Travel Resource Series: Part 1 – Flight Search, Comparison, and Monitoring [2017]

Travel Resources - Flight Search, Comparison & Monitoring

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Welcome to the first installment of UP’s series on travel resources. In this post, we’re diving into what’s out there in terms of finding flights, comparing flights, and monitoring fares.

Interestingly enough, you’ll find that many of these great resources also include an aspect of travel inspiration, which we all need from time to time! Who wouldn’t want to get lost for hours dreaming of the perfect getaway?

Okay… don’t get too lost before you even begin! Read on fellow adventurers!

Airfarewatchdog 

(FREE)

airfare monitoring and fare alerts

Airfarewatchdog specializes in airfare monitoring and free fare alerts.

You can include a full route you want to keep an eye on, or simply watch your departure city if you’re not picky about a destination. You’ll get free fare alerts on almost all major airlines including Southwest, Allegiant, and Skybus, not to mention other low cost carriers.

When AFWD checks flights, your results only show fares with a number of available seats. This means routes with virtually no availability aren’t listed, so you aren’t disappointed when you finally get around to booking that ticket!

You can’t book directly on the site, but they’ll tell you how they found the fare you’re itching to purchase. Sidenote: you can also get alerts on hotels.


Expedia

(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agency (OTA)

Expedia Inc. is the parent company of a very large OTA/travel brand family.

Expedia.com itself is a popular OTA that boasts the best everyday low prices and even better last minute deals with no service fees or change fees.

Its flight search is pretty standard, but one of Expedia’s best features is “My Scratchpad.” This works like a sort of digital notepad, which saves recent searches and shows you the cheapest current price and airline for the original dates. It’s also seamless between devices, in case you’re on your laptop one day and your smartphone the next.

Expedia also has its own rewards program, which can earn you discounts on future bookings (fun tip: you can use these points to book travel for other individuals).

The mobile app reportedly provides exclusive offers (including double points) and can send you alerts about your flight, hotel, and rental car.

Hot Tip: A number of the resources listed in this post tend to fall into 2 different categories: online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch engines. These used to be fairly straightforward to define, but as time and technology have progressed, they’ve begun to overlap in many ways. Click here for a more in-depth description of both.


Expedia Subsidiaries – Travelocity, Orbitz, CheapTickets, and Hotwire.com

(FREE – booking fees may apply)

online travel agencies

Since Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets were acquired by Expedia in 2015, these OTA websites and apps are very similar in terms of layout and content, while offering identical search results.

For flights, it’s simply your personal preference which to use. Sometimes this may be based on where your loyalties lie; these OTAs have been around for a while, and their customers have too!

Travelocity was founded in 1996, gaining popularity when it became associated with AOL’s travel portal in 1999, when Orbitz was also founded.

In keeping with changing times, these websites and apps are regularly updated and have a reliable overall “4 star” review rating on iTunes and Google Play.

Hotwire.com, founded in 2000 (acquired by Expedia in 2005), seems to operate semi-independently, which is likely why it has a slightly different layout to its website. Regarding flight searches, though, you’ll find again that identical inventory equals identical results.

Hot Tip: Where Hotwire differs from the other Expedia group OTAs is in hotels. Their Hot Rate® search results yield slashed prices for “opaque” hotel and rental car listings. To learn more, check out our second UP travel resources post on Accommodations.


Fareness

(FREE)

travel metasearch site, travel inspiration

Fareness is a great little metasearch site that looks at trip planning in an interesting way.

Instead of knowing exactly when and where you want to go, users input general ideas to get some insight about what might be the best trip at the best time based on flight pricing.

The site itself can be a bit of a sensory overload initially, but stick with it – you’ll be happy you did!

Fareness allows users to choose a general Destination Theme (think U.S. cities, Europe, Nightlife, Family, etc), a 1-4 month travel window, and how many days the trip might last. Users are then presented with results from which they can narrow down specifics like dates, airlines, etc.

If you’ve found a flight you like, you’re routed through Priceline to make the booking.


Flystein

($29 – $98, FREE if they can’t beat your price)

fee-based travel concierge

Flystein is a personalized flight search resource that claims to find the cheapest flights for a small fee.

Users have 2 options for using the site.

“Beat My Price” is pretty self explanatory: Flystein attempts to beat a price you’ve already found. This comes with a money-back guarantee plus 15% off your next flight search.

“Build my Trip” includes a Flystein search expert who manually searches flights after receiving a description of your preferred travel options. Your choices are noted by a few check boxes: Can you fly with carry-on luggage only? Are you happy to travel to/from “nearby” airports? Do you want to spend miles/ points?…etc.

You’re provided the final search results and then book the ticket yourself. However, many Flystein experts may also provide booking assistance and general travel advice. The resource allows live chat for all itineraries and voice assistance for those that are a little more complicated.

Hot Tip: Word on the street is Flystein experts often advise for the more comfortable options, unless you literally don’t care how you fly. This is a major plus for those who like to travel a bit smarter.

Word to the Wise:  Flystein MAY use throw-away or hidden city ticketing, which is sometimes a buyer-beware option (see our blurb about *skiplagged).


Google Flights

(FREE)

travel metasearch site, travel inspiration

Yes, Google has a flight search tool… is anyone surprised?

You can certainly search traditionally, but Google too is cashing in on the fact that sometimes users don’t know exactly where or when they want to go; they just know they want to go somewhere at some point in time.

With options to search any destination within any timeframe, the Discover Destinations tool is rather open ended! Users can also opt for sorting results by certain interests (food, wildlife, etc).

When a destination is selected, users can peruse flights and hotels within Google (with Google Reviews attached, obviously) and are routed through a third party for booking.

You can also save your flights to easily switch between your laptop, cell phone, or tablet while you’re planning.

Hot Tip: The Google Flights interface is pretty “no frills” and fairly user friendly. If you’re interested in going more in depth, Upgraded Points has an entire blog post here on how to use the tool.


GTFO (Get The Flight Out)

(FREE)

last minute flight finder

This little app comes in uber handy when you just need to Get The F Out of wherever you are!

Pull up the app, input your departing airport, and GTFO will provide you with relatively cheap last-minute round-trip options departing that day or the next. You can choose the duration of your trip from 2-14 days.

Results are consistently updated, so your morning search may provide different results from your search tonight! Go ahead and GTFO.


Hitlist

(FREE)

travel inspiration, flight finder, fare alerts

Hitlist’s motto is: “Dream Big, Fly Cheap, Travel More.

This app’s most inspirational features are their “Suggested Trips” and “Explore” sections, which revolve around festivals, events, and activities.

For example, their recent “Get out the vote” suggestion provided flight options to cities where users were encouraged to engage with swing voters prior to the Nov 8th election.

You can also explore categories like Top Romantic Cities to Propose, Adrenaline Junkie, People Watching Places, and so many more fantastic options! Hitlist’s fares are based from your home airport and are powered by Skyscanner. Prices are categorized as good, great, or spectacular. You’re directed to Skyscanner for flight options, Booking.com for completion, and AirBNB for lodging if you prefer.

You can also utilize the “Plan a Trip” option and receive fare alerts on flights. With a home airport in place, users can easily peruse weekend getaways, weeklong trips, or longer stays.

Word to the Wise: recent reviews of the Hitlist app state some of the “spectacular” prices are unverified, meaning you may not be able to find that exact low price when you go look for yourself.


Hipmunk

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine, trip planning, travel inspiration

Hipmunk is a newer and increasingly popular metasearch site.

Flights are ranked using a neat little “agony rating,” which is based on price plus duration (including stops, layover time, etc).

Hipmunk has also been known to pull information outside of commercial flights (like Amtrak and charter flights) to make an itinerary possible – which is pretty fantastic!

Another killer feature? “Hello Hipmunk” is a free virtual travel planning assistant with 2 basic components: Hello Email and Hello Calendar (also integrated for Facebook Messenger and Slack).

Hello Email allows users to e-mail Hipmunk directly or loop Hipmunk in to established threads by asking basic questions like: “Can you find me a flight from ORD to MIA for April 14 – 17?” Users can even input preferences like “Please show me nonstop flights only,” or “I’d like to stick with American Airlines.” If you’re not sure on plans, Hello Hipmunk also answers general questions: “What’s the best time to travel to Portland?” or “Where’s the best Wine Country destination in June?”

Hello Calendar aims to anticipate users’ travel needs via periodically scanning Google Calendars and noting any activities penciled in for other cities. When found, Hello Hipmunk sends personalized flight, hotel, and rental car information to ease the pain of planning. Hey, we told you it was awesome!


HolidayPirates

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine*

Claiming “Deals on a Pirate’s Budget,” this travel resource was born out of a young German student’s blog about how he traveled utilizing great deals.

Reportedly the largest vacation planning website in Germany, HolidayPirates is now widely used across 9 other countries in Europe and beyond. Although the U.S. version, TravelPirates, launched in 2016, it appears the best travel options are still geared toward the E.U., with Europe-based airlines providing the most deals.

HP claims to only publish deals that are of “good value for money,” including flights, hotels, train tickets, cruises, and packages.  Some reviewers state HP is especially adept at finding “error fares” (fares listed by mistake, which airlines are still required to honor).

Word to the Wise: While HolidayPirates claims to be a team of “online labourers” who “mostly hunt for bargains by hand,” when users perform a flight search on the website, it clearly states the search is powered by Kayak. This leaves us just a tad confused…


Hopper

(FREE)

airfare predictor

Hopper helps you “Know When to Fly and Buy.”

One of Upgraded Points’ favorite apps, Hopper presents an extremely user friendly interface. Enter your departure and arrival airports, and Hopper draws up a calendar showing color-coded days of the month related to flight prices.

You can also “watch” a trip by selecting the dates you’re thinking about flying. Hopper will help you decide if you should buy or wait, tell you how much you could potentially save by heeding their advice, and show you price predictions over the next couple of weeks/months. They can also send you alerts when flights are at the most desirable rate to purchase!

Hopper pulls data from almost all major airline fares, and you can shop flights AND book directly from the app – which is rare.

Hot Tip: Hopper claims their flight price predictions are 95% accurate. How does it work? They reportedly combine the best possible historical pricing data with current crowdsourced data to accurately predict price variations.


ITA Matrix

(FREE)

software system

The ITA Matrix is basically the operating software that most travel companies (Expedia, Priceline, Kayak, etc.) use to compose your flight pricing results.

We’re not even going to try to explain the engineering behind how this works; if the Matrix looks confusing, you can see our guide here.

You can’t book directly through the tool since it’s just software, but the easiest options at this time are: Bookwithmatrix.com (just copy/paste your itenerary) and Hipmunk (they utilize ITA Matrix codes in their app). You can also use the codes given to book directly with airlines or travel agents.

If you choose to go through on online travel agency, you may have to do some looking around to find the same fares the Matrix found. Note that some budget airlines like Southwest and Allegiant are excluded.


Jetradar

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Jetradar claims to be “the fastest travel search engine on the web,” drawing results from more than 728 airlines and 200+ booking agencies for flights, hotels, cars, and busses.

Jetradar is similar to other travel metasearch engines in filters and sorted results. However, they supposedly differ in that they often produce results which include “magic fares” for flights. Intrigued? We were!

When users see a result with a magic wand symbol, this denotes the Magic Fare. Jetradar claims this Magic Fare is listed at a price other metasearch engines and OTAs can’t find – and it’s cheaper by up to 30%.

Hot Tip: If you’re wondering how these fares are possible, Jetradar explains a bit here: https://www.jetradar.com/magicfare. Even still, we’re not exactly sure how this works… after all, it’s MAGIC!


Kayak

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine, flight tracker, airport navigation

Kayak – the “Old Trusty” of metasearch engines – is widely known, user friendly, and generally well reviewed for good reason.

While Kayak provides a pretty standard search in terms of filters, results now include some budget airlines like Allegaint (though others like Southwest continue to hold out).

Kayak includes price alerts for any changes that may occur, and app users get a flight tracker, gate information, airport security wait times, turn-by-turn navigation within the airport to their gate, and airport info such as restaurants, shops, and what’s available inside and outside of security checkpoints.

Another quick tidbit: Kayak is a subsidiary of Priceline.

Hot Tip: Obviously this is the “flight” portion of the series, but Kayak has a great little feature for accommodations as well. Check out our second resource series post on accommodations to find out what’s so neat about it!

Word To The Wise: Some users have voiced complaints that paid ads in the website can look like search results, which might be misleading to the consumer – so peruse carefully!


Kiwi.com

formerly Skypicker (FREE)

online travel agency

Kiwi.com is an OTA focused solely on flights using their “groundbreaking Virtual Interlining technology.”

Now that’s a mouthful. What exactly IS Virtual Interlining technology?

Kiwi.com finds the cheapest fares by capitalizing on connections between airlines that usually don’t cooperate with each other. This allows Kiwi to pick the cheapest leg of each trip from each airline and combine them for some pretty great savings.

If you miss a flight, Kiwi.com offers a guarantee (within reasonable restrictions) that usually results in a rebooked flight for no extra fee.

While you can search and book direct flights with Kiwi, the “interlining” only works if you’re on a flight with a connection…so this isn’t the best tool for travelers who prefer direct flights.

Also, check out our “Word to the Wise” for potential issues with luggage/visas.

Hot Tip: In the future, Kiwi hopes to offer transportation between airports (e.g. if one flight lands in London Heathrow but your next leaves from London Gatwick), which would be a big plus!

Word to the Wise: Luggage must be retrieved and re-checked at each airport between connecting flights, even if you’re continuing with the same budget airline. While Kiwi attempts to schedule a minimum of 2 hours for each layover, the FAQ states: “The re-checking process means leaving the transit zone to pick up your baggage, delivering it to the next airline counter, and then passing through security and immigration. This means there are visa implications for some passengers so please book your flights with care.”


Momondo

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine, travel inspiration

A widely used metasearch engine for travel, Momondo initially jumps out at users due to its colorful interface with a few helpful tools.

On the search results page, Momondo includes an easy-to-read bar graph at the top showing the estimated cost of your ticket from a week pre/post your search dates. They also have the ability to sort results by timetable, which gives an interesting viewpoint if you’re picky about the time of day you depart.

Another neat tool (for flight geeks like ourselves) is Momondo’s “flight insight” link toward the top of the page, which aggregates hundreds of thousands of fares and displays a tidy little pie graph showing what factors influence the price of your flight, e.g. seasonality, days to departure, airline, time of day, and day of week.

Lastly, Momondo has recently introduced “Trip Finder.”

This tool revolves around a simple set of drop down menus for trip inspiration (currently with options flying from 7 popular U.S. cities). Users can search flights to “anything” (including cities, nightlife, beaches, etc), flights to “anywhere” (including general continents), and flights “anytime” (including months of the year). Finally, users input their budget, search, and are presented with various results that can be further sorted by options like cheapest, local, romantic, most popular, etc.

Hot Tip: With Momondo, you can also sort your results by alliance (e.g. Oneworld, SkyTeam, or Star Alliance), which is helpful for those travelers collecting points or miles with a specific group!

Word to the Wise:  A lot of reviews we’ve read claim Momondo is pretty reliable for simple routes, but leaves a bit to be desired for more complex routes.


Priceline

(FREE – app & web search; booking fees may apply)

online travel agency

Priceline is another main player in the OTA marketplace.

While users can choose the traditional method of search, what originally set Priceline apart was their “Name Your Own Price” tool. However, this product was cut in Sept 2016, which means no more bidding for flights.

Instead, Priceline states they will continue to offer deep discounts through their “Express Deals” product. With this program, Priceline claims deals of up to 50% off published rates. However, similar to NYOP, these are “opaque” listings, meaning users do not see the airline carrier or itinerary until immediately after purchase.

This makes booking short trips fairly risky. However, if you’re looking for deep discounts on flights and aren’t particular about airline or flight times, this could be one way to go. Priceline also offers this option for hotels and rental cars. Like other OTAs, you can likely secure further discounts if you package these together.


SecretFlying

(FREE)

flight pricing errors and flash sales

Let us tell you right now, SecretFlying is addictive!

This company is scraping the web 24/7 for flight pricing errors and flash sales. (For example, they recently posted an error sale from Paris, France to Japan, returning to London, U.K. for only €284 roundtrip!)

In order to reap the benefits, users need to act fast as these errors/sales can be quickly resolved, changed, or sold out! You also have to be pretty darned flexible, since you’ll have to purchase in an instant, and some of the more widely available deals are for quickly approaching travel dates.

There is no sign-up necessary, but you can subscribe to a daily newsletter if you want deals straight to your inbox, or follow on Facebook or Twitter if that’s more your style.


Skiplagged

(FREE)

flight metasearch engine (based on hidden-city and throw-away tickets)

Skiplagged claims: “We’re better at finding cheap flights than anyone else – so good, United Airlines actually sued us for it.” Welp… that’s pretty much true.

Skiplagged does this by using “hidden-city ticketing” and “throw-away tickets.” Let’s define some terms here.

A hidden-city fare is one where you book a trip from Point A to Point C with a layover in the city you actually want to go to (Point B), and simply never take the second leg of your flight.

Why would you do this?

Sometimes the fare from Point A to Point C with a layover at Point B is actually cheaper than just going direct from A to B.

Example: Say you want to go from Miami, FL to Charlotte, NC. Flights from Miami to New Orleans via Charlotte are cheaper (by a lot) than Miami direct to Charlotte. Users will want to travel with carry-on baggage only, since any checked luggage would be sent through to the final destination.

You’re probably wondering, wait… is this legal? See our “Word to the Wise” below.

Additionally, Skiplagged knows conventional flights are cheaper than hidden city flights at times.  That’s why their unique search algorithm also finds the cheapest regular/conventional flights to compare!

Also worth noting – they’ve recently introduced a hotel search which has special “Skiplagged Rates” for many popular hotels around the world.

Word to the Wise: While this practice isn’t technically illegal, it may be against an airline’s rules and regulations. It’s certainly frowned upon since you run the risk of violating the “contract of carriage,” which states in part that you shouldn’t miss a flight on purpose. Some reviewers state that if an airline finds out you’re doing this regularly, you could have your frequent flyer account shut down, your miles taken away, or be banned from traveling with an airline all together. Since we haven’t verified these claims, as always, if you choose to book through Skiplagged, you’re traveling at your own risk!


Skyscanner

(FREE)

travel metasearch engine

Skyscanner is yet another metasearch engine for flights, hotels, and car hire.

With search results including both full-service and budget airlines (read: Southwest, Allegiant, etc.), Skyscanner scrapes over 1,200 airlines and travel sites to provide a very comprehensive set of fares.

Skyscanner also gives users the ability to “Explore Top Deals” for weekend getaways or longer trips both nationally and internationally (select “everywhere” in your destination box if you aren’t quite sure where you might like to go).

Additionally, Skyscanner offers brief yet informative travel guides for over 60 international cities.

Hot Tip: If you’re a company looking to ease the pain of searching and booking business travel, Skyscanner has introduced TravelPro, which is a resource that aims to manage business travel “simply and efficiently for free.” You can read a bit more at this link.


STA Travel

formerly Student Travel Association (FREE – app & web search; booking fees may apply)

online travel agency