Just like you would look around for shopping your next iPhone or TV, flights are also something that you should price shop for. A little effort in shopping around can go a long way in finding the best deals on flights. In this post, the best websites for finding cheap flights can save you over $500!
The best place to start are aggregator or search engine sites. These websites don’t let you book directly, but instead search dozens of booking engines, airfare sites, and OTAs (online travel agencies) and compile the results in one place.
Before We Start
While it might seem like there are so many flight search engines to choose from, you have to know that like most industries, it is all part of an illusion. Many websites that you might use to compare prices are actually owned by the same company–there are really only a few key players. Here is a breakdown of some of the popular websites, and who they are owned by:
Other websites such as Skiplagged, Google Flights, Tripli, and Kiwi.com are independently owned.
You may find that not one website is perfect, otherwise this article would be a lot shorter. The full scope of available flights will not appear in the search results of any one site, simply because some airlines forbid them from listing their fares. The biggest example is Southwest Airlines, which only sells tickets directly on their website.
Top Airfare Comparison Websites
This is the first place I turn to when searching for flights. If you do not have a destination in mind yet, Google Flights allows you to search multiple destinations, such as a country or even a continent to see which city might be the best deal at the time.
- By far the fastest search engine of all
- Very simple interface and easy to use
- Free of ads and popups
- Extensive set of filters for type of airline, duration, times, number of stops, price range, etc
- Indicates if the current prices are more expensive than usual, cheaper than usual, or average
- Able to track the price of the set itinerary; Google will notify you if the prices has dropped or increased
- Prices often seem to be either out of date or a little bit higher than other sites
- Not always thorough with its search results; often lists flights without prices
- May have to book directly with the airline by calling them
This website has been around for a long time and remains an excellent place to find some of the lowest fares available. Similar to Google Flights, Skyscanner also allows one to search for specific regions, which is useful to find the best deals. They do one better by having “Everywhere” as a destination.
- Extensive set of filters that lets you choose from the airline, duration, times, number of stops, prices, etc.
- Can select nearby airports for departing or return flights when searching
- Can search the whole month, great for those that can be flexible with their dates
- Able to set up price alerts; they will notify you if the prices of the itinerary you are searching for has dropped or increased
- With the current COVID situation, they are among the best resource to find out about the travel restrictions and COVID cases for each country
- Clutters organic results with sponsored results
- Not the cleanest website with advertisements on the side
Part of the massive Booking company, Momondo has transitioned from pure aggregator to an OTA as well, now offering direct booking on its own site. They consistently return more search results than their counterparts. These include results such as two one way tickets from different providers packaged together to get you the best deal.
Just like Skyscanner, they have an “Anywhere” option that displays cheap fares from any departure city. This is under the Explore button on the top of their website. However, it is only limited to return flights.
- Visually appealing data with lots of charts that show estimated prices by date, so you can quickly find nearby dates with better prices
- Extensive set of filters that lets you choose from the airline, duration, times, number of stops, prices, etc
- Displays price insights for your itinerary (the cheapest and most expensive fares, pegged to season, airline, time of departure, day of the week)
- Fare calendar graph shows average prices for other days
- Can set up price alerts; they will notify you if the prices of the itinerary you are searching for has dropped or increased
- Similar to Skyscanner, they have sponsored results along with organic results
- The interface can be a bit messy, with pop-ups and secondary searches that launch by default
A relatively new website, Skiplagged started in 2013 to exploit “skiplagging” or “hidden city ticketing”. This is a controversial method that can save you a lot of money.
The basics of this method involve buying itineraries that have layovers and abandoning the final leg before the final destination. For example, a direct flight to Tokyo might cost you $1447 CAD normally, but there is a deal to Singapore that connects through Tokyo and only costs $588 CAD! The goal would be to book the cheaper flight to Singapore, transfer to Tokyo for the layover, and simply “miss the connecting flight.” While this method is legal, it is frowned upon by airlines. United Airlines have even tried to file a lawsuit against the founder of Skiplagged but was unsuccessful. If caught doing this, customers run the risk of having their airline miles taken away and elite status revoked.
Skiplagging only works for one-way tickets, since airlines will automatically cancel any remaining flights on an existing itinerary once a connecting flight is missed. You should also not check any baggage as the luggage will be sent to the final destination and not where you got off.
While I have personally not tried this method, I will be looking into it in the future. This is a great way to save lots of money on flights. The above example will save you almost $900! However, I would probably only do this once in a while and not put any frequent flyer details to prevent any possible backlash with the airlines.
If you are not interested in this method, Skiplagged is also a great option to search for standard flights. Like Momondo and Skyscanner, they have an “Anywhere” option to explore different destinations.
- Shows a line graph of the prices a month prior and a month after for the same itinerary you’ve chosen
- Fare calendar graph shows average prices for other days
- Can filter by layover city
- Clean interface with no ads or popups
- Can track the price of the set itinerary; Skiplagged will notify you if the prices has dropped or increased
- No multi-city option
- Filters not as extensive as Momondo or Skyscanner
- Longer transfer time to airline/OTA site
- Although Skiplagged displays all fare classes (economy, business, first), you are not able to search for a specific class type; they do not offer a filter to separate each type
- For some cities, there is no option to include all the airports within the surrounding area (e.g. Bangkok, Istanbul, Seoul); this will force you to search several times
Last but not least, Tripli is a new website that I recently discovered which has impressed me with its results. The site was started in 2020 and primarily focuses on sending cheap travel deals via email. However, I am including its flight search service in this list as it scans an entirely different set of online travel agencies–mostly smaller agencies who compete on pricing and can sometimes get you surprisingly low rates.
- Has an extensive search history (even showing the prices), helping compare different flights
- Extensive set of filters that lets you choose from the airline, duration, times, number of stops, prices, etc. Has an additional baggage filter, which is not found on any other website
- Clean interface with no ads or popups
- Offers a free membership program to get alerts about the world’s cheapest flight and hotel deals, comparable to the paid version of Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club
- Newer website, so with that you can expect some hiccups. However, that means they have the most potential to improve
- Does not have a calendar view or flight insights, which makes it harder to compare with different dates
- No “Anywhere” or option to search by regions makes it harder to explore different destinations
Even though interface and design are important qualities, I wanted to determine which of these websites can generate the cheapest flights. Therefore, I tested these five websites with 25 different sets of itineraries. I have varied the journeys between half one way trips and half return flights. They also range from flights within Canada, the US, Europe, Asia, and long international flights.
The results were quite surprising. Here is my ranking of how each website performed, from best to worst.
- Google Flights
Below are six itineraries that I think make a fair representation of the flights I looked up. All the flight prices are in Canadian Dollars ($CAD).
One thing to note is that since these websites direct users to many online travel agencies (many that you may never hear of), you do need to do your due diligence on websites that you are unfamiliar with. I usually do a quick Google search of the website and read reviews from users to see if they are legit. If you see competitive prices directly from an airline, I would highly recommend on booking with them as they will/should provide you the best customer service if anything goes wrong.
This exercise actually taught me a couple of things. In the past, I have always relied on the combination of searching on Google Flights, then price shopping on Skyscanner and Momondo. However, recent startups such as Skiplagged and Tripli have been able to compete and even offer even cheaper prices! A good strategy moving forward should be using Google Flights, Skyscanner and Momondo on your initial search. Their great explore function, filter options, and calendar views make it easy to explore around different destinations and timeframes. Once you are ready to book, I would then compare the prices on Tripli and Skiplagged to get the best deal!
Hope you enjoyed my rundown of the Best Websites For Finding Cheap Flights! Once you book your flight, make sure you get the best deal on accommodation by checking out my post on Five Easy Ways to Save Money on Accommodation!