Robert Metcalf was planning to visit his brother in Pennsylvania three years ago and, being a methodical man, he began to search the Internet for the best round-trip airfare from the Twin Cities.

He had a flexible timetable, a choice of airports near his brother's home and a stubborn determination to find the combination of timing and routes that would yield the lowest fare at the least hassle.

After spending hours developing a spreadsheet using data from travel sites Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz, Metcalf found the best deal, but decided there had to be a better way.

"I thought, 'If I have this problem, others do too,"' said Metcalf, an independent technology consultant who founded and sold one of the Twin Cities' first Web site development firms back in the 1990s. "Why should this be so slow and so difficult?"

So after studying airline pricing, developing a system and fine-tuning it to be as user-friendly as he could make it, last February Metcalf unveiled Flyspy, an airfare search engine that graphically depicts the cheapest days on which to travel and the cheapest airports near a desired destination for the next 30 days.

On Flyspy, the chart for three-day roundtrip fares between the Twin Cities and Las Vegas, for instance, shows that a Thursday departure generally has the highest fare, so planning for a Wednesday, or better yet, a Monday or Tuesday departure, can save money.

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