There are three kinds of people in the world. Those who never have occasion to board an airplane. Those who do so only every so often. Those of us who live up here.

If you never fly, skip this comment. If you always fly, you probably know at least as many nuances of the game as I do. But if you’re somewhere in between, I have a couple of suggestions.

Obviously, it’s imperative to join the frequent flier programs — surely you’ve done that — and, where possible, to concentrate all your flying on one airline, and all your credit card purchases on one airline-affiliated credit card (or the American Express or Diners Club “Express Miles” programs) so you build up maximum points and maybe even qualify for a “gold card” or “medallion level” or some equivalent category that will generally keep you from getting stuck in the center seat on a crowded flight.

You also know to book your flights as far ahead as possible — and that the “nonrefundable” tickets ARE refundable, with a $50 charge, in the sense that you can apply them against other tickets. So it can make sense to buy five round-trip supersavers now, for this summer, even if you only wind up taking two of the trips. The cost: $150 lost on those three other tickets. The gain: fares like $300 transcontinental round trips instead of the full-fare $1,400.

Do call the airline to cancel once you know for sure you won’t be using one of your tickets — it’s not required, but you should do it.

But otherwise, especially if you can afford to do this without going into debt on your credit card (and therefore incurring not just the $50 but also 18% interest on all five tickets), here is a cheap way to maintain lots of flexibility in your summer (or any other) travel plans without paying the normal high fares.

Have you got your ticket for Labor Day week-end yet? You should. And if you’re not sure whether you’ll be spending it on Cape May or Cape Cod, that’s the point: buy your super-savers to both, and forfeit $50 for having the privilege of deciding what you want to do right up to the last minute.

Tomorrow: Stand-By


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