When it come to booking flights online we all want to find the cheapest flights possible. There are so many variables in airfare pricing that there’s always going to be price discrepancies between the flight search engines.
Before starting your airfare search it’s good to know what tools are available for flight booking.
The following is a guide how to find cheap flights. It includes the best fare finders available for booking flights, some lesser-known sites, as well as other tips and resources to find cheap flights to anywhere.
What this guide doesn’t include is collection flyer points by “travel hacking”, such as signing up for credit cards for bonus points. That is a guide to itself.
Best Flight Booking Sites
Having booked hundreds of flights for myself I can say from experience that there’s no one best site to find the cheapest airfares. If you find a blog that says that “x is the best flight booking site”, they have probably been sponsored to say that.
For simple flight searches where there is a high proportion of non-stop flights between two cities, then the booking sites will show the same results.
For more complicated searches (routes with no direct services and multi-city trips), then it’s best to try the same search on a few different sites to compare results.
Here are the leading flight comparison websites.
How to Find Cheap Flights
When is the cheapest day to fly?
There’s a lot of misinformation about when is the cheapest day to fly. I call this the “Cheap Flights on Tuesday” fallacy. Many of the “how to find cheap flights” blog posts are pedalling this so-called travel hack.
Just as a quick example I did a search for flights between London and New York in six weeks time, using the feature of showing the cheapest flights for every day of the month.
As you can see the top 5 cheapest days were:
Sunday 8th – $144
Sunday 15th – $144
Thursday 5th – $149
Monday 2nd – $149
Mon 9th – $149
Historically it might have been that the cheapest day to fly was on a Tuesday. Back in the day when booking a flight was through a travel agent at a store, and the general public weren’t flying as much as today. Holiday makers may have left en masse on Friday and Saturday, while business travellers got going on Monday, so the travel agent would tell you that Tuesday was the cheapest day.
In statistical analysis, the phrase “correlation does not imply causation” comes to mind. Just because you found a cheap flight on a Tuesday doesn’t mean it happens for all the other millions of flights.
My month one sample shown above does leads into the next advice for finding cheap flights.
Be flexible with your travel dates
Better advice for picking a day to travel is to be flexible with your travel dates. Obviously this is not helpful if you’re on a tight schedule and can only fly on certain days. This is more useful if you are planning a trip in the future that isn’t set in stone.
If you are working and are taking two weeks off, don’t tell your boss you are going to be away from the 15th to the 30th. Instead give pre-warning that you are going to be away for two weeks in that month, and then look for the cheapest ticket. It might end up being that your cheapest ticket is on the 12th.
All the major fare finders offer the search option where you can search by month. By moving the dates around you could save hundreds of dollars on long-haul flights.
Be flexible with your airports
If your destination airport is not locked in, then try some different airport searches. For example if you wanted to go to Southeast Asia in March but don’t have a set itinerary, see what your flight options are for the major hubs like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore.
The same applies for departure airports. I once saved €180 by flying out of a Eindhoven instead of Amsterdam. Being aware of nearest airports helps, though many of the booking sites now offer the option to search alternative airports.
Where to Find Cheap Flights
Here are the most common ways to find and book cheap flights online.
Fare finders (also known as flight comparison sites and airfare aggregators) are metasearch sites that compares multiple travel sites and displays the results on one page. These sites will compare a combination of prices from travel agents as well as flights quoted directly from the airline.
The business of flight booking is a competitive space, and so far no site has emerged as the Google of airfare bookers. Perhaps one day there will be an ultimate booking engine that will be the go-to site for booking airfares, just as google is the go-to search engine for most people. It might even be Google with Google Flights.
For now there isn’t a clear “best flight booking site” so I still use multiple sites when looking for flights. Here are the major airfare comparison sites.
Skyscanner is the first site I use when booking flights. After checking the other flight comparison sights the top ones usually produce the same results so I can’t say it is the best booking site. For me I prefer the search functions and layout of Skyscanner.
Kayak is another booking site I use often. My favourite feature is Explore, which lets you choose a departure city and general date (month or time of year) and it will list the cheapest flights on a map. It’s a great way to discover potential new destinations. Read more about Kayak features here.
Momondo is an international booking site based in Denmark that search the airlines directly as well as online booking sites.
Kiwi.com is a farefinder that searches for the cheapest flight combinations available by combining low-cost and full-service carriers. Regular Farefinders are reluctant to do this, because if you miss your budget airline flight you will lose your connecting flight. Kiwi.com offers a guarantee to get you on another flight in case of delayed/canceled flights.
Vayama specialise in international airfares and they are great for difficult international airline bookings. I use them when airlines won’t accept my credit card for some unknown reason.
Matrix – ITA Software is an airfare shopping engine that offers a number of innovative filters. Search features include cost per mile, search by airport code, city, or nearby airport, and interactive calendar search. Google bought ITA Software in April 2011, and in September 2011 Google launched Google Flights, which uses algorithms from ITA Software.
Online Travel Agents (OTA’s)
Online travel agents (OTA’s) were the first place to look before the rise of flight comparison sites. As the name suggests, these sites are online travel agencies offering everything that a regular travel agencies offers. Looking back at the history of the major players is to look back at the history of the early internet.
If you are just looking for a flight you are better off using a comparison site. If you are booking other services like hotels and car rental then you can find package deals that may work out cheaper. The OTA’s also offer membership benefits such as awards points, so that is another incentive to keep all your bookings in one site.
Most of the major players have been merged or acquired by now, so it’s worth knowing who owns who.
Expedia began life as Microsoft Expedia Travel services in 1996. Since then the Expedia Group have gone on to acquire, Orbitz, Travelocity Hotwire.com, Hotels.com, trivago, HomeAway, vrbo Venere.com, and CarRentals.com . They are now the world’s top earning travel companies
Booking Holdings is the another travel giant, following close behind Expedia Group in terms of earnings. The company began life as Priceline.com in 1997, and it has since acquired Booking.com, Agoda.com,
Kayak.com, Cheapflights, Rentalcars.com, momondo, Mundi, and OpenTable
And the other big one is TripAdvisor, founded in 2000. Some of TripAdvisor’s air travel acquisitions include Airfarewatchdog, Bookingbuddy.com, SeatGuru.com, and Smartertravel.com.
Specialty Fare Finders
In addition to the major players that provide airfare comparisons, there are lots of sites that are using this flight data and presenting it in innovative ways.
Drungli is a search engine of European low cost airlines, listing the cheapest random destinations available at any given moment. Enter your departure city and your date of travel, and Drungli will find the cheapest flights out of that airport on the given date. You can also select a month search if you are more flexible, giving you more options of cheap flights. The site plans to expand to more regions in the future.
Escape provides travel inspiration by price by mapping the cheapest flights from your city on any given travel dates. Escape is a tool created by MIT and uses airfares from Kayak and Skyscanner.
FlightList is made for digital nomads, remote workers and flexible travellers. It provides alternate routes and one-way flights within a departure date range.
AZair.com finds budget flights around Europe, Mediterranean and Asia. AZair combines low cost carriers and picks the cheapest options from multitudes of possible connections.
Fareness is a flight search site that lets you search from a broad departure range with variable return dates.
Round The World Airfares
Round the world flights (RTW flights) are a possible money saving option if you have an itinerary that will take you around the world in one direction. There are dedicated travel agents that offer RTW tickets, and these may work out cheaper compared to if you tried to put it together yourself.
Online travel agents haven’t mastered the art of round the world ticketing, so quotes from traditional travel agents are still a competitive way of booking RTW flights.
BootsnAll is the best Round The World airfare booker I have used in test bookings. It’s a real booking site that returns real quotes, as opposed to some RTW booking sites that send you a quote via email.
The fare comparison sites are getting better at working out round the world tickets, and Kiwi Nomad is one of the most innovative multi-city RTW travel.
Kiwi Nomad finds the cheapest possible route for your selected cities in a multi-destination trip. It works by shuffling destination order and the dates of destinations to help find the cheapest possible route. It goes without saying that a high degree of flexibility is required to make such a trip. If you haven’t made your plan yet then this is a fun way to generate an itinerary.
Budget airlines (or low-cost airlines) is another consideration when looking for cheap flights.
Before the age of flight comparison sights there were a number of low-cost airlines that weren’t shown in the results. These days most of the airlines are shown in the search results, such as AirAsia and Jetstar in Asia, and EasyJet and Ryanair in Europe. In the USA some of the big LCA’s are still holdouts of providing fares on comparison sites. Southwest and Spirit Air are notable examples of airlines that don’t show in every search site.
If I’m doing a search for an unfamiliar destination I will look up the list of low cost airlines, and also check the Wiki page for the airports to see what airlines fly there.
Flightfox is a crowd sourced travel agent where you start a competition and flight experts will compete to find the lowest airfare. The winner receives part of your booking fee thus they have an incentive to find the cheapest flight. Flightfox is best when searching for non-direct flights that require human thought into routing, such as considering alternative airports and low cost airlines. It is also helpful for those with unusual luggage or travel needs.
Flystein is a human-powered flight search site. They will build a trip for you, and if they don’t beat your price you don’t pay the fee.
I subscribe to the low cost airlines of where I am based. For example I’m currently based in Vietnam so I subscribe to Vietjet Air, AirAsia, and Jetstar Pacific.
By doing this I have picked up deals like Kl to Delhi for $20USD, Melbourne to KL for 90USD and Manila to Hong Kong for $20USD. These were booked out of opportunity rather than me planning to go there.
If you are a student of under 26 you may qualify for special offers at STA Travel. They have a section of discounted flights so compare those offers with what is on offer on the main fare finders.
Deal Alert Newsletters
If you’re on the lookout for a bargain flight or inspiration to somewhere new then airfare newsletters are a great option. Sometimes I’ve booked a flight from a cheap deal, and built an itinerary around that.
Secret Flying send out newsletters according to your region and show cheap deals and error fares. For example if you are in Australia you can subscribe to the Oceania newsletters, and you will only get deals for departures from Australia.
Airfarewatchdog is useful for fares originating in the US. The site tracks airfare deals which may not appear in the fare finder sites. You can set alerts for your home airport.
Travelzoo offer deals which are worth checking if you are looking for a cheap package holiday. These sort of sites are best for inspiration rather than specifically looking for set airfares.
Fly4free publish daily deals for cheap flights from Europe, US, Asia and Australia. You can subscribe or search accoding to your origin destination.
Holiday Pirates feature deals from European destinations.
GTFO Flights scour the web for deeply-discounted and mistake airfares from US destinations and send alerts to your email 1-2 times per week.
If you always fly from the same airport look for blogs that blog only about deals from that airport. For example YYZ Deals blogs about cheap flights from Toronto. Search for “XXX (your airport) flight deals”, “XXX blog”, or variations.
Another newsletter option is to subscribe to your home airport. My Australian home city airport of Melbourne Tullamarine has a newsletter for flight deals. Not all airports are this organised though, so do a search for your official airport website and see if there is a newsletter available.
Airfare membership sites are similar to email newsletter services, except a membership site uses a paid subscription model. These deal sites are manually curated so it takes time and effort to find deals. The selling point is that you will more than make up your subscription fee with the savings you make on airfares. Some sites offer a free trial or a limited free service. It’s best to check if they provide enough deals from your home airport or region.
Jack’s Flight Club is a cheap flights newsletter club publishing flights deals from the UK, northern Europe and the US.
Scott’s Cheap Flights sends out email alerts about cheap flights departing from your preferred airports.
Thrifty Traveler Premium finds cheap international flights, business class deals, error fares, and frequent flyer award sales with the major US airlines.
Hidden City Ticketing
Skiplagged finds airfares that airlines don’t want you to know about. For example sometimes it is cheaper to fly to another destination than it is to fly to the hub you go through. The idea is you book the further flight and get off at the hub. The airlines say this is illegal and United tried to sue them.
To make this work you need to fly on a one-way ticket, as once you get off the flight you will void the return leg. You also need to fly with carry-on luggage, otherwise your bag will continue to the final destination while you got off the flight. The is also the risk of your ticket being rerouted through another city.
An alternative way to find cheap flights (and even flying for free) is courier flights.
As an air courier, your checked luggage allowance is used by the shipping company in exchange for a heavily reduced fare or free flight. Being a courier could also involve carrying sensitive documents or documents that required to be delivered ASAP in hand luggage, and picked up by an agent at the airport.
There used to be services such as aircourierinternational.com and aircourier.org, but as international flights have become cheaper and global shipping more efficient, these services have fallen by the wayside. These tickets were hard to get, and required a last minute flexibility. Also being based at a major hub helped.
[The Air Courier Association from 1996.]
There are now some new air courier services that are refining this process. I have not tried these myself but I’m listing them here for the record.
Air Mule is a service where you can list your booked flights and offer your luggage allowance, potentially earning up to $500 per roundtrip flight.
Air Charter Service take applications to become a onboard courier. As a hand-carry agent, you supervise door-to-door delivery of cargo such as prototype parts and high-value single packages.
Last Minute Flights
Last minute flights is an option that has become less relevant in the age of flight comparison sites. The premise was that tickets were offered at a cheaper rate when there was a large amount of unsold seats before departure.
Sites like lastminute.com from the UK, and 11th hour vacations and Site59.com in the US offered cheap flights and packages with a departure date within a few days.
This is another flight option that has been made redundant by meta-search sites. Now if you want to find a last minute flight you can search flights for tomorrow to “Anywhere” and have an instant list of the cheapest last minute airfares from your airport.
Name Your Own Price Airfares
Name Your Own Price for flights was a leading feature of Priceline.com, in addition to their Name Your Own Price for hotels. You would enter your flight details and make a bid, and if your offer was accepted you would then find out the name of the airline and the schedule.
The concept was that Priceline was selling heavily discounted fares for flights that would have departed with empty seats. Hiding the airline name until the flight was agreed ensured that the airline didn’t become associated with selling such discounted tickets.
With the rise of metasearch flight sites, NYOP tickets became less price competitive. In 2016 Priceline discontinued this service, and at this point there are no major online travel agents that offer this form of ticketing.