As savvy consumers become more hands-on with travel plans, there has been a proliferation of online tools and services making organizing flights easier than ever. While there are many websites that help you to book award tickets, these tools can help you find the best airfare that fits your needs whether flying with a specific airline alliance to earn elite status, at a preferred time of day, or from the airport most convenient to home.
How to find the most options at the lowest price
Every booking engine claims to be the best, but they’re not all created equally. For example, Orbitz and Kayak often return far more flight combination options than other sites. Also, when using websites like Skyscanner or Momondo, the price can drop even further. Momondo scours hundreds of international booking engines and local travel agencies and can deliver even lower prices (often due to currency rate fluctuation or specific pricing for a local agency). It’s not uncommon to find flights (especially in the premium cabin) as much as a few hundred dollars cheaper.
When booking domestic flights within another country, try the local version of an airline’s or booking engine’s website to price fares in local currency. This can be done by changing the country of origin on the website or by using the local domain for a website (like .co.uk instead of .com).
Google Flights is similar but may not provide as many booking links. It does, however, price combinations of airlines that can be booked by calling one of its affiliated travel agents. ITA Matrix is another “super engine” that scours airline and fare combinations delivering thousands of results, often more than any other site. The caveat is that you cannot book directly via ITA Matrix, leading you to recreate the findings on other websites like Orbitz or ask a travel agent for help. Another trick is to use BookWithMatrix.com to find an online agency that will reserve it for you.
Here’s why you may be missing the cheapest fares
Not all airlines list fares in global distribution systems, which are what power travel agents and online booking engines. For example, Allegiant and Southwest fares are typically only available through their own channels, which saves them money. The same goes for airlines like Ryanair or Air Asia in other countries. The Wikipedia page of most airports lists every airline that operates every route, which can be a valuable tool when knowing the airlines to search.
Be sure to clear your cookies or use different browsers (or devices) to check prices since some sites may filter fares the more that perceived demand for a certain route rises. You can also switch on “private browsing mode” in the menu of some browsers like Safari.
These sites do the extra searching (and saving) for you
Various website alerts can sometimes notify you of airfare drops, and the option to include nearby airports or flexible travel days on searching engines can lead to additional savings. Sign up for airfare alerts from sites like Airfare Watchdog and Secret Flying, which constantly monitor fares to note price drops or even the occasional pricing mistake.
Websites that package airfare, car rentals, and hotels together can offer substantial savings. When you book with sites like AAVacations.com, there can be discounts on premium cabin airfare (or even different types of fares that affect the way you earn elite status). Upside pairs flights, hotels, or car rentals to provide savings in the form of gift cards delivered to your inbox once you book a trip.
A new flight-search app called Hopper is partnering with airlines to offer discounted “secret” fares that it negotiates with the carriers. At the moment, it offers airfare as much as 35 percent lower on airlines like Air Canada, Air China, and Turkish Airlines. Fliers enter the city pairs that they would like fare information for and receive a notification when the price drops.
Don’t miss out on miles
Even more important to frequent travelers is avoiding fares that restrict mileage earning. These days, they are very prevalent and not always apparent. What’s even more disappointing is that some websites like AA.com don’t even list the fare bucket (an important clue for how many miles will be earned) until the ticket is booked. WheretoCredit.com helps you determine if your ticket is eligible for mileage earning; if the fare doesn’t, the site shows you partner programs that may work instead.
Beware third-party booking sites that may not indicate if a cheap airfare is actually a basic economy ticket with limited perks.
Airlines like Norwegian and WOW Air offer amazing bargains, but the à la carte pricing for additional perks like snacks and seat assignments can push the fare up to the level of other airlines. Don’t miss out on earning airline miles with major carriers by succumbing to temptation from super-low base fares on these airlines.
Next: The Best New Credit Cards for Serious Travelers