It’s a big job to look for the cheapest airfare.  Without spending the necessary time to research and being a bit flexible, it is entirely possible to spend hundreds of dollars more than you have to on plane tickets. 

Here are four ways to burn good money and how to shop smart.

Book with favorite airlines only

Fail to compare fares and you can expect to pay more. Here’s an example: Many travelers love Southwest for its good rates and excellent customer service. But it doesn't have a monopoly on deals; no airline does. Take a look at these round-trip fares for Los Angeles-Minneapolis found last week: 

--Southwest: $442

--US Airways: $279

--Spirit: $215

By all means, check Southwest's fares (which only appear on the airline's website); they are often good but you must compare them with other airline prices on a comparison shopping site. It's is the only way to be sure of getting the best deal.

Pay the procrastinator's premium

We've all done this - shopped too late and paid the procrastinator's premium. Avoid this by purchasing tickets 30 days to two weeks before travel (and often up to 7 days in advance with discount carriers).

Holidays like Thanksgiving can be a lot worse. Starting this month, add an extra $3 per day for every day you delay purchasing a Turkey Day ticket, and once October begins, the procrastinator's premium jumps to $5 per day.

Fail to look at connecting flights

A huge money drain can be flying non-stops exclusively. Connecting flights are often cheaper --sometimes ridiculously so -- as you'll see in these September round-trip fares for San Francisco-New York found last week:

--Non-stop: $1,105

--One-stop: $690

Just imagine paying the non-stop rate for a family of four; go with connecting flights and you'll save more than $1,600.

Only fly to/from your hometown airport

If your hometown is New York City or Chicago or even Denver, no problem. Those are big airports and big airports almost always have better prices than smaller ones. Example: If you live near Southern California's Burbank airport and don't want to drive the extra 28 miles to Los Angeles International, these round-trip fares for October are an eye-opener.

--Burbank to Cincinnati: $615

--LAX to Cincinnati: $409

Sometimes flying out of a hub airport is worth a little inconvenience.

Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site