He who hesitates is often lost -- especially when dickering for the lowest possible airfare.

Like a banana republic election, which encourages citizens to vote early and vote often, carriers change their prices with a frenetic energy surpassed only at the gasoline pump. And morning is the best time to find a good one, according to a former travel writer who is now a highly-respected industry analyst.

George Hobica is the founder and owner of Airfare Watchdog, a service that blends technology with human know-how in seeking bargains for consumers.

The firm often finds better deals than others because its searches include discount carriers -- often omitted by larger, better-known services such as Orbitz and Expedia.com.

According to Hobica, his four-man staff is adept at finding 20 per cent discounts on a regular basis.

Another reason for its success, he said, is that Airfare Watchdog makes most of its money from advertisements, with only a trace coming from on-site bookings.

Hobica is adamant about finding the best fares just as the sun peeks over the horizon.

"Airlines do what they call 'retaliatory fare pricing,'" he said, "And other airlines follow. These pop up early in the day and disappear later as seats are sold."

He added that his site's route map section includes 80 official airline route maps, a collection he claims is the largest anywhere on the Internet.

"Many airlines don't pubish their route maps or have them buried on their websites," Hobica said. "That forces consumers to work at finding out what cities they serve. We began offering this information after finding out it was not readily available to travelers."

The staff of Airfarewatchdog.com - named one of the worlds best values by Travel + Leisure magazine last year - evaluates fares manually and tests each one for validity, value, and seat availability before posting them on the site and in newsletters.

The service has won praise from cpnsumers for its down-to-earth, personable style, its canine mascot Browser, and its knack for uncovering hidden travel deals.