By Adam Jusko, ProudMoney.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Everyone thinks they have the secret to getting cheap flights, but the truth is that there is no single flight search engine or website that is always going to show you the cheapest price. Your best bet is to have a few go-to sites that you use to compare flights. One of them will usually have that cheap price you’re looking for, or you’ll quickly realize that they all currently have the same pricing available at that particular time.
Below we offer our list of the 10 best sites to search for cheap flights, whether you are searching for exact dates and times or you have some flexibility and want to keep your eyes open for good deals to a desired destination. (Honestly you could probably just use the first three and be satisfied.) IMPORTANT: Not all airlines show up on all search engines (Southwest in particular), so you may want to check directly with the airlines as well to compare the prices you see on any search engine.
#1. Momondo – Momondo is a “meta” search site, which means you find your travel deal here but book your travel directly with travel providers. This matters little to you as the end user, but sometimes it feels like Momondo finds prices you don’t see elsewhere, and that “meta” search aspect may be why.
A couple features to like in particular:
- “Cheapest” and “Best” and “Quickest” flight options are offered at the top of the search page, with prices and length of flight displayed. This is a nice way to see in a glance your options — for example, if the Cheapest flight is only $20 less than the Best flight but it would take you an additional 6 hours to arrive at your destination, you can quickly take that into account.
- “Flight Insights” give you a nice visual way to see how much you might save if you were flexible with your travel instead of being committed to exact travel dates. (Some other sites actually display the alternate travel dates right in the main search results, which DRIVES ME BANANAS — if I enter exact dates, I don’t mind you suggesting other dates in the way Momondo does, but I don’t want them in my main results, because then I might think I’ve found a great deal only to realize it’s for dates I can’t travel!)
#2. Google Flights – It’s not much fun putting Google so high on this list, since they already dominate the Internet in so many ways, but the fact is they have a good flight search product. In particular, it’s fast — way faster than any of the others for some reason.
The site does a nice job of giving you desirable options upfront, with other options below. It also tracks trends to see when you could take your trip more cheaply in the near future. For fun, put in your starting spot with no ending destination and hit “Search” — you’ll get a map of cities you might fly to along with an idea of how much tickets might cost to go to those places on your travel dates.
Google Flights is a metasearch engine, meaning you search here and are then shuttled off to the airline or agent (OTA) to actually book your travel.
#3. Skyscanner – Another metasearch site that searches multiple other travel sites to try to find you the best rates on your flights. In our experience, it does well on finding those best rates, though it’s not necessarily uncovering anything particularly rare or “secret” — it just seems to consistently do the job.
I do wish Skyscanner was a little faster. Maybe it’s actually searching too many other sites?
#4. Kayak – Maybe the original metasearch site, pulling flight info from multiple other travel search engines, Kayak is still one of the best, even if others have caught up and maybe surpassed it. It gives you pretty much everything you’ll want to know about available flights, including the same “Cheapest” , “Best”, “Quickest” options we mentioned with Momondo above. You’ll also be given the option to set up price alerts for your desired itinerary if you want to wait and see if the price changes for the better.
#5. CheapOair – Overall a good site for comparisons on cheap flights. However, perhaps its most annoying feature is that when you search for flights on specific dates, it might show you as the first search result a flight taking off on a different day. I’m OK with including that information somewhere, and others sites do, but this is the only one that shows an alternate date as a first result. Good site overall, but be careful if your travel dates are firm so you don’t end up booking the wrong dates!
#6. Expedia – One of the godfathers of online travel, Expedia is still a required step in your flight search to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you want flights only, be aware that by default Expedia will try to push you into a travel bundle including flight, hotel, and car rental, so make sure you choose Flights from the menu bar on the home page.
#7. Skiplagged – The original idea behind Skiplagged is that airlines often have “hidden” pricing. Many flights require a stopover before reaching your final destination, and sometimes it’s actually cheaper to buy a ticket to a farther destination than you really want to go, and simply get off the plane at the stopover city (which is where you wanted to go in the first place). Example: You are in New York City and want to go to Charlotte. You might find that a flight to Miami that requires a stop in Charlotte is actually cheaper than any flights directly to Charlotte, so you book the flight to Miami and simply get off in Charlotte, saving yourself money.
That’s the idea. It doesn’t always work out, but Skiplagged is a good flight search engine even if the hidden-city trick isn’t available for your particular itinerary, so it’s worth the time to check here regardless.
#8. Hopper – This is actually a mobile-only travel app, not a standard search site. It attempts to “predict” the best (cheapest) time to buy your tickets if you have specific travel dates, or, if you have flexibility, it will track prices and alert you when there’s a deal to be had. In our view, getting these alerts is where the opportunities are, more so than using their predictions on best times to buy. Hopper says they have travel deals no one else has, and they don’t share info with any of the aggregators on this list, but you’ll want to experiment a bit and see if that actually means any cheaper fares for your particular trips.
#9. Priceline – Priceline is probably best if you are booking a flight and hotel together, because finding cheap hotel deals if where they tend to shine. The flight search here is not a lot different than many of the other sites on this list.
#10. Hotwire – Another travel search engine that is part of the Expedia family (most of the sites on this list are part of just 3 or 4 parent companies that own multiple travel sites). Nothing particularly remarkable about them these days, but one of the oldies but goodies in flight and travel search, and still might be worth a look if you enjoy their search interface more than some of the others here.