Searching for the best (and cheapest) flight is exciting and painstaking at the same time. I mean, who doesn’t want the cheapest flight, right? Add to that our preferences for the airport, choice of airline, seat assignment, baggage assignment, and flight date & time, and our search just becomes even more complicated. Add to that the abundance of flight search websites that only drains our research energy and ultimately causes info overload. Too many options, right? #FirstWorldProblems. What if we could keep it simple and quick?
Most would prefer booking directly with the airline’s official website (I do). This is recommended, and usually airline websites already have already guaranteed the lowest fare promise – but this isn’t going to stop us from scouring the net to compare the best price for our chosen itinerary. Below is the list of fare comparison sites that I personally use and recommend in your search for the best ticket. Readers have also listed down their go-to travel hacking sites in the community forum (add yours too!). And since you’re already here and you’re obviously wanting a bargain on your travels right now, why not read my blog post on a cheapskate’s guide to traveling?
FB Rating: 8/10 (does its job well)
Available in 30 languages and 70 currencies, Skyscanner is one of the easiest travel comparison websites to use out there. I personally like how pretty straightforward and easy-to-use the no-frills site is. Search is simple: just key in your desired destination and travel dates, and you’ll then be shown a variety of available fares starting from the cheapest ones.
There are reports that Skyscanner does not include fares from ALL airlines in your chosen destination, so make sure that you look at the other sites as well.
FB Rating: 9/10 (a robust bad boy in the industry)
I always use Momondo in tandem with Skyscanner for a more rigorous search (sometimes Momondo has better results, sometimes it’s otherwise). Also available in various languages and currencies, Momondo has consistenly been my favorite in returning the cheapest fares out there. One helpful feature is the ‘Smiley’ feature – a smiley determines if your selected flight is a good one based on the balance between the average flying time (including number of stops) and the price of the ticket. Another very useful attribute is the flight insight feature, which shows the estimated prices of the same itinerary across the month. Perfect for those who are just looking for the cheapest flight with no need for an exact date to fly.
FB Rating: 8/10 (simple and straightforward)
Like the two previously mentioned sites, Google Flights is basically a search engine – but for flights. This is the fastest flight search site that I know of – requires almost no loading time. A beneficial feature of this site is that it gives you tips on the screen if the itinerary you’re looking at has a lower price near the date you’re looking for.
For the above three sites: Skyscanner, Momondo, and Google Flights do not directly sell tickets and instead refers users to merchant sites. Given the sometimes unbelievably cheap fares, be careful when buying from the third party merchant sites. Most of the time the referred sites are legit, but you compromise fare flexibility and may encounter poor customer service in case of delays/cancellations. Check directly with the airline first. If there is an exact match, might as well book directly with the airline.
FB Rating: 9/10 (this is the real deal)
Matrix Airfare Search is undoubtedly the most powerful flight search and comparison website out there, thanks to the brilliant engineers at Google. How powerful, you ask? It’s just the software of choice by leading airlines (American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian, and most US airlines) and travel agencies worldwide (Orbitz, Cheaptickets, etc.). Thing is, because of various search options and airline routing/coding schemes, using this can be quite complicated.
It’s mostly unheard of to the average individual (maybe because Google doesn’t advertise it?), but its search interface is a killer. Not only can you see the calendar of the lowest fares which is useful for those with no definite flight dates and just want to see the lowest fare on a given month, it also has a surprisingly helpful tool not offered in other search sites: the option to select a ‘sales city’, meaning you can even narrow down your search and check which sales city offers the lowest fare.
Tickets cannot be purchased from the Matrix ITA software, so you can only use it for flight comparison. The software helps by giving you the exact information to be provided to a travel agent to help them match the fares you found. The thing is, you would have to contact your airline or travel agent for this, and prices may still vary by then.
FB Rating: 7/10 (just because you have to pay for the service)
All of the above websites are great, but for those who have mindbogglingly crazy itineraries in mind, search can be overwhelming and simple search websites won’t suffice. What you need is human touch, someone skilled and can help you find the cheapest fares. Cue in Flightfox.
The process is simple: Enter your trip request, travel expert reviews your desired trip, expert coordinates with you until expert finds you the best flight for your itinerary at the cheapest rate.
What sort of complicated travel itinerary, you ask? Anything! If you plan to finally take that around the world, multi-city trip on first class but you want it at the price of economy, go ahead and send your trip request. If you’ve got airline miles and want to maximize your mileage towards a puchase, they can help you with that as well. They’ll let you know if your request is too over the top so don’t worry. If the agree on your request, then you’re guaranteed that dream flight of yours. The more complicated your request is, the better value for your money.
Speaking of value for money, the thing is, you’ll have to pay a small service fee which will be assessed based on the complexity of your trip (starts at $49), but that small fee will all be worth it in time and money saved. Plus, you don’t pay them ’til you’re satisfied.
What’s good is that because of the service fee and not based on commission (unlike some websites and travel agencies), the expert will be unbiased in his search, not inclining to recommend a particular airline/travel agency for commission.
If you’re just looking for a simple round trip economy flight next month, however, save yourself the service fee because you may be better off comparing flights yourself and booking directly with the airline.
I’ve worked as a Travel Hacker at Flightfox back in 2013, and I must say, people at Flightfox are focused on bringing value to its customers.
The only con I can think of is that sometimes when coordinating with a travel expert, you may not get a response right away as you might not share the same timezone with the expert.
Booking through third party sites may be a great deal if your check-in and the whole trip including layovers go smoothly. Cancellations/rebooking/refund (most sites do not offer refunds) will most likely be a nightmare if you book through a third party site (third party sites can only do so much if the airline itself changes routes, seat availability, etc.).
The sites I mentioned above are just there to help you find and compare the best flight that’s suitable to your preferences. Whatever the result of your airfare search may be, and however outrageously cheap the trip you found is, it is always better to book it directly with the airline instead of booking through third party sites (the fare fairy does not really exist).
Most airlines have the lowest fare guarantee on their sites, so definitely the fare you found on comparison sites is also available directly with the airline. If the fare is not available, call your airline. If the fare is valid, they’ll most likely offer you the same price as part of their lowest fare guarantee.
I almost forgot – when searching for flights, search anonymously (Ctrl+Shift+N on Chrome, Ctrl+Shift+P on IE) since sneaky algorithms make prices increase the more you search for a flight. Going incognito will help avoid this.
What’s your go-to travel comparison site? Feel free to Share Your Story, comment, share your tips, or ask a question. Please also like me on Facebook and Twitter! Thank you!