”

Kayak spokeswoman Jessica Casano-Antonellis says there’s often a “sweet spot for domestic travel booking four to six weeks prior to travel. We see the prices hit a low during this time period and recommend searching for the best deals then.

“For international travel, when you know your dates, the sooner you book the better because prices will likely only increase.”

If you can travel in late August and September, air fares will be lower because children will be back in school, said Parsons. He also advises consumers to check prices out of all nearby airports and consider various means of getting to your destination. He noted for example, for those looking to travel to Toronto, this summer, round trip air fare from Chicago is about $500. But the flight to Buffalo is running $198. Travelers could take the train to Toronto from Buffalo, reducing costs, he said, adding, “Sometimes you’ve got to be a little creative.”

Here are some other cost-savings tips from travel experts:

*If you plan to drive, take advantage of online tools to find the cheapest gas stations along your route and figure out in advance how much gas will cost you. You may need to make alterations in your overall budget to allow for higher gas prices, such as eating out less or not going to the amusement park every night.

*Travel with as few checked bags as possible to avoid baggage fees, and weigh your luggage to make sure you’re not hit with overweight fees. On United Airlines, overweight fees can be as much as $400 per bag.

*If you’re traveling with a carryon bag, check to make sure there is no charge for that. Spirit Airlines charges $30 for carry on bags.

*Besides exploring online travel sites, check out what deals traditional travel agents are offering.

*Consider cheaper destinations.