It seems like every day a new flight booking site is launched. All of them claim to be the cheapest. This should be good news for travelers but in reality, it just means that with each new site that is added it becomes more difficult to find the best cheap flights to anywhere.
We book quite a few cheap international tickets every year and each time we carefully compare our favorite sites. We found it was time to share the results of our tests and announce the best flight search engine.
In this article, we share the pros and cons of 10 booking sites together with the actual prices we found for some routes.
There are a huge number of factors involved in the ticket price, but these results should nevertheless give you a good indication of which sites are actually cheap and which are not.
If a cheap airline ticket is the only thing you are waiting for to leave on vacation, then you should definitely check out the Dollar Flight Club. I share more details about this bargain hunting club further down.
There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.
How to find cheap flights?
The airline’s own website
Booking directly on the airline’s website does have some advantages.
Airlines have introduced all kinds of special fares and some booking sites (OTA’s) don’t show all the details about the fare you’re offered. Will you get free seat selection? Do you need to pay for your checked baggage and how much?
Frequent flyers may also share my frustration that OTA’s often don’t share the exact booking class although this is an important element to know how much miles you will earn on that flight.
That’s why in some cases when you need to be 100% sure about what exactly you’re booking, the airline’s website is the place to go.
Something we don’t think about when we’re booking our tickets is delays and cancellations. But these things do happen sometimes.
In the unfortunate event that you would be confronted with them, you will be better of if you booked directly.
The fewer parties involved in your booking, the better.
If you booked directly you will be able to get in touch with your airline, if you booked with an OTA the airline will most probably direct you to your OTA to take care of things.
Airlines will not always show their cheapest rates on their website. Some airlines advertise with their best price guarantee but most of the time these are very restrictive, not to say close to worthless.
In some cases, you will, therefore, have to consider whether you want to book the best price or prefer the certainty of booking directly with the airline.
- You know exactly what you’re booking and you can directly add any extra’s (baggage, seats, …). Not all OTA’s show all the information, certainly not with all the paying extras that airlines are adding these days.
- You can contact the airline directly in case of mishaps.
- With so many airlines it’s near to impossible to find the best deals. You would need to check several dates on each airline’s website. It doesn’t harm of course to check the fare you found on the website of an OTA to see if you could book it cheaper on the airline’s website.
Momondo is not a real booking site but rather a flight aggregator site.
It compares hundreds of flight booking sites and will show the best and cheapest results. You can choose a result that pleases you and Momondo will redirect you to the booking site where the flight was found to make your booking.
The good news is that Momondo is really good at what it does. Because of the huge number of sites that are compared the results that are shown are often some of the best that can be found.
Momondo will combine two one-way tickets if that results in a better deal. These are shown with the label “mix and match”.
If none of the shown flights suit you, you can also create your own mix and match package by combining inbound and outbound flights.
A chart at the top of the results shows the price evolution for the surrounding dates. Here you can see if it would be cheaper to fly a few days earlier or later.
It is helpful although I would have preferred the ability to do a flexible search over a range of dates and airports.
The lack of this functionality is, in my opinion, the biggest drawback of the site.
Flight Insights is a neat feature that is somewhat hidden on the results page. The insights that are shown are based on Momondo’s metadata that it gathers from previous searches.
The more popular the route the more info you will find. When the route is not popular the link may not be shown.
What you can expect to find is the cheapest month to fly, how long in advance to book and the cheapest day and time to fly.
Other information that is sometimes shown is the most popular carriers and the most popular routes (in case there’re multiple airports at origin or destination).
When the info is available the link will be shown in the top-right corner of the page, in between the search fields and the graph with the prices for the return flight.
If you’re not yet ready to book you can create a price alert for your flight and you will get updates about the price in your mailbox.
- Momondo often finds good fares.
- The price insights might help you find better fares.
- Momondo lacks several features for flexible searches. To circumvent this problem I use other sites to find the best dates and then search these dates with Momondo.
Kayak is similar to Momondo in the sense that the site also searches across multiple booking sites.
Both Kayak and Momondo are part of the huge Booking Holdings group.
Kayak is apparently already better integrated, rates found on sites that are part of the group can be booked directly.
For all other sites, Kayak will redirect you to that site to complete your booking.
Kayak has tools for flexible searches.
It’s relatively easy to search for flights across a whole month and you can indicate if you want to search from nearby airports. You can’t pick the airports yourself. When you flag the checkbox Kayak will include all airports in a range of 113km around the airport you entered.
Kayak is, just like Momondo, used by millions of people worldwide. They are doing a massive amount of searches daily and based on these results Kayak gives some booking advice on the search results page.
You will see it in the top left corner of the search results. Unfortunately, it’s very simple.
Basically, it tells you to book now or wait and I’m not sure how trustworthy this is because it almost always tells me to book now.
Just below this, you will see a checkbox that allows you to track your flights and right below that is a very handy feature that will update the prices shown based on the number of bags you’re traveling with.
By default Kayak already indicates if the flights shown include hand luggage and checked luggage.
If you specify with how much luggage you will be traveling the fares will be updated to show the total price, inclusive of any applicable baggage fees.
If you have a hard time to pick a destination the Kayak Explore map might be what you need. The flight prices are shown on a world map and you can directly see where your budget can take you.
Unfortunately, this feature uses historical data and the prices are not always up to date. During our tests we often had the prices increase once we picked a destination and started booking.
Read also: How to plan your first independent vacation.
- It’s good that Kayak shows a nice overview of additional baggage fees now that airlines have introduced fees for just about anything.
- Kayak’s hacker fares, a combination of separate inbound and outbound flights, are sometimes very sweet deals.
- Kayak’s user interface used to be less intuitive but has greatly improved.
- The explore map is a nice feature but due to the historical prices rather useless. It’s frustrating that all prices are going up once you’ve clicked them.
We continue with yet another travel aggregator.
Skyscanner also searches for flights across a bunch of booking sites. You can search on specific dates, across whole months or Skyscanner can search the cheapest month for you.
When doing your searches you can indicate to include nearby airports but you can’t choose which ones that will be.
If you can’t decide where to go you can choose to enter ‘Anywhere’ in the destination field and Skyscanner will offer a list of destinations grouped by country.
Skyscanner was among the first to introduce this feature but it is time for them to update this now that others are showing these results on a map.
The prices that are shown in the ‘Anywhere’ search and the ‘monthly’ search are not always 100% accurate.
These are based on search results that were done by other users and during our tests we had both positive, where the final price was lower, and negative surprises.
If you can look through these things you will be able to find some good deals on Skyscanner.
- Manages to find good deals (see the results of our tests below).
- The search to ‘Anywhere’ is not as user-friendly as on other sites.
Expedia is a very well known name in the travel industry.
If you prefer to book everything in one place this site is what you’re looking for.
You can book flights, hotels, rental cars and even cruises on their website.
Make sure to join their loyalty program before you do so as this enables you to earn points for your bookings.
Hotel, cruises and rental car bookings earn two points for every dollar spent, flights earn 1 point for every 5 dollars spent.
The reasoning is given is that you can double dip your flights and earn both points on Expedia and miles in your airline’s frequent flyer account.
You will not earn any points for your hotel stays when you book on Expedia (or any other OTA) but instead, you will earn more points on Expedia.
Because of the low earnings on flights, the frequent flyer program is not in itself a reason to book here if you’re not booking other things on Expedia as well.
Expedia is not a site that you should expect to offer competitive prices across all destinations but my tests brought up some good value flights.
Most of the time this was for flights in the near future where the prizes on the other sites had already increased.
- The loyalty program Expedia Rewards. Expedia is one of the few sites that has such a program. Orbitz is another one that we will discuss further down in this article.
- The possibility to book everything in one place.
- Free and easy online cancellation within 24 hours (only on expedia.com, not on .co.uk or other countries websites and only on select flights).
- Low earnings of Expedia rewards on flights
Jetradar is relatively new, they were founded in 2012.
The website compares prices for hotels and flights.
They are not an OTA, they just compare prices and when you find a flight that pleases you Jetradar will redirect you to the actual site to complete your booking.
It is good to have a new player in the market that is not part of the large monopolistic travel groups. Jetradar finds good and competitive fares on a range of well-known and reputable OTA’s.
The drawback of Jetradar is that at this point they don’t give as much information about your travel fare (eg. baggage included or not) as some of the other sites in this list.
You will have to click-through to the OTA to get the details and see the price inclusive of baggage fees.
- Very competitive fares (see the results of our tests below).
- Not as much information regarding extra fees.
Google flights only launched in 2011, this makes it one of the younger players in this list.
Their intuitive and fast interface has made it one of my favorites in a short time.
The search engine comes with many tools that make it easy to filter your results and search across different dates and different airports. The explore map, similar to the one that Kayak has, shows where you can fly with the budget you have.
Unlike Kayak, the prices shown on this map are accurate and can be found when you want to book them.
Does this make Google Flights the perfect site to book your flights? Unfortunately not.
First I should say that Google Flights is not an actual booking site but a flight aggregator. It will redirect you to the site where it found the fare to complete your booking. Second, Google flights is not searching a wide range of competitive sites so the fares it finds can often be found cheaper elsewhere.
I always start my searches on Google Flights because I like their tools so much and they make it easy to get an idea on what dates I should be able to find the best prices.
With that info, I move to other sites to find the best prices on those dates.
- Fast and reliable. The results are shown really fast and even the Explore map shows accurate results.
- Many tools to help you search across a wide range of dates and airports really quick.
- Not the best prices.
- You need to know how to use the tools but once you do you cannot miss them anymore.
Orbitz is another well-established OTA.
They not only offer flights but also rental cars, cruises, vacation rentals, and activities.
Similar to Expedia they also have their own rewards program.
You can earn Orbucks (that’s how they call their points) with all your bookings and you can redeem them on hotel bookings . 1 Orbuck is the equivalent of 1 US Dollar.
Orbitz’s loyalty program is a little more rewarding than Expedia Rewards. You earn 1% on flights and 3% on hotels. When you use the mobile app to make your booking your earnings increase to 5%.
Orbitz’s prices are usually in the ballpark of those on other websites and in almost all cases Orbitz will add a (small) booking fee.
Keep an eye on your fare, the fee is added once you start your booking.
If you find a lower fare within 24 hours of booking your ticket you can make use of Orbitz’s best-price guarantee.
As is usually the case with such guarantees there is some small print. The tickets need to be exactly the same and they need to have the same booking code.
I have no experience with this guarantee but I would just cancel my ticket and book the other ticket. Orbitz has an easy online cancellation. All tickets can be canceled for free up to 24 hours after purchase.
There may be some exceptions to this so make sure to check the details for your specific flight.
- Orbitz Rewards.
- Free and easy online cancellation within 24 hours.
- Orbitz adds a booking fee to most bookings. Often the prices on Orbitz are the same as the ones found on other websites so this booking fee makes them less attractive.
Hotwire is very similar to Orbitz. Both are part of the Expedia group, the user interface of both sites is exactly the same. Just like with Orbitz it is possible to cancel your plans online for free within the first 24 hours after booking.
Another similarity is the Best Price Guarantee.
If you find a lower fare for the identical flight within 24 hours you can submit a claim to get a refund of the price difference. I personally wouldn’t take the risk to see my claim denied, they say their validation takes 5-7 business and prices fluctuate all the time, so I would rather book the new ticket and cancel the reservation I have with Hotwire.
Hotwire also offers opaque fares. Opaque fares are tickets without any disclosed carriers or schedules. They’re shown at the top of the search results. You will only get the details about your flight after your booking is completed.
The opaque fares, shown as ‘Hotwire Bargain Fares’, are always the cheapest option although the savings may vary from a meager $10 to a multifold of that. I disregarded the opaque fare for this test as it only was $15 cheaper than other flights but if your plans are flexible they might help you save some extra bucks.
Hotwire has no rewards program.
Orbitz and Expedia also use opaque fares in a similar way as Hotwire.
- Free and easy online cancellation within 24 hours.
- Hotwire adds a booking fee to most (but not all) bookings.
Kiwi.com focuses primarily on low-cost carriers.
The Kiwi.com guarantee covers your connections when your itinerary involves several separate tickets from low-cost carriers.
You no longer risk that you need to buy a new ticket if your first flight arrives late.
On top of that, the website has powerful search tools that give you the ability to do flexible searches. You can search from and to several airports at the same time. You can search across a wide range of data and you can do a search to anywhere.
- KIWI.com guarantee for connections on low-cost carriers.
- The most advanced search functionalities of all sites that we covered.
- It takes some time to get used to the interface and discover all the possibilities.
Dollar Flight Club
We recently joined the Dollar Flight Club.
As much as I love to spend time searching the internet for the best deals, I don’t say no to somebody else doing it for me.
It’s a time-consuming job and sometimes I just don’t have enough time and a lot of other priorities.
As a member of the club, I regularly receive significantly discounted flights. Some of the latest deals I received were a flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong for €418 and Gothenburg to New York for €190. The deals are always several hundred euros lower than the usual price.
The basic membership is free, a premium membership costs $40 yearly and has the additional advantage that you will receive those deals relevant to your home airport(s).
You need to book only one deal to earn back the costs of a premium membership.
Premium members also get access to the Weekend Warrior Deals. Cheap weekend deals that leave from their home airport. Ideal for a quick weekend getaway.
With coupon code DISCOUNT40 you will get 40% your premium membership for the next few days.
What is the cheapest site to book?
Now that we have discussed the pros and cons of the websites let’s have a look at the actual ticket prices that they managed to find.
I tested two different scenarios.
One transcontinental ticket from New York to Los Angeles for the near future. June 23 to June 30, at the time of booking just 1 month ahead.
The second flight we checked was a transatlantic flight to Paris. We booked this one well in advance and we go in the busy Christmas season. We leave from Chicago on December 20th and fly back from Paris on January 3rd.
Here’s a small word of explanation about how I do the tests: To see the full potential of the sites I do not strictly enforce the dates nor the airports. If they offer to fly from nearby airports or nearby dates and this results in cheaper flights I follow their suggestions.
None of them came back with such suggestions this time and I did not use the date grids or charts to search for cheaper dates myself.
As a result, all flights are on the exact same dates.
My search includes all airports in the New York City region and all airports in Paris.
Flights with 2 or more stops or with exceptionally long layovers of 5 hours or more were not retained.
Without further ado, here are the results.
|NYC - Los Angeles(LAX)|
23/6 - 30/6
|Chicago - Paris|
10/8 - 24/8
|Momondo||$ 466 (1 stop)|
$ 521 (direct)
|$ 893 (1 stop)|
$ 1884 (direct)
|Skyscanner||$ 535 (1 stop)|
$ 513 (direct)
|$ 843 (1 stop)|
$ 1814 (direct)
|Skyscanner has the cheapest flight from Chicago to Paris|
|Kayak||$ 502 (1 stop)|
$ 544 (direct)
|$ 1055 (1 stop)|
$ 1884 (direct)
|Expedia||$ 530 (1 stop)|
$ 505 (direct)
|$ 901 (1 stop)|
$ 1884 (direct)
|Google Flights||$ 468 (1 stop)|
$ 527 (direct)
|$ 1135(1 stop)|
$ 1885 (direct)
|Kiwi.com||$ 511 (1 stop)|
$ 544 (direct)
|$ 931 (1 stop)|
$ 4572 (direct)
|Orbitz||$ 542 (1 stop)|
$ 528 (direct)
|$ 901 (1 stop)|
$ 1413 (direct)
|Orbitz has the cheapest direct flight from Chicago to Paris (there's an additional booking fee of $9)|
|Hotwire||$ 519 (1 stop)|
$ 505 (direct)
|$ 955 (1 stop)|
$ 1884 (direct)
|Jetradar||$ 418 (1 stop)|
$ 504 (direct)
|$ 858 (1 stop)|
$ 1528 (direct)
|Jetradar finds the best fares for our flight from New York to LA|
As our tests showed out it’s hard to identify one specific site as the best of them all.
JetRadar is probably new to you, it was new to me as well but they have positively surprised me with the low fares they managed to find.
It’s definitely a site I will be checking in the future.
Momondo is a site that I always check. They didn’t have the best fares with these two tests but I have been using the site for years and they consistently find low fares. Not always the best as is proven with this test but usually among the best that can be found.
They did have some of the best fares when I was working on the Dutch version of the article in March this year.
Skyscanner is another site worth checking out before you buy.
They offered the best fare to Paris in this test and from experience I know that they regularly find good deals.
All three of them are trustworthy sites, they’re actually only comparing the flights. You will not be buying your ticket from them but on the site that you’re redirected to.
Most of the sites they’re working with have good reviews, there’s just one that I feel I need to share a word of warning about and that is justfly.com. They have many complaints and a bad BBB (Better Business Bureau) rating.
Lastly, travel enthusiasts should have a look at the Dollar Flight Club. Up until recently they only worked on ultra-cheap international deals but they’ve recently added the Weekend Warrior Deals.
This makes the club also worthwhile to those with an office job that don’t have the freedom to take holidays whenever they want. Who says no to a cheap weekend getaway?
Because of the recent launch of the Weekend Warrior fares, you can now join the premium service with a 40% discount by using the discount code DISCOUNT40.
Good luck with finding cheap fares!
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