Updated January 27, 2020

Best Website for Flights: Beginner's Guide

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What is the best site to book cheap airfare? Depends if you want to fly international, flexible dates or last minute. Find the cheapest flights with this guide.

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Here are the best airfare search sites for 2020:

Also check out other sites to consider and best region-specific sites.

Before you book: Always search multiple sites to find the best deal for you. Even though different travel sites offer different features and search functionalities, there isn't one best place to book your ticket. Rates are typically fairly steady across most booking sites.

That includes online travel agencies (OTAs), metasearch sites and the websites of the airlines themselves. Even though a flight may get you to your destination, you may be missing out on extra perks a different travel site could provide.

TIP: Most tickets listed on these flight booking sites are "basic economy" fares, which often charge extra fees for things such as carry-on or checked baggage and seat selection. Some places are more transparent about pricing and feature any additional fees in each listing, but some hide them in the fine print on the check-out page.

Booking through the airline's website

When you book using OTAs, you can't redeem any frequent flyer miles you may have with a specific airline, which can earn you cheap, if not completely free, flights in the long run. However, most OTAs do offer their own rewards points that you can redeem only by booking with them. It's always worth doing the calculations to find out which booking site will save you the most money.

Booking a ticket directly through an airline's website does have the potential to save you money, too. Some carriers, such as Southwest Airlines, don't list their flights on any site other than their own, so it's always worth checking individual sites for better deals.

Buying with an airline also gives you an extra safety net in case anything goes wrong with your travel plans. If you book through an OTA, you'll usually have to speak to its customer service representatives to fix issues such as rescheduling or cancellations. It's usually much easier to problem solve through contacting the airline itself, which you can only do if you've purchased tickets directly.

Best Websites & Apps for Booking Flights

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Whether you want the cheapest flight, flexible dates, or the best vacation bundle, our list of travel sites has you covered.

Cheapest Flights: Skyscanner

In a majority of searches conducted, Skyscanner came up with the cheapest flights available. The site compiles flight listings from other travel platforms, not just airlines, so you have the best chance of finding the cheapest flight. Skyscanner can also search for hotels and rental cars.

Unlike sites like Expedia, Skyscanner aggregates all available flights for your trip and lists them in one place so you can compare results. Once you make a selection, the platform sends you directly to the airline or OTA for booking.

Features

  • Flexible Location Search
    Not sure where you want to go? Set your departure airport and explore all destinations in every price range.

    One way to find the best cheap flights if you do have a specific destination in mind is by selecting the "add nearby airports" option on the search page. Sometimes it's significantly cheaper to fly into a smaller or more remote airport.

  • Flexible Date Search
    Skyscanner also allows you to search all fares to a specific destination over an entire month or find the cheapest month out of the year.

  • Deal Pages
    Bookmark Skyscanner's pages for Last Minute Flight Deals, Daily Flight Deals and International Flight Deals to keep up to date on the best savings.

Flexible Dates or Destinations: Google Flights

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If your dates are not set in stone, use metasearch website Google Flights to find the cheapest price for your trip. One of the best things about Google Flights is its ability to search across different times and locations at once, listing all of the best deals in one place. It can also search for hotels and vacation packages.

On the Google Flights search page, you'll find a variety of flexible date tools that automatically alert you to better deals on different days. The tools can also search for tickets to multiple destinations at a time.

Features:

  • Date Grid
    This grid shows you the current price for a round-trip or one-way flight for any departure and return dates. Instead of doing multiple searches for different days to check prices, just scan the grid to find the cheapest price.

  • Price Graph
    If you know the duration of your trip (for example: 5 days), this graph shows you the price trend for that duration across every month.

  • Explore Destinations
    If you're up for going anywhere, search by choosing one or multiple airports to leave from and selecting a general region and month you want to travel. Google Flights will then compile results to show you the best deals during that time.

Read our detailed guide on Google Flights to learn about all its special tricks and features.

Last Minute Flights: Airfare Watchdog

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Looking for an impromptu getaway? Airfare Watchdog is a great place to find cheap flights and last minute deals on tickets.

Top features:

  • Today's Top Fares
    Every day, Airfare Watchdog provides spontaneous travelers a list of the day's best deals from your home airport. These deals span the next few months, so don't worry if you're not the impulsive type, as they're not always for last minute travel.

  • Weekend Deals
    Enter your home airport and "Take Me Anywhere" to find deals for the upcoming weekends.

  • Price Alerts
    Get alerted when the price drops on a route you're watching.

Flights + Hotels Bundles: Priceline

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Priceline offers some of the best deals on bundles compared to other OTAs. A vacation bundle typically includes a two or more reservations, such as a flight and hotel or flight and rental car all booked though one place.

The company was originally known for its "Name Your Own Price" feature. This has been discontinued for flights, so Priceline works more like a traditional OTA now. But it still offers some opaque deals that let you find cheap flights, as long as you don't mind not knowing every detail about the flight until after you buy.

What is an opaque deal? On certain routes, you may see flights with even bigger discounts than regular options. The trade-off is that you won't know the exact departure/landing times or even the airline. You'll only see exact details after you've booked the non-refundable flight.

Top features:

  • Trip Builder
    This feature gets you the best prices when you bundle a flight, hotel, and car rental.

  • Vacation Packages
    Priceline also tends to offer the largest bundled savings on packages booked at least 90 days in advance.

  • Express Deals:
    These special opaque flight deals offer cheaper prices if you don't mind not knowing exact details until after you book.

Priceline's mobile app also offers Tonight Only deals, where you can find last minute hotel, flight, and rental car deals. Note that these are typically same-day reservations, so plan accordingly if you use Priceline's Tonight Only deals.

International Flights: Kayak

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Kayak is one of the most popular travel search sites. It provides a lot of customizable search options to find the perfect flight for your needs. For international flights, Kayak often returns the lowest price among all OTAs and metasearch websites.

Keep in mind that the platform is not a true booking agent. It searches across listings and then aggregates them all in one place. When you book, you'll either be directed to the airline's own website or an online travel agent to complete your purchase.

Kayak has nearly every feature you need to find the best deals on tickets. You can choose to include nearby airports in your search as well as search for hotels and rental cars at your destination.

Top features:

  • "Hacker" Fares
    This helps you find cheap fares by looking for 2 one-way flights to and from your destination with different carriers, instead of a round trip with the same airline.

  • Multiple Date Search
    Search fares up to 3 days before and after your desired dates. Flying on a different day is one great way to find cheap flights if your travel plans are flexible.

  • Trip Huddle
    Kayak's collaborative group trip planner helps a group easily make important decisions, such as voting on destinations, travel dates, and hotels.

Kayak's "Price Graph," shows you the estimated fares over a 31-day period starting with your chosen trip start date.

You can plan your trip around airfare prices rather than being stuck with high fares because you've already chosen specific dates.

Travel Site With Rewards: Expedia

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Expedia lets you earn points every time you book through its website or app. You can redeem your points to use toward flights, hotels, car rentals, and activities. Points can be redeemed at any time, with no minimum required.

The advantage of using OTA rewards, such as those from Expedia, is the flexibility to book with any airline and hotel. It's one way for less frequent travelers to earn some reward points without having to deal with travel rewards credit cards.

Typically, you can redeem your points 30 days after your trip, with the exception of points earned on cruises (45 days) or car rentals (90 days).

For the actual booking of tickets, Expedia operates like most other OTAs. It allows you search for round trip or one-way flights from one airport or nearby airports. Expedia Group owns multiple OTAs, including Hotwire, Orbitz and Travelocity, so rates tend to be very consistent across all of them.

Expedia offers three reward tiers:

  • +Blue (automatic for all members): You get Hotel Price Guarantee, which ensures price-match up until midnight before check-in. You'll also get point redemption to book reservations for others and exclusive member offers.

  • +Silver (spend $5K on travel or book 7 nights): Extra benefits include 10% bonus on all base points, 250 bonus points for eligible hotel packages, and priority customer service.

  • +Gold (spend $10K on travel or book 15 nights): Extra benefits include 30% bonus on all base points, +VIP Access Hotel upgrades and a dedicated customer service agent.

Top features:

  • Member Prices
    Get members-only up to 50% off deals on hotels and activities.

  • Add On Advantage
    Get bundle prices without having to book your flight + hotel at the same time. When you book a flight with Expedia, you have time to decide on your hotel up to the day of your trip - and still be able to unlock great discounts.

  • Flash Sales
    See 24-hour-only deals on selected flight and hotel bundles.

Expedia breaks down the fees you pay on the checkout screen. Pay attention to any miscellaneous costs, such as booking fees. These could negate the benefit of the rewards you earn.

Mobile App for Cheap Flights: Hopper

The Hopper app analyzes billions of flights every day to predict the future cheapest prices - with 95% accuracy, up to one year in advance. The app is the best place for travelers who know their vacation destination far in advance of their trip dates.

Depending on where you're going, sometimes the earlier you buy will end up saving you a significant amount of money. You can choose to receive Hopper notifications as prices fluctuate higher or lower, so you won't forget to book tickets.

Top features:

  • Price Prediction
    Hopper will tell you if prices are likely to drop in the next few weeks, or when they will go up. This lets you know whether you should wait or book your tickets now.

  • Watch Trips
    Watch flights and hotels and receive push notifications when the price drops. You'll need to watch multiple trips if you want to search across different airports, though.

  • Color-Coded Calendar
    Enter your home and destination airports, and Hopper will predict fares for the next year in a color-coded calendar. You can scan the calendar to see when prices are expected to be the cheapest.

Other Sites to Consider

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Momondo
Momondo. When you put in your preferred trip timeframe, Momondo displays a graph listing prices in the days before and after the ones you searched. Having flexible plans can help you find cheap flights.

Momondo is not an OTA. It's an aggregator, which means it compiles search results from multiple sites in one place. If you choose one-way flights from two different airlines, you'll have to make two reservations.

Hotwire
Like Priceline's "opaque" bookings, Hotwire's "Hot Rate Flights" feature offers low fare tickets for travelers who don't mind knowing the complete details of their flight until after they book.

Orbitz
Orbitz has their own rewards program. You can redeem those rewards on hotel stays with no date restrictions.

Orbitz also offer a 24-hour price guarantee period. If you find a lower price within 24 hours of booking, you can get a refund of the difference.

TripAdvisor
Best known as a place for hotel and restaurant reviews by fellow travelers, TripAdvisor now offers flight-booking.

Search fares and read flight reviews from fellow travelers to help inform your decision. If you're not ready to book right away, you can set an alert to be notified when fares drop.

Best Sites for Specific Regions

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If you're traveling abroad and will be visiting multiple destinations, here are the best airline prices for region-specific flights.

Best Site for Cheap Flights in Europe:
GoEuro, or Omio, is designed specifically for comparing prices of European travel. With over 800 official partners, GoEuro can searches the cheapest and fastest routes to multiple airports across the continent.

If you're unable to secure the right flight, you can also use GoEuro to search trains and bus routes across Europe, as well. Should any issues arise during your trip planning, the site offers customer service assistance in 12 different languages.

Best Site for Cheap Flights in Asia:
AirAsia is the go-to airline for budget flights within Asia. Consistently named the world's best low-cost carrier for 10 years in a row, AirAsia flies to airports all throughout Asia and even to Australia and Hawaii. They also offer some great deals on flight + hotel bundles and vacation packages.

Best Site for Cheap Flights in India:
As the leading flight-booking website in India for nearly 20 years, MakeMyTrip can guarantee the lowest fares for any domestic Indian trips. They also offer instant notifications for fare drops, discounts, refunds for your flight. Once you've landed, use MakeMyTrip to book hotels, buses, trains and even cabs.

Best Site for Cheap Flights to Canada:
SkyScanner Canada is the best place for finding well-priced flights on a user-friendly platform. Not only does the site offer flight data from a large number of airlines and travel companies, they offer useful tools to make your trip a breeze.

The site's low-fare alerts and a multi-city feature that enables you to fly into and out of nearby airports you might not have initially considered will help you save money and travel reliably when in Canada.

What to Look for in Flight Booking Sites

  • Filters
    Some sites let you search by airport, takeoff times, number of stops, type of aircraft, and, of course, price. This allows you to find the perfect flight for your needs.

  • Flexible Date Tool
    This lets you see days/times when flights may be cheaper, allowing you to save money.

  • Upfront pricing
    Make sure you take the time to read the fine print, which often includes hidden fees. Many fares don't include extras, including tax and luggage fees. Keep in the mind that depending on the type of flight tickets you're purchasing, sometimes those additional fees are included in the price.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the best day to book a flight?
    Typically, Tuesdays are the cheapest days to book domestic flights, while Wednesdays are the cheapest days to book international flights.

  • Is it cheaper to book airfare online or with a travel agent?
    A study conducted by the American Society of Travel Agents found that consumers saved an average of $450 when using a travel agent. They also saved an average of four hours of their own time looking for the best deal.

  • Which U.S. airlines are the cheapest?
    Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant Airlines typically have the lowest fares. Be careful, though, as their fares are often "barebones". You'll usually pay extra fees for baggage, food, drinks, and even bringing a carry-on.

  • How far in advance should you book a flight?
    You should book it 70 days in advance for the best rates, according to a study conducted by CheapAir.com. Airfares often change more than 60 times within an 11-month period. But rates usually won't go down once you hit the 21-day mark.

    Departure date coming up? Check out this article from Journy for tips on how to beat extreme jet lag.

  • How early should you buy international flight tickets?
    You'll find the best prices on international travel as many as 199 days from departure, according to CheapAir.com. If that's too far in advance for you to commit, you may still find good deals up to 120 days before departure.

Bottom Line

Finding the best flight may mean more than finding the "cheapest flight." Think about what is most important to you.

Are you set on your dates or are you flexible? Do you have a strict budget you must follow? Are you the adventurous type and want to throw caution to the wind?

The sky is the limit when it comes to finding the best online airfare-booking site for your needs.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

More from CreditDonkey:


Airline Miles for Beginners


Best Credit Cards for International Travel


Foreign Transaction Fee


Travel Credit Cards

Orbitz

Orbitz is a well-known online travel agency that offers discounted flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and more. Find out below if those deals are actually worth your time.
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