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We’ll always continue to share great deals as we find them, but I also want you to feel empowered to find great prices on all your flights, so today I offer you a rundown of the web’s best resources for tracking down cheap airfare.
These are my picks for the top 10 web-based sources for cheap airfare. Bookmark these sites and come back to them the next time you’re flight shopping. You won’t always find the deal of the year, but there’s a good chance you’ll save money or find better routing options.
Best Websites for Cheap Flights
- ITA Matrix
- Airfare Watchdog
- Google Flights
- @TheFlightDeal on Twitter
- Mileage Run Deals forum on FlyerTalk
Details on Each One
ITA Matrix. This software is the backbone of many online travel agencies and airline websites; it can find and price fares on most airlines, and displays the data in a user-friendly way. Enter your origin and destination, and the duration of your trip, and ITA Matrix will find you the cheapest fare for your itinerary. You can’t purchase airfare directly from ITA Matrix, so once you find the best fare, you’ll then have to relocate your itinerary with an online travel agency (like Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, etc.) or an individual airline, any of which should be able to replicate your findings and issue a ticket.
Airfare Watchdog. This site works in a few beautiful ways. The search and compare feature allows you to compare an array of sites at once to find the best fare, and a single page shows you the top 50 fares from around the world at that moment. The flexible date search finds the best fares for destinations in the U.S. and Canada, while fares from a departure city or to an arrival city find you the best deals from your home airport or to the destination of your dreams. You can also sign up for fare alerts for your desired location/dates, and you’ll be notified by email when the price dips.
Google Flights. Google purchased the licensing rights to ITA Matrix back in 2011, and now uses the technology to power its own flight search site. Best suited to searches for domestic U.S. flights (it doesn’t search as wide an array of airlines for international flights), Google Flights’ map view allows you to drag and drop your chosen route to another destination to see how the fare changes, while a bar graph view lets you see how fares rise or drop over a set time.
@TheFlightDeal on Twitter. The website for The Flight Deal serves up fare deals with some wanderlust-stoking visuals, but to maximize your time, a quick scan of its Twitter feed (and the common hashtag #Airfare) will tell you everything you need to know about the best up-to-the-minute, round-trip and tax-inclusive fares to/from just about everywhere in the world.
Mileage Run Deals forum on FlyerTalk. Not a mileage-run junkie yet? Well, delve into this forum and you soon might be. Devoted frequent flyers share their best fare-finds here, using a shorthand of airport codes (e.g., HKK, LAX, JFK, YYZ, etc.) and airlines (DL for Delta, UA for US Airways, AA for American) and abbreviations like rt (round-trip), ow (one-way), and ai (all-inclusive of taxes and fees). You’ll often find suggestions about the best and worst days to book, as well as good rates of return on award bookings and fast-track tips to elite status. Learn the lingo of this insider forum and you’ll soon be on your way to a great deal on your next flight.
Hipmunk. Treating your time and wallet with equal respect, this streamlined travel search engine was designed by Reddit’s Steve Huffman as a means of showing you the best fares (as well as good prices on hotel rooms) and the shortest schedules. When searching for flights, Hipmunk shows you a timetable with colored bars ranked in descending order of “agony,” a factor devised to incorporate price, flight duration, number of stops and departure/arrival times. (Keep an eye out for little WiFi symbols in each color bar that let you know a flight has WiFi.)
If you don’t like the agony approach, you can always search by price, duration and departure/arrival times, or, as with Airfare Watchdog, sign up for email alerts to be notified when there’s a drop in price for your desired itinerary. Like the ITA Matrix, Hipmunk doesn’t allow you to book flights (or rooms) directly.
Momondo. Easily the most colorful travel site on the Web, Copenhagen-based Momondo crawls directly through airline (as well as hotel, car rental and vacation package) sites rather than utilizing a third-party aggregator like ITA Matrix. In its single-minded (and multilingual) quest to find the best fares, it often displays itineraries that recommend a different airline out and back, saving you the hassle of trying to do this yourself. Keep an eye on the site’s fare calendar, as it will clearly show you when pushing your trip forward or back will save you some cash.
Yapta. A partial cure for travel-buyer’s remorse, Yapta lets you know when your already-booked fare gets offered for less elsewhere, and when (per each airline’s individual policy) you’re eligible for a refund equal to the discount. When a fare drops within 24 hours of your purchase or dips low enough to offset the airline’s change fee, Yapta sends you an alert that you should rebook at the lower price, pay the change fee, and pocket the difference.
Flightfox. When you post your desired travel plans on this 21st-century version of a travel agency, its crowdsourced hive mind of experts begin competing to find you the cheapest and/or best route(s). You’ll pay an upfront fee that starts at $50 (rising with the complexity of the challenge), and the winning expert takes home 75% of that amount, while you follow the expert’s booking instructions and save yourself a bundle.
Adioso. Designed for budget-conscious travelers with flexible itineraries, Adioso allows you to conduct vaguely detailed searches—such as “Chicago to East Africa in late September for 12 days”—and get a good idea of how far you can go for the best price. Don’t see anything you like the first time around? Sign up for email alerts and see if the price drops and/or your destination becomes a bit more interesting.
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