Flying is one of the most exhilarating parts of traveling. It’s an experience in itself to pack your bags, board the plane, and watch the world disappear below you as you float up to the clouds. But air travel can also be prohibitive, as booking airfare is often one of the most expensive parts of any trip. And if the flight is too expensive, it can seriously hamper, or even altogether put a halt to, your travel plans.
I am not a master flight hacker or deal sleuth, but I am extremely dependent on finding cheap flights in order to help me save money to put towards other things. I’ll often search for a flight anywhere from 3 to 10 times before even getting my credit card out.
We all know that airfare changes constantly and it’s the worst feeling in the world to have to pay more money than you need to in order to get where you want to go. It’s tempting to obsess over trying to narrow down the best deal and fret over minor fluctuations in price. However, after dozens of trips spent stressing out about flights for no reason, I’ve learned that your best bet is usually just to book sooner than later, because waiting it out usually doesn’t result in much, if any, savings. That said, it’s important to make sure you’re armed with the right tools to search for flights and make decisions quickly! I’ve collected a list of exactly which sites I use to compare flight prices, why I use them, and how they can help you feel confident that you’re finding the best available prices for the trips you want to take.
5 Websites I Use to Book Cheap Flights
Best For: When You Know Your Destination, or When You’re Flying Internationally
Skyscanner has been one of my go-to flight research tools since I started traveling on my own back in college. It’s straightforward, easy to understand thanks to a clean interface, and includes all kinds of flights from domestic and international carriers to budget and regional airlines that other search engines often leave out.
If you’re planning a trip internationally, definitely look at Skyscanner when doing your research. With Skyscanner, I just booked a flight a few weeks ago to fly from Bali to Singapore for $59 direct (no stops) on JetStar Asia. When I searched other sites that didn’t list budget airlines like JetStar, I was looking at $250+ flights, none of which were direct! I couldn’t believe that a simple search on Skyscanner saved me $200 and more than 6 hours of my time.
Best For: When You Don’t Know Your Destination, or When You’re On a Budget
Momondo and Google Flights are my favorite websites to play around with then I don’t necessarily know where I want to go other than ‘away.’ Momondo scours tons of websites and airlines all over the world (including budget carriers) to bring you the cheapest possible flights. What I love the most about Momondo is the option to search destinations all over the world that you can fly to. By selecting ‘Anywhere – See where you can go on your budget,’ you can see cheap routes all over the globe and click around their interactive map to explore. You can also narrow your search down by the activities you’re hoping to do, such as golfing or exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
3. Google Flights:
Best For: When You Don’t Know Your Destination, When You Know Your Destination, When You’re On a Budget, or When You Have Flexible Dates
Google Flights also has a similar feature where you can select ‘More Destinations’ from the dropdown in the search engine’s ‘Where to?’ field and see a map that neatly lays out all of the places you can fly and how much it would cost to go there.
But my favorite thing about Google Flights is that it easily shows you how the prices fluctuate depending on your dates without you having to do any additional searching. By simply clicking on the trip dates in your search, you’ll see a drop-down calendar that displays cheapest flight deals for the entire month by day. This drastically helps when you know your destination but you’re still trying to figure out when the best time to fly is. I’ve seen flights fluctuate anywhere from $5 to $150 from one day to the next, just by nature of how these airlines’ price algorithms work. You can snag some pretty incredible deals by having flexible dates!
4. Airfare Watchdog:
Best For: When You Don’t Know Your Destination, When You Have Flexible Dates, or When You’re Flying Within the USA
By leaving your destination blank in your search, Airfare Watchdog will simply aggregate a list of cheap destinations you can fly and the cheapest months to go. I like this site for price comparison because it does include tons of budget and regional carriers, and it’s a clean tool for domestic airfare searches. However, I have found that its international searches are a bit less intuitive, so I usually don’t use this site when I’m leaving the country.
5. Secret Flying:
Best For: When You Are Looking for Deals and Mistake Fares
Secret Flying is a website that essentially scours the web for deals and mistake fares that are posted on other sources. You can enter your start and end points (or select ‘Anywhere’ to see deals), and if there is a deal to be found, it will appear. If there’s no deals or mistake fares for that search on the web at that particular time, you won’t see any results. While some people are weary of this site, lots of travel bloggers and experts I know swear by it. I like to use it to skim the internet for any mistake fares as a ‘just-in-case,’ but I’ll usually move to another search or booking engine afterwards to finish my research.
Also, if you do find a mistake fare, know that you typically only have a very short (sometimes, just a couple hours) window of time to book. When it comes to mistake fares, the airline will either honor the price or cancel once the error is caught, so you’d be taking a slight risk in doing it this.
What I Do Once I’ve Found a Cheap Flight
Once I’ve found a cheap flight, airline, or trip dates using the above websites, I’ll do something wild – I won’t actually use any of these sites to book my flight. Well, not usually.
After narrowing down one or two airlines, the very next thing I do is visit each brand’s website directly to compare search engine prices with the source. These days, as the use of online travel agents like Expedia and Kayak continues to grow, airlines have started to care very much about direct traffic, loyalty, and site bookings, so they will often try to reward you for booking direct by offering you a discount. If they aren’t offering a booking-direct discount, there’s also still a chance you might be searching for a flight on a day that they’re happening to run a marketing promotion, so it’s always good to check! Most of the time, discounts will be small, or limited to certain routes or dates, but sometimes it can result in significant savings. And in my experience, it’s usually a much cleaner, more seamless process just to book direct.
If there isn’t any promotion on the airline’s website, I’ll either just move forward with booking direct if the price is similar to the lowest quoted price I found on the sites I mentioned above, or move forward with booking on whichever site I happen to be using. Sometimes, doing it with an online travel agent or search engine means you’ll have some added flexibility when it comes to your reservation. Many online travel agents offer 24-hour cancellation windows, so if you’re the type of person that wants to double-check the next day to make sure the price didn’t drop, you can do that and re-book without penalty if needed.
Other Resources You Can Use:
In addition to websites, there are a few other tools I use to keep an eye on any deals that relate to the trips I’m hoping to take. Using the tools below helped me book flights from Long Beach to Anchorage for less than $375, from Los Angeles to Australia round-trip for less than $900, and from Los Angeles to the Philippines round-trip for less than $700!
Cheap Flight Alerts
Subscribe to cheap flight alerts to keep tabs on the deals and mistake fares circulating the web. I personally subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights and Matt’s Flights. Basically, these guys scour the web for incredibly cheap deals, curate them for specific destinations (like Paris or Belize City) departing from a bunch of different locations, and send out email blasts to subscribers about how to find these deals on the web.
Following your favorite or preferred airline brands on social media can sometimes mean you’ll be the first to know about a sale or special promotion they’re running, because they’ll most likely always announce these deals on their platforms. If you know you want to book a flight in the near future with a particular airline, you can even sign up for their post notifications to make sure you keep a close eye on any opportunities to book.
Subscribing to Your Favorite Airlines’ Newsletters
Piggybacking off that last point, if social media isn’t your thing, or if you just want to keep all of your options on lockdown, subscribing to your favorite airlines’ email newsletters is another great way to look out for opportunities to save. And, sometimes, airlines will have special or ‘early’ sales open for their newsletter subscribers first.
Looking for flights is not always a quick or easy process. But, as I hope this post has shown, there are tons of resources that you can use to compare deals, routes, destinations, and itineraries that you should absolutely take advantage of if you haven’t already! Whether you are hoping to take a quick trip to a city an hour away, or book a flight halfway (or all the way) around the world, compare the rates, look at all of your options, and hopefully you’ll save some cash along the way.
Was this helpful? Is there another site you use besides the 5 that I mentioned above that I should check out? Let me know below.