ONLINE TRAVEL AGENTS
It’s all quite overwhelming as there are so many options. Not all search engines are equal.
The traditional big sites either work with or are owned by the airline companies and don’t offer unbiased fares. You need to search as many flight search websites as you can in order to ensure you are leaving no stone unturned. Moreover, many sites don’t list budget carriers because those airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission. The best search engines are the ones that have no affiliation with any airline and make their money via advertising, not bookings.
All of these websites have their weaknesses and do not include every airline. You aren’t going to find Air Asia, Ryan Air, or most other ULLCs on large sites like Kayak, Expedia, or Orbitz. U.S. booking sites tend to not have the obscure foreign airlines that you see on international sites like Skyscanner or Momondo. Booking sites have blind spots since they don’t cover every region of the world and every airline equally. There is no perfect airline search engine. Even the best have their faults.
The real solution is finding the sites that best fit your specific travel needs — cost, layover times, ease of use and some specific functions not offered by all sites. Each has strengths using different interfaces and algorithms that produce different results.
The best technique is to check one of the traditional sites, and then play around with the new guys and see if they can pull an upset. Then, before you book, check the airline’s own website to make sure it’s not even cheaper there. And as long as you’ve popped over, it’s almost always a good idea to do the actual booking from the airline’s site: It’s often easier to take care of the minutiae – entering your awards number, choosing seats and paying for extra luggage, as well as changing your reservation later if necessary (to make a change in the traditional site requires making the change with them, not the actual airline).
Many sites waive the booking fees if the booking is done between 2 and 5 AM (plus internet speeds usually much faster). Also erase your IP address after each search. As the sites see you returning and thus more likely to make a booking, the prices may mysteriously increase.
Considerations – Some peculiarities of the individual sites
a. The online experience. Some sites are particularly pleasant to use, in both superficial and substantive ways, others a pain. Most straightforward is the amount of time it takes each site to process your searches, especially when you’re pressed for time, and then to process the personal information and payment. If you’re focused just on flights there is google.com/flights, with shockingly instantaneous results.
b. When your dates or destination are flexible, most of the bigger sites offer to find you cheaper flights if you’re willing to fly one to three days earlier or later, but their systems seem inflexible, and the resulting grids dizzying. Skyscanner is particularly good with price alerts.
c. Some will hold your reservation for between a day and a few weeks. That’s great, for example, if you need to coordinate plans with others.
d. When you need a complex, multi-leg route, not every site allows multi-leg itineraries.
e. Look at layover times as some flights that are minimally cheaper have huge layovers. Some filters allow you to choose to sort by trip length, then that $401 flight might disappear under an avalanche of $9,999 flights with 89-minute layovers. That’s an exaggeration but worth it? That’s up to you.
f. Many do not include local airlines (for example Southwest in the USA and Air Asia in SE Asia). If your trip starts and ends outside North America or Europe, American and European sites often can’t find cheap fares on regional carriers elsewhere in the world. Googling or asking foreign friends is a good start.
THE BEST OF THEM ALL:
1. google.com/flights – Shows flights for the next month or longer with prices which fluctuate by day, weekend and holiday wildly. If your travel dates are not fixed, this allows huge savings. Lightning fast. Another plus is that it warns you about drawbacks – long layovers, if flying in a prop plane. It is most helpful with complicated international trips. Excludes most foreign low-cost carriers from its searches. I go here first and get the lowest fares over a month. Then select your cheapest date. It is not biased toward certain airlines.
2. skyscanner.com – Possibly the cheapest flights. Often has local airlines not on other sites. Has good price alerts. Covers more of the world than any other site with more regional airlines. For example only site that covers flying around South Pacific.
Easy to-search, easy-to-use flight finder and fare comparison website. What sets it apart is the number of ways you can filter your search results. You can narrow it right down to a preferred airline, flight duration and departure time or go wild and search for ‘anywhere in the UK’ to ‘anywhere in France’. Allows you to ask for the cheapest flights anywhere from any city and lists them in order of cost. Or you can get all the flights from one city to a destination and it will show a graphic trend over the course of a month allowing you to pick the cheapest time to fly if the date is not critical.
3. Then Try the Individual Airline. it may be best to book here as cancellations, registering miles and most things are easier. Sometimes cheaper but sometimes more expensive.
4. Search for ULCC – Use the individual airlines or whichbudget.com, lowcostairlines.com or skyeurope.com.
ONLINE TRAVEL AGENTS – THE TRADITIONAL SITES
For those who want to book an entire trip — flight, hotel, car rental, activities, tours, cruises, deals — in one place, the traditional sites will definitely save you time. Most of the traditional sites are all dependably similar, their lowest offerings rarely differing more than a few dollars.
The Big Ones.
1. expedia.com – Does not offer to find you cheaper flights if you’re willing to fly one to three days earlier or later. Often does multi-leg trips well. Expedia owns travelocity, hotwire, hotels.com, orbitz, trivago and probably many more.
2. orbitz.com – For flights gives side-by-side comparisons. Gives travel delay updates that can be sent to PDA or cellphone. Often does multi-leg trips well.
3. travelocity.com – Includes taxes and fees. Best customer service with agents available by phone 24/7. But has an unpleasant interface. Travelocity does multi-leg trips, but only after you finally find the multi-leg function hidden in “Advanced Search Options”.
4. kayak.com – Input simplicity. Good at open-jaw travel – fly into one city, out of another. But can simply overwhelm one with too many options, forcing you to click through page after page of near-identical offerings to find something different (and their filters barely help). Have removed several budget airlines from their search engine recently. You can still find deals on here, so I wouldn’t write them off completely.
5. google.com/flights – Unbelievably fast.
1. priceline.com. Has an opaque bidding system that works well with hotels when you do not require a specific hotel — can often save 30 to 50 percent on hotels by placing an absurdly low bid and allowing the site to charge your card before stating exactly which hotel you are paying for. You name the part of town you need, the hotel category, and the rate you’re willing to pay, and Priceline either accepts or rejects your bid. To find out the lowest bid it will accept, go to biddingfortravel.com to find out what bids Priceline accepted and rejected for specific hotels on specific dates.
Savings are less and more rare on flights, but do exist, particularly on domestic flights booked just a few days in advance. Savings top out at about 40 percent, so try bidding 10 or 20 percent below the cheapest standard fare. If your bid fails, no problem: Book through Priceline’s regular service, which fares as well as other big-name sites. Two caveats: You can choose the date but not the departure time of your flight (or the airline), and you might be stuck with an annoying layover. But other than advance planning, there is no better way to shave dollars off a standard domestic ticket.
Other Sites. Listed in some order of value.
Some only work on domestic flights within a limited list of cities with base rates that are not always competitive.
1. momondo.com – Often slightly cheaper and many traveller’s favourite. Clear presentation about options. Often wastes your time with flights that disappear when you go to book them. Often directed to European booking sites, that charge in euros, forcing you to seek out conversion rates then wonder if your card will give the same rate. to book them.
jetradar.com – good for multi-city routes
2. secretflying.com. Finds good flight deals and error fares (usually mistaken omission of the fuel surcharge). Error fares are most frequent with more than one airline on the ticket or open-jaw trips and often occur with Online Travel Agency and human errors. Follow on Facebook (click ‘Like” and then ‘Get Notifications” to receive notifications), join their mailing list or visit their web page frequently. You can narrow down your preferences to flights departing from certain countries, and they’ll send you an email when a deal pops up.
3. theflightdeal.com. Finds flight deals from and around the US and explains how to use stopovers. Stopovers are any connection over 24 hours to less than the maximum stay for that stopover (varies but can be up to 30 days). To find them use google.com/flights or expertflyer.com (a pay for service that lists the full routing rules for each fare to see any potential stopovers). Often the stopover has a fee (usually less than $100 plus taxes) but for that price, you get to see another country or city.
4. skypicker.com – On a budget? If it doesn’t matter where you from fly from or to, tell Skypicker when you want to go, for how long, and then pick any country in Europe and it’ll give you a list of the cheapest flights.
6. cheapoair.com – Frequently kicks you off to a results page before completing the search.
7. travelgenio.com – often good prices
11. rumbo.com. Spanish
12. vayama.com – At one time, was great for multi-leg, international searches, but now not so good.
13. travelzoo.com – Picks global airfare bargains.
14. hotwire.com 10. travel-ticker.com
19. routehappy.com – Uses an algorithm for other factors you might be willing to pay more for, including seat space and electrical outlets.
20. hipmunk.com – The default setting orders the flights by “agony,” dropping flights with long layovers or sky-high prices down the list. It has good graphic displays of flights and layovers as it shows flight results in a visual ‘timeline’ and hotel results on a map.. But wastes your time with flights that disappear when you go
21. getgoing.com – Will give you a discount if you give it two destinations you like and let it pick one.
22. adioso.com – A flight search engine for people who are flexible on when they fly – you start by just typing in your starting point and destination, and mold preferences from there. Set an email alert that will let you know when the price reaches your budget. It’s intuitive, fun to use and nicely designed.
24. flightnetwork.com – Can sometimes find very cheap flights.
25. tripsta.com – I list this only to strongly discourage using it. It undercuts most other search engine by a few dollars so will often appear first. Flights you think you booked are repetitively cancelled or simply don’t occur. They have screwed me up so many times, that I always bypass it, pay a little more and get what you need. Very dysfunctional.