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It’s easy to believe that one company owns all of the best flight search engines. This isn’t true. It’s still a good idea to compare prices from at least two different search engines before booking your flight. The results will be different as some booking sites have certain specialties.
You may already know that flying mid-week and buying your ticket two months before departure are two ways to keep ticket prices low. But what else should you know? Is there a best search engine for searching for flights?
Sort of. The best search engines for flights are easy to use, have several comparison options, and provide plenty of information. However, note that if you want to fly Southwest, you will need to go directly to Southwest.com. This discount airline doesn’t release its ticket prices to independent flight search engines or travel booking sites.
Tip: When booking flights, use one of the best travel credit cards or one of the best credit cards for international travel. Some of these cards come with travel protections in the event of delays as well as other travel perks you can take advantage of.
With that said, let’s look at several of the most popular sites.
If you only need to travel with a backpack and don’t need to check a bag, you may like Skiplagged. This flight search engine looks for hidden city fares. Instead of flying to the final destination, you get off at a connecting airport. You can’t check a bag because it will go to the final destination even though you aren’t.
For example, you may want to fly from Newark to Los Angeles. A direct flight costs $149. But Skiplagged may recommend a Newark-Los Angeles-Reno itinerary for $97. You take the same flight to LAX and save $52 in the process.
If you have to check a bag or you want to fly in first-class, Skiplagged isn’t your best option.
This flight search process is questionable to some people. Not to worry though, it is legal. This is one of the best flight search engines for bargain hunters who want to fly in economy or basic economy.
Momondo is also a perennial favorite because it’s fast, colorful, and easy-to-use. This flight search engine collects the best flight options from almost every airline. You will go directly to the airline website or third-party booking sites to book your flight. Its advanced filters let you search for flights by airline, alliance, cabin class, and even aircraft model.
Their price predictor tool can help you decide if now is a good time to book. Their flight insights tool can also give you valuable information for the route you want to book. This insight tool shows you the cheapest month to fly, average ticket prices, and how many days in advance to book your flight to get the best price (usually around 60 days).
If you have to pay to bring your carry-on or checked bag, use Kayak. Their search results let you include the number of checked bags and carry-ons to estimate your incidental fees. Most flight search engines may show you basic economy fare. Unless you fly Delta Air Lines basic economy, you pay to bring a carry-on (you can still bring one personal item free of charge).
The baggage calculator is also handy if you fly discount airlines like Frontier, Spirit, or Allegiant.
So you know, the same parent company owns Kayak, Momondo, Booking.com, Priceline, and Agoda. The search results will be almost identical. However, the #1 result for each engine might be different. Kayak can be the best option because of its baggage fee calculator. You can also filter results by plane type, airline, and alliance.
Skyscanner also posts competitive fares directly from airline websites and third-party booking sites. For each flight option, Skyscanner usually shows the prices from 12 different booking sites. You may decide to book directly from the airline but may save a few dollars by booking from a third party like FareDepot.
One unique tool for Skyscanner is they recommend flights that have fewer carbon emissions. You might see a prompt stating “this flight emits 23% less CO2 than the average for your search.” This emissions calculation is based on which aircraft the carrier flies and the number of stops.
Google Flights is another quick and simple flight search engine. Their website is rather basic in comparison to many flight search engines. But if you use Google as your default search engine, the learning curve for Google Flights is small.
Yes, the search results are similar to others on this list. However, you may like the trip summaries that Google Flights provides such as lie-flat seats or above-average legroom.
Like other flight search engines, Google Flights lets you easily compare prices for other travel days and nearby airports. Another cool perk is that you can avoid specific airports and airlines when you search.
Hipmunk takes a unique approach for sorting their search results that makes them more diverse than other comparison sites. Most flight search engines will try to show the cheapest flight first based on the cheapest, quickest, or best itinerary. The default Hipmunk sorting option is the “agony algorithm.” This formula factors in the ticket price, flight duration, number of stops, and dependability.
For a sample first-class flight from New York to Rome on February 10, 2020, Hipmunks #1 option is for Alitalia and costs $7,641 one-way. This is also because Hipmunk includes business class flights in their first-class filter, giving you several airline options. Other search engines like Momondo and Google Flights only show first class-only flights with a minimum $8,123 fare one-way with Swiss Air being the only affordable option.
Hipmunk also offers standard filters like ticket price, flight duration, and arrival or departure time. You can also see which aircraft you will fly on, if WiFi is available, and what other in-flight amenities to expect.
Another unique flight search engine is CheapOair. You can scour current discount fares from your home airport if you don’t have a particular destination in mind. Or you can also search and filter by cabin class, airline, and alliance.
One thing you will need to watch for are mixed-cabin fares. Even if you highlight the first-class cabin filter, the top results might be a mixed cabin.
For instance, while a one-way flight can cost $8,123 miles from New York to Rome, the first CheapOair results may only cost $2,414. This particular route means flying first class on United Airlines from Newark to Boston. Then, you fly business class on TAP Air Portugal to Lisbon and finally to Rome.
Because CheapOair is a third party booking site, they may offer you to apply for their travel credit card to earn extra travel rewards. You may be better offer using a flexible travel miles credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that earns bonus points on any travel purchase.
Teachers and college students might be able to find travel booking discounts on student-only flight search engines. One of the best is STA Travel. Having an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can help you score extra discounts.
Do note that your cabin class options will be limited to the main cabin since that is likely the most affordable option for students.
The best flight search engines make it easy to customize your flight preference. As many of the best search engines are fast and access the same information, customization is what helps you find the best fare. It’s always worth comparing your options on at least two different sites to make sure you get the best price and flight time.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.