How to use different ticket sites to find low airfares
May 10th, 2006
There are dozens of online airfare booking sites out there today, and each one clamors that they’ve got the best deals. But which one really does?
It depends. A deal, after all, isn’t just about price: how does a particular ticket or itinerary fit your schedule? Can you fly red-eye? Will that cheaper fare get you to your sister’s wedding on time, or do you need to specify when you arrive, and not leave it up to a computer? What about frequent-flier miles will you get them? Can you use them?
It isn’t just what you want out of price that will get you the best deal (though we’re bloody well going to help you get the best deal), it’s what you need out of your ticket and schedule.
So we took some of the top airfare bookers online today – Hotwire, Farebeater, Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz – and asked ourselves, “Which is best for what? And under what circumstances?” Read through the list below, think about your needs for your trip, then pick your booker and start finding that great deal!
(To keep this page open while you explore booking sites, right-click the link and select “Open in New Window”.)
- Airfare Comparison Tool
You may know all of the giants of online travel booking – Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity – and make sure to check every site when you’re searching for a flight. This process can take a lot of time and it’s easy to get confused when you’re looking at multiple sites! However, thanks to our Airfare Comparison Tool, you can now search multiple sites at once. Input your cities and click the ‘Search’ button. You can also choose what providers you wish to search from a list of options that include both airfare conglomerates like Priceline and individual airlines like Southwest. Then, new widows displaying your results from each page appear for you to book your flight.
>> Try our Airfare Comparison Tool now.
Like the Airfare Comparison Tool, Kayak allows you to search multiple sites – they claim more than 100 – at once. The advantage is, they’re all filed together for you on one page, so you don’t have to jump back and forth between sites. Once you select the ticket you want, just click to buy directly with the hotel, airline or other agency. One drawback? We noticed on multiple occasions that listed airfares were ‘no longer available’ when we cliked through to the host site to buy.
>> Read more about how to search Kayak
Use when time and carrier are not an issue, and you just want rock-bottom fares. Hotwire conceals flight times (however, you can exclude red-eye flights from your search), and the carrier name (but Hotwire only deals with top-level, reputable airlines) until after purchase. You also cannot apply or accrue frequent-flier miles, and tickets are non-refundable, non-transferrable, etc., etc. However, Hotwire will help you find just about the lowest fare possible.
>> Read more about how to search Hotwire
One of the largest, best-known airfare bookers. Travelocity is not where we recommend you look to find rock-bottom airfares (though if you have flexibility with dates, you can often find a range of low fares, some on par with Hotwire’s). What we’ve found Travelocity best for is a barometer: you might not find the lowest of the low, but you will see what fares are averaging for where you want to go, helping you make comparisons. Travelocity also provides great flexibility for selecting departure and return legs, as well as dates and times very helpful for when you’ve got to pinpoint the details of your flight exactly.
>> Read more about how to search Travelocity
In many respects, the twin sibling of Travelocity (in industry-speak they are referred to as “the Big Two”), but Expedia also has some pretty cool features of its own worth checking out. Flight Price Matcher is similar to Priceline’s “name your own fare” service, with similar offerings and restrictions, and Fare Compare is a handy option that lets you enter where you’re flying to and from, and shows you fares that other Expedia customers have found.
>> Read more about how to search Expedia
You’ve probably seen the William Shatner commercials and know the spiel, but Priceline can get you round-trip tickets at the fare you specify. You name the price you’re willing to pay, punch in your credit card number, and in as little as 15 minutes you find out whether or not the price was accepted. However, if it is, Priceline automatically purchases the tickets so you’d better be sure. Like Hotwire, flights and times (always between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., no red-eyes) are revealed only after purchase, but you choose your dates. Again, great for when time isn’t the issue, but budget is.
>> Read more about how to search Priceline
Orbitz debuted in summer 2001, with about as much hoopla surrounding it as most summertime movies. Formed out of a partnership between several major airlines, Orbitz was hyped as the ultimate low-fare provider for people searching and booking online. Has it delivered? Yes and no. Orbitz is handy for finding low web-only fares, and they have many search options to help you customize your search, but they can be beaten, and we recommend checking other sites first, before making your decision.
>> Read more about how to search Orbitz
Those are just the biggest airfare sites. But bigger isn’t necessarily better. If you want to go the extra mile to find a great deal, we’ve got you covered, with guides to several more airfare sites. If you don’t find the fare you want on one of the big boys, it can’t hurt to try these as well:
- How to search Airfarewatchdog
- How to search Bing Travel
- How to search BookingBuddy
- How to search Cheapoair
- How to Search Cheap Tickets
- How to Search Cheap Flights
- How to Search FareCompare
- How to search Flights.com
- How to search Lowfares.com
- How to search Mobissimo
- How to search Onetravel
- How to Search SideStep
- How to search TripAdvisor
- How to Search Vayama
Okay, so now you know which one you want to use. But before you start looking and booking, read on: we’ve got some dynamite tips and pointers on finding low fares. Some of it’s common sense, and some of it deals with the many quirks of the airline industry, but looking over our tips can help you knock that ticket price down even more.