If buying airline tickets isn’t on your holiday shopping list, you may be missing out on some of the best travel deals of the year.

While most Americans are busy with family and buying gifts this time of year, Cyber Monday is also the time when airlines start offering flash sales and cheaper airfares. While many deals start on Cyber Monday, they'll continue through the end of the year.

“It’s a lot like doorbuster sales,” says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at airfare research site Hopper, which uses data to predict and analyze prices. “You may only see these prices for a few hours to a few days, depending on how rapidly they sell."

The key to getting a good deal, says Surry, is to not look for airfares during typically heavy travel periods, such as your kid's spring break.

"The best prices will be for less common travel times," he explains. Deals on airfares you buy now can be good for travel as far off as next summer.

So how do you go about finding the lowest airline tickets?

Sign up for price alerts. When you know you need to travel on specific dates, there’s a temptation to lock in your airfare sooner rather than later. “That’s actually the worst thing you can do because you don’t understand what the trends are,” says Matthew Ma, co-founder of The Flight Deal.

Ma says a better strategy is to become familiar with the prices for a trip you are considering by signing up for daily price alerts through Google Flights or Kayak. “Every day you’ll get an alert to see what the price is, and if you see the price drop, you should buy,” said Ma. “The mentality should always be track, see what the trends are, and buy when it’s below.”

Buy quickly. Whether you’re tracking prices for an upcoming trip or you see a flash sale that seems too good to pass up, Ma says it’s important to act quickly. “If you see a good deal, buy it and then figure out whether or not it makes sense to keep it,” he says.

Department of Transportation regulations give you up to 24 hours to cancel airfare booked for a trip that is at least seven days away. There can be variations in how airlines implement this rule, so double-check the airline cancellation policy before you submit your credit card information.

Consumer Reports' 2017 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. And be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide.

Don't follow business travelers. You're more likely to see deals on airline tickets during off-peak travel seasons and for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, when there are fewer business travelers. But it’s possible to find a deal for popular travel times as well, especially if you’re willing to visit less-traveled destinations, says Surry. That's especially true if you need to buy last-minute tickets.

Consider the cities you're flying to. If you've got London or Paris on your bucket list, you might not see many airfare discounts. But you are more likely to see travel deals for less popular European cities. If you do, you could buy one of those and then catch a connecting flight on one of Europe’s budget airlines or take a train or a bus. 

“If you chase the deal and not the destination you can save a lot of money.” Ma says. “The distance between two major cities in Europe is two hours, three hours max.” Flying into Milan rather than Rome, for example, can save hundreds of dollars, and traveling between the two cities can be relatively easy and inexpensive once you’re abroad.

Understand the fees. Comparing airfares can be complicated partly because there are so many budget airlines that charge extra for everything from carry-on luggage to preferred seating. Before booking a travel deal that seems too good to be true, make sure you understand any additional fees you may be charged. “You see this cheap-looking price, but you could end up paying more by the time you bring a checked bag,” says Surry.

Similarly, be sure to know the terms of the card you use to book your airfare. Ma recommends using a credit card rather than a debit card whenever possible. This makes it easier to cancel your flight within 24 hours. Your credit card may also provide travel insurance, or reimbursement for certain travel expenses.