in Budget-Friendly Travel, Uncategorized

The Best Flight Search Engines

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Travel Tuesday is a little bit early this week due to Valentine’s Day, but it’s oh-so-good.

It’s no secret that I’m a travel junkie. It’s something I have trouble shutting up about, and I thank the people in my life close to me that listen to my incessant rambling. You may thank me too, by the end of this post. I’m assuming you’ve already heard of the most well-known search engines; Kayak, Cheapoair, Travelocity, etc. I’m not even going to be touching on these giants because I assume you’ve tried and tested them. If not, go check them out and let me know what you think in the comments below!

However, this post is for those of you that really want to make sure you’re finding the best flights for the best deals. This post is for you if you are willing to do several searches before purchasing. It takes a little bit of legwork, but if you’re going to save hundreds of dollars, why wouldn’t you?

Things to note:

  • Some airlines will not come up in search engines. They include:

    • WowAir –  this airline is wow-worthy. You can easily get round-trip flights from the US to Europe for under $300, but it is a budget airline and they make up for that in baggage fees, so read about their policies.
    • Southwest Airlines
    • Icelandair – this airline will fly around the US, Canada and Europe. Every flight is direct to/from Reykjavik, so if you want to see Iceland, this is your way to go!
    • Ryanair – this extremely low-budget airline will take you all around Europe once you get there on another airline. Buyer beware – they make up for cheap tickets in other ways, so check their baggage policy.
    • Allegiant – for smaller airports but still amazing deals. It can be a little tricky trying to navigate where you can fly out of your closest airport, so check their interactive map.

That being said, I’m going to search for the same flights throughout the post to show you how results (and prices) look for a particular flight.

Search Engines

Adioso

This is the perfect flight search engine for the flexible traveler. Not sure where you want to fly, just know you want to get there and get there for less? Try Adioso. You can choose your departure airport and search by “anywhere” or “anytime” for example, though you can get more specific than that.

I always say that the best deal you are going to get is when you buy your flights first, and aren’t too set on going to a particular place on a particular date. Unfortunately, if your work policy is strict and you have to request vacation time a year in advance, you may need to do a bit more digging to find the right flights. Either way, Adioso should be one of the first sites you check when you begin your search.

The Flight Deal

I know I can’t shut up about this website, but seriously – they just did round trip flights from Boston to Rome for $392! And technically, this isn’t a search engine – but it’s still one of the best ways to find amazingly cheap flights. Sign up for their newsletter if you don’t feel like checking the site everyday.

Buying one of the flights? You’ll have to use the ITA Matrix to find the exact flight using the routing codes given to you, which is the search engine that The Flight Deal uses (more on that below).

Pros:

  • The Flight Deal really does find you the best fares. I’m flying to Switzerland non-stop from Boston in May (shoulder-season) for $450 each. That is completely wild. When I bought the flights, I double checked other major search engines and everyone else was charging at least $730 for flights.
  • They will show you deals all over the world and all within the US; international and domestic. Know you’re ready for a weekend getaway but don’t know where? The Flight Deal will have you covered.
  • These are not all last-minute fares. I purchased my flights to Switzerland 7 months out through this website.

Cons:

  • You’re out of luck if you don’t live in one of the major cities The Flight Deal lists, though I would say you should check periodically to see if they add more airports. And check their “Other Cities” tab, where flights will come up for cities that they don’t typically follow.
  • This is an American website. You will not be able to find websites for within any other country. For example, you won’t be able to find flights from London to Berlin.
  • The ITA Matrix Software can be a little tricky to use the first time you use it.

ITA Matrix

So the ITA Matrix is a fantastic search engine, and as I mentioned it is actually what The Flight Deal uses to find good deals. I wanted to list is separately because some people may not want to sign up for the newsletter on The Flight Deal or won’t want to check it everyday. Essentially, it operates much like any of the other main search engines. You pick a date, a departure airport, destination airport, etc., and it will show you several airlines and prices. When I compared this exact search (see below) with Kayak, I found that the cheapest airline (in this case Turkish) did not show up on Kayak. Also, the cheapest flight on Kayak happened to be $795 (compare that to the $680 ITA Matrix showed). See below the 2 graphics.

Pros:

  • The flights they list really are the best deals you’re going to get at that given time.
  • No pop-ups, very clean and simple.

 

Cons:

  • May be a little bit complicated to use if you use the specific routing codes that The Flight Deal gives you.
  • You do not actually buy your flights from them, you just input the same information with the airline of your choosing.

As promised, here is the Kayak search.

See how the ITA Matrix showed us airlines that fly for far less than Kayak?

Google Flights

Chances are, if you don’t know that Google is doing something, they probably are and they probably have been for some time. Just like you can use Google Shopping (read more here) to find the best prices on something you want to buy, you can use Google to find the best flights. It works phenomenally well for the flexible traveler and if you’ve already chosen your destination and time. You can even search by dragging the map around. Want to go to Banff National Park but think it’s too expensive to fly to Calgary? No worries, fly into Spokane because it’s a bit cheaper

Pros:

  • You will be shown little tips if you would benefit from leaving a day earlier, etc. This is nothing new, but you can’t miss it. Some search engines can make it difficult.
  • The “Explore Destinations” map is one of the greatest things Google has ever done. You will see it on the right side of your search (see below, the map).
  • It’s easy to book multiple airlines. Some airlines will fly you to Europe for cheap, and then jump up the charge for the return flight. With Google, you won’t be so easily scammed.

Cons:

  • This may not even be a con, but you obviously can’t buy flights directly from Google. When I made a “mock” booking, I was prompted to call one of the airlines to book, and book the other through the internet.

Skyscanner

This is one I actually don’t use very often because I get most of my flights through The Flight Deal. However, it is not to be missed. Namely, when I searched for my flight (with the same criteria as all the other searches I used for this post), I noticed that Skyscanner gave me the least expensive flight with a different airline for $767. Sure, $30 may not be that much of a difference, but that’s a whole meal out to eat when you’re traveling. Just see the proof in the pudding below.

Pros:

  • To avoid sounding repetitive, they have an easy to use system.
  • They do have fantastic deals, just see below!

Cons:

  • To get the absolute best price, such as the one listed below, you may have to purchase the tickets from a website you’ve never heard of. This doesn’t mean that you’re getting scammed, just make sure you read all of the fine print. Also, if you really want to be sure, just type into Google two things: the company’s name, and “BBB rating” or “reviews.” Use that to base your judgement.

Momondo

This is a cult favorite of airline search engines. I absolutely love it as well.  What I think really sets Momondo apart from the rest is their “Flight Insight” feature, which goes into incredible detail regarding the price fluctuation throughout the year. It will tell you the cheapest day to fly there, the cheapest week out of the year to fly there, the cheapest airline, cheapest average price, etc. It will even tell you when to buy the tickets leading up to departure date (for this flight, the cheapest day to fly is 59 days before departure). It’s completely nuts what this feature will do. See below for details but just try your own flight just in case.

Pros:

  • The “Take Me Anywhere” option is just so fantastic for the flexible traveler.
  • It’s easy to set up a “Fare Alert” if you aren’t ready to buy the ticket yet and want to see if it will drop.
  • It will tell you the same “tips” that Google will tell you.

Cons:

  • In my particular case, this exact flight was more expensive than by searching the other airlines. This may not always be the case, though, so please give it a shot.
  • It’s easy to not see the “Flight Insight” tab. Considering how bright and beautiful this site is, I think they need to showcase their best feature of all more.
As you can see, this search engine gave me a higher price for the same flight shown in the other searches. However, they make it glaringly obvious that I would save hundreds by adding stops.
Here’s the “Flight Insight” feature I mentioned. It may be small, so do your own search and read what it has to tell you!

Skiplagged

Here’s another fantastic site that really prioritizes flight time, number of layovers and price altogether. Along the top row it will also show you how the price has fluctuated over time, and how it is expected to fluctuate. What a great too that you literally can’t miss. Skiplagged also makes it impossible to miss the cheaper (but more layover) flights. I have it non-filtered below, as well as filtered to direct. You can see that the price for the non-stop flight is $798, which is about on-part with all of these other search engines except for Skyscanner.

Pros:

  • The price fluctuation graphic is easy to interpret and extremely helpful.
  • Skiplagged knows what most flyers consider the biggest factors in choosing a flight: flight time, number of layovers, and price.
  • The site is extremely clean-looking.

Cons:

  • I don’t exactly find this a con, but some would; you are not shown immediately what airline is offering what price. This really only matters for the people that refuse to fly certain airlines. I just go with the best deal.


Did you like the comparisons? Do you swear by any of these search engines in particular? Any that you had a bad experience with? Let me know in the comments below!

Sparkly

4 Comments

  1. Beth

    I never knew there were so many ways to find a flight! Thanks, we don’t travel very much, but I want the best prices when we go.

    13 . Feb . 2017
  2. Rachel G

    You put a lot of detail into writing this post, thank you very much! I think I need to step up my flight research a bit more! Balancing out all the factors takes a lot of thought–just this weekend we booked domestic flight in the USA from TX to MI, round trip $200 a ticket on SouthWest…it wasn’t the cheapest, but it was a direct flight, which mattered to us since we’re in a bit of a time crunch, and with SouthWest there’s no worry about the added baggage fees since we know we have to bring check ins. So that’s what helped convince me. Normally we just fly in Asia and AirAsia is our go-to!

    13 . Feb . 2017
  3. Rachel Ritlop

    Ahhh thank you! I’ve only used google flights and kayak and typically use hopper for flights so I will have to check the rest of these out!

    14 . Feb . 2017
  4. adriana

    Umm… Under $400 round trip to Europe?! Checking that out as we speak! Great post!!!

    15 . Feb . 2017

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