How to search SideStep

by Roger Wade

November 12th, 2007

This how-to guide will show you the best way to use SideStep so you can find the lowest airfare in the shortest amount of time, and still be confident you are getting the best deal.

SideStep is one of a new breed of flight searching tools. The site quickly scans every relevant airfare site on the internet – including the individual airlines sites that frequently offer the absolute lowest fares – and presents the results in a way that you can sort through the fares to quickly determine which has the best combination of price and convenience for your own needs.

This is an excellent system and a powerful tool, but it’s also very confusing at first. This guide will quickly show you which features to use and which to ignore, so you can find the best flight with the least hassle. Along the way we’ll offer some key tips to help you find the cheapest flight that works best for you.

Step 1: Click on this link to open SideStep in a new window, so you can follow along with this guide.

Step 2: Type in the starting and destination airports for your trip.

You can either enter the name of the city or the three-letter airport code. SideStep has a great feature built in so after you enter the first three letters it will automatically present you with a list, so you can quickly choose the best match.

Tip: Many large cities that have more than one local airport have a code that is used to search all the airports at once. Unless you are absolutely certain you want to use one particular airport, the “all airports” option will show you the lowest fares possible.

Step 3: Enter your departure and return dates, but leave the “time” field at “Any time.”

You can click in the date field or on the tiny calendar next to it, and a small calendar will pop up where you can select your dates. This is helpful because being certain of the day of the week mean you don’t have to guess.

SideStep also makes it easy to arrange your search results by time of day on the next screen, so leaving the time field at “Any time” will show you all the lowest fares and you can narrow your search very quickly later.

Tip: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are usually the cheapest days to fly. If you begin your search by using a combination of these days you can quickly find the absolute lowest price first, then change to your ideal dates so you can compare that price to the lowest possible price.

Step 4: Change the number of adult tickets you need with the dropdown, and then click on the orange “Search Multiple Travel Sites” button below.

Note – If you are also traveling with anyone under the age of 18, you can click on the gray “more search options” button to enter the numbers of travelers in the different age groups. Some airlines offer discounts for younger travelers. You can also enter if you have infants who will either be traveling on an adult’s lap, or who need their own seat.

Step 5: SideStep begins its search, and you get your results!

Now SideStep’s computers search every other airfare site that might offer the lowest fare. It also searches the individual airline sites, which typically sell tickets for slightly less than the popular search sites themselves.

Step 6: Examine the results and begin using the SmartSort tools to narrow your choices.

This is where SideStep becomes a great tool in finding the best flight quickly. You’ll see the list of every group of flights on the days you requested that fit your search, with the lowest priced flights on top. This list looks just like lists on most other sites, but SideStep includes powerful tools along the left column that let you sort through this large group of flights to narrow down the search without having to leave or reload this page.

The SmartSort tools can be found in the left column and they seem confusing at first, but we’ll explain them each so you can use them to quickly narrow your search to the best flights for you.

Note – As you narrow your flight options SideStep will automatically change the list of available flights without reloading the page. If your preferences eliminate the cheapest flights, you’ll instantly know what the new lowest price is. It’s fun and easy once you try it out yourself.

Tip: When you use SideStep, consider skipping down to the Price Range tool at the bottom first. Since price range is the most important issue for most people, you can quickly see how many possible flights you have left to consider by using that tool before the others.

• Stops – SideStep displays all the possible number of stops for your journey, with the lowest price for each listed to the right. Just click on the box next to each one you are considering. If 2 or more stops are too many, don’t click those boxes. If non-stop flights are too expensive, don’t click that box. If you are open to any number of stops, just leave them all unchecked as they are, or check them all to achieve the same thing.

• Leave Time – You can narrow down your choices either by the time your outgoing flight leaves or by the time your flight lands in your destination. If you are open to any time of the day you can leave all the buttons as they are, but if you are only interested in certain times of the day you can narrow your choices by clicking only those buttons.

• Return Time – This obviously performs the same function for your return flight. Narrow down your choices to your own liking.

• Airline – Here SideStep lists every airline with flights on your travel days, with their lowest price to the right of the airline name. This tool is especially helpful if you are a member of one or more frequent flyer programs, so you can see the cost of flights on which you can get mileage credit next to flights you can’t. Click the box next to each airline you’d like to consider, or leave them all unchecked if you want to consider all of them.

• Airports – In some cases SideStep will find low fares are available for flights that use one airport for your departure and another for your return. You can uncheck any boxes for airport combinations that you aren’t interested in.

• Layover Airport – Here SideStep shows you a list of the airports where these flights have layovers (assuming the list is not all non-stop flights) with the lowest price next to each airport. Again, if you have specific preferences you can click the boxes next to the ones you will consider, or just leave all the boxes as they are if the layover airport doesn’t matter to you.

• Price Range – This might be the most important tool on the page, and perhaps the one you should use first. SideStep shows you the range of prices for all the flights it found for these travel days. These search results almost always include first class fares and other fares that are far out of your price range. Just click on the slider and drag it to the left until the range displays only a price range you are possibly willing to pay.

Step 7: Choose the best flight from the remaining list.

Now that you’ve sorted through and removed all the flights you aren’t interested in, you are looking at a shorter list of available flights, with the lowest prices still on top. You can sort the list by Airline, Departure Time, or number of Stops by clicking on the appropriate link just above the top flight on the page.

It’s time to decide which roundtrip is best for you. Carefully look at the information for each flight, and for each one that seems like a possibility click on the “view details” link on the right side of the box. This will display all the specifics about this roundtrip, including such key things as flight times and layover times. Since you’ll usually see a group of roundtrips at or near the same price, it’s very important to look at these details closely, since they can be very different from one another.

Tip: Pay special attention to the total duration of the journey by adding together the flight times and the layover time (if you can’t find a non-stop flight). Very often you’ll be looking at a long list of flights with similar prices, but there can be drastic differences among them. The top few on the list might have long layovers or have stops in out-of-the-way airports, while a roundtrip down the list that is only $10 or $20 more might be far more convenient for you. If the top few choices don’t look ideal make sure you check the details on flights with slightly higher prices.

Step 8: Pick the best flight and buy your ticket!

Once you’ve decided on the best roundtrip you can click on the orange “Select Flight” button on the flight details page. (If you click on the price of the flight you choose on the main list page, it will send you to the details page so you can check the specifics one last time.)

Tip: When clicking on “Select Flight,” use the right-click to open this new site in a new window or a new tab. SideStep normally opens the new site in the same window, and you may want to, or need to, go back to the SideStep page. You can hit the Back button on your browser and be right back to that page, but opening in a new window or tab will allow you to see them both at the same time, which is often valuable.

After you’ve clicked on Select Flight, SideStep will send you to the site it found this fare on and you’ll be in the final booking stages. Be certain to confirm that the flight details on the new site are the same as you’ve chosen on SideStep. This technology is new and not yet perfect, so errors do sometimes occur.

Note – Occasionally you might be transferred to the new site and get a message that the price or flight can’t be found. If this happens just go back to SideStep and try another roundtrip. If your original choice was found at more than one booking site you’ll see a list of the other sites and their prices in the bottom of the results box. Click on the next lowest fare and this flight may still be available through the new site.

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