Searching for a flight can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many factors: dates, times, price, fare class, airline, and more. Even when you know exactly when and where you want to fly, where should you look for the absolute best price?
Unfortunately, no website consistently has the lowest prices. Most of the popular OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) are usually in the same ballpark for the price, but not all offer the same benefits or search functionality.
We’ve combed through many popular OTAs to compare prices and show you the benefits and drawbacks of each site.
Book Direct Through the Airline’s Website
More often than not, booking directly through the airline’s website will give you the best price, or will at least be the same as the OTAs.
Some airlines, like Southwest, won’t even show up on sites like Expedia or Orbitz, so you have to book direct. It can also be the most simple way to book. If a problem arises, you don’t have to deal with a third party to get it resolved.
Another reason to book directly through an airline’s website is to use frequent flyer miles — hooray for award flights!
Of course, to book through the airline’s website, you first need to know which airline has the best prices. There are lots of travel search engines and OTAs that can help you find the best deals so you know which airline’s website to visit. Some OTAs even offer perks that might make it worth booking someplace other than the airline’s site.
Hot Tip: Some cards, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, earn bonus points on airfare, but only when purchased directly through the airline.
Momondo is a travel metasearch engine similar to Kayak. The home page displays a simple search box where you can plug in your travel details.
One of the things we love about this site is the visual way it shows you the price trends for your flight. At first glance, you can tell if you could save some money by shifting around your travel dates a bit. It also offers a price tracker and lots of filtering options on the left-hand side of the screen.
It also offers Hacker Fares which are simply 2 one-way tickets from different providers packaged together to get you the best deal. However, unlike other sites, to book these types of tickets you do have to go to 2 separate websites to book.
Pros and Cons of Momondo
- Great price tracking tools
- Mix and Match fares require you to make 2 separate reservations; this is usually handled “behind the scenes” on other websites
Hot Tip: We cover the ins and outs of finding cheap airfare with this website in our guide to using Momondo.
Kayak is not an OTA; it’s a travel search engine. And since it’s a search engine, it’s a great place to start.
The site compares prices from many different websites all in a single spot so you can easily see where the cheapest options are. Most of the time, you’ll end up clicking through to a different site to complete your booking.
Kayak Hacker Fares are a great way to save money on your flight. These are itineraries created by bundling 2 one-way tickets (usually on different airlines) instead of a round-trip on 1 airline. These can be pretty good deals, and something that doesn’t always appear in search results of other websites.
Pros and Cons of Kayak
- Kayak Hacker Fares
- Price Alerts to keep an eye on flight prices
- Kayak offers the most benefit when your travel plans are very flexible; many of its most valuable tools help you search for deals, so this site might be less appealing when you have a specific flight in mind
Bottom Line: For more information about Kayak’s Hacker Fares and other travel search tools, check out the complete guide to booking travel with Kayak.
Daily Deals Special: Click here for up to 40% off at Expedia
Expedia is another tried-and-true OTA that people have been using since the 1990s. Back then, Expedia was a go-to source for searching and booking flights. But how does it stack up now?
As far as price goes, you aren’t necessarily getting a better deal booking through Expedia, but you aren’t paying any more than you might on the airline’s website.
A nice perk of using Expedia is that it offers a rewards program. Unfortunately, the earning potential through flights is lower than through hotels, car rentals, cruises, activities, and vacation packages.
While you can earn miles on a flight booked through Expedia, you often won’t be able to earn miles toward status. You also might not be eligible for seat upgrades.
Pros and Cons of Expedia
- Expedia Rewards (although the earning potential is better on hotels, cars, packages, activities, and cruises than it is on flights)
- Booking through Expedia may limit your mileage earned toward elite status
- Your ability to be eligible for upgrades can be limited when you book through Expedia
Hot Tip: For more information, check out our post about how to use Expedia to find great deals on flights, hotels, vacation packages (and more).
Priceline is a popular OTA that introduced the Name Your Own Price tool and opaque bookings. These types of bookings can offer discounts, but many of the details are hidden until after the booking. The Name Your Own Price tool was discontinued for flights in 2016, so now Priceline operates like most other OTAs out there.
One of the nice things about searching for flights on Priceline is that it has a nice color-coded calendar so you can easily see which days offer the lowest prices.
The search results on Priceline are clear and easy to navigate. If you have some flexibility in your travel dates, check out the cheaper options right above your search results. Then you can scroll to easily see the cheapest nonstop options and things like flights with no change fees or early bird flights.
Another way to save money is by looking at Priceline’s Express Deals. These “opaque bookings” are ones in which select details of the flight like the departure and arrival times and even the airline are hidden until the booking is complete.
Pros and Cons of Priceline
- Express Deal flights can offer a good discount if you have some flexibility; many of the details of the flight, including airline and arrival and departure times, are hidden until the booking is complete
- Color-coded calendar and easy-to-read search results
- Price Match Guarantee
- Free online cancellation within 24 hours of booking (except for Express Deal flights)
- No rewards program
- Express Deal flights can be good deals, but they can sometimes be even more expensive than a standard booking
Bottom Line: For more information, check out the complete guide to booking travel with Priceline.
Daily Deals Special: Check out Orbitz’s Daily Deals
Orbitz is another reliable OTA that has been around since 2001. One thing that makes this site a little different is that it offers its own rewards program called Orbitz Rewards. You can earn Orbucks when you book hotels, flights, and vacation packages through Orbitz. However, you can only redeem Orbucks for hotels.
When booking a flight through Orbitz, you’ll earn 1% of your purchase price back as Orbucks (or 2% if you use the Orbitz mobile app). If you book a $500 flight, you will earn 5 Orbucks, which is worth $5 toward a hotel booking. Joining the Orbitz Rewards program is free.
Unfortunately, Orbitz sometimes charges a 1% booking fee. Keep an eye out for these on your trip summary page before finalizing your purchase and factor them into your calculations to see if you’re getting a good deal or not. While earning Orbucks is great, paying a booking fee could wipe out all of the benefits.
Pros and Cons of Orbitz
- Orbitz Rewards lets you earn Orbucks that can be applied to hotel bookings
- 24-hour cancellation policy
- Low Price Guarantee: if you find a lower price for your flight on another website within 24 hours, Orbitz will refund the difference
Bottom Line: For more information check out our guide to booking travel with Orbitz.
Agoda is an OTA owned by Priceline. This website doesn’t offer much more than a simple search with limited filter options when looking for flights. If you’re looking for unique accommodations such as an apartment or private villa, Agoda is worth checking out, but it doesn’t offer much when searching for flights.
One cool thing about Agoda is that the site is multilingual. You can select your language by clicking on the flag in the top menu bar.
Pros and Cons of Agoda
- Simple search functionality
- Multilingual option
- Limited filtering options for flights
Hot Tip: For more information, check out our guide to booking travel through Agoda.
Special: Save 40% with Hot Rate Flights
Hotwire is a popular OTA that has been around for almost 20 years.
The simple home page offers the main search box to input your departure and arrival cities as well as your desired dates of travel. You will need to click on the third tab in the main search box to access the flight search.
Hotwire can offer a great deal when booking a hotel along with your flight. Many times during the booking process, you’ll see pop-ups or prompts advertising great savings when booking a hotel at the same time. We tested it, and every time we priced out a Hotwire vacation package deal against purchasing a flight and hotel separately, the package deal was cheaper.
Bottom Line: If you need a hotel in addition to your flight, booking both together through Hotwire can save money.
When searching for your flight, you might come across a Hot Rate flight. These are flights in which the exact times, number of stops, and carriers are hidden until after your purchase is complete. These require a fairly large amount of flexibility and we found the price difference to be as little as $20. It can sometimes offer a great deal, but many times, there isn’t much savings.
One other thing to keep in mind when using Hotwire to find great flight deals is that sometimes, sometimes a booking fee will be charged.
Pros and Cons of Hotwire
- Package deals that include a hotel stay can save money
- 24-hour cancellation policy
- Low Price Guarantee
- Hotwire can sometimes charge a booking fee
- Hot Rate flights don’t always offer huge savings
Bottom Line: For more details about finding great deals, check out our complete guide to booking travel through Hotwire.
Skyscanner is another travel search engine that does not sell flights directly. It shows you a list of flights and links to the airline’s website or OTA to complete the purchase.
This site excels for travelers with flexibility. In the search box, you can select Everywhere to search for the cheapest destinations on your chosen dates.
If you have a set destination with specific dates, Skyscanner operates like most other travel search sites.
Pros and Cons of Skyscanner
- Flexible searches
- Easy to change language and currency
- Price alerts
- There isn’t much that makes this site unique; all of the features offered are available on other sites
Hot Tip: For more information, check out our in-depth piece on Skyscanner.
Travelocity is yet another OTA that has been around for a while and is very similar to the other websites we’ve been looking at.
On the plus side, there are some nice filtering options to help you find the best flight for your needs. On the downside, prices can change between selection and booking. We did a dummy booking and by the time we got to the payment section, the flight price had gone up from $157 to $338!
Much like other online travel agencies, Travelocity also can charge booking fees, so keep an eye out for those in the payment section of the booking process.
Pros and Cons of Travelocity
- Price Guarantee: If you find a lower price on an identical itinerary within 24 hours, Travelocity will refund the difference in price
- Free cancellation on flights within 24 hours of booking (on most airlines)
- Travelocity sometimes charges a booking fee
- Prices can change between flight selection and payment
Bottom Line: For more information check out our guide to booking travel with Travelocity.
10. Google Flights
Google Flights is not an OTA. Rather, it’s a metasearch engine similar to Kayak. Once you find a flight, Google Flights will link you to the airline’s direct website or an OTA to complete the purchase. It is a powerful search engine built on the ITA Matrix, which was originally developed for travel agents.
This site shows you price trends and how your date of travel could affect the cost of your ticket. Plus, it allows you to track the prices of a route, so you can jump on low prices when they pop up. These features make Google Flights a great tool to help you feel confident that the price you’re getting is a good deal.
Pros and Cons of Google Flights
- Price Graph shows you the pricing trends for your route and allows you to see what days might be cheaper to fly
- Price tracking will send you an email when your flight’s price increases or decreases
- There are lots of filtering options so you can customize your search
- Since this search engine is so powerful with lots of options, it could get complicated for a novice traveler
Hot Tip: You can earn frequent flyer miles on flights booked through an OTA, but you might not earn miles towards elite status.
CheapOair is an OTA that offers its own credit card. Before you go apply for the card, we recommend considering choosing a better travel rewards credit card for more lucrative and flexible travel rewards.
This site might not be as cheap as you would think. That’s because it can charge expensive “agency fees.” For most flights, the fees can be up to $35, however, once you read the fine print, you’ll see they can actually be as high as $200 per ticket!
In addition, CheapOair charges a fee to change or cancel any ticket, including within 24 hours, which is free on many other sites.
Pros and Cons of CheapOair
- Price Match Promise: CheapOair will refund the difference in price if you find a lower price on the same itinerary on a major OTA within 24 hours of booking
- CheapOair charges hefty booking fees in addition to fees to cancel or change your flight
- Price Match Promise is very limited; the guarantee is only good for identical flights on Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Travelocity
Bottom Line: CheapOair might not be cheap after all. It advertises low base fares, but it charges booking fees which usually result in a higher price than the airline’s website. For more information, check out our guide to CheapOair.
Hopper is an app that tries to predict the right time to buy a flight. It claims that using its app can save you up to 40% on flights. The simple interface and color-coded map show you the cheapest and most expensive times to fly to your chosen destination.
You can also set up alerts to watch the prices for your specific dates or watch a whole month if you have flexible travel plans.
Pros and Cons of Hopper
- Easy to use
- Choose to watch prices for a specific trip or choose to watch prices over a whole month
- No ability to search on a desktop
- Few filtering options
Hot Tip: Many credit cards come with travel insurance with extra protections like trip interruption and cancellation protection and baggage delay coverage.
We searched for a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York City (JFK) across different travel booking websites to compare pricing head-to-head. Below is the cheapest ticket each website offered.
In this search, we weren’t taking anything other than price into consideration. When you are actually booking a flight, there will most likely be more factors that go into your decision of which flight to book.
In this example, Kayak, Hotwire, Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, Travelocity, and Google Flights all offered the same price on the same airline. CheapOair had the highest price.
There is no one-stop shop to find the lowest prices on a flight every time. Most OTAs are in the same ballpark when it comes to price.
If you’ve got some flexibility, many of these sites can help you find the lowest-priced travel dates and destinations.
If you prefer a more traditional booking, start out with a travel search engine like Kayak or Google Flights to search all of the other sites. That will give you a good idea of the best website to use to save the most money on your next flight.
Are you a student? Don’t miss our piece on the best websites for cheap, discount student flights.
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