Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, F...
Edited by: Stella Shon
& Juan Ruiz
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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.
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 those 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: A card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express earns an impressive 5x Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with AmexTravel.com on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
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 Mix & Match fares (formerly Hacker Fares) which are simply 2 one-way tickets from different airlines packaged together to get you the best deal. However, unlike other sites, you must go to 2 separate websites to book these types of tickets.
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. Rather, it’s a travel search engine — making it a great place to start your flight search.
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 click through to a different site to complete your booking.
Kayak offers the ability to combine 2 one-way tickets (usually on different airlines) in 1 itinerary, which is a great way to save money on your flight. These itineraries can be pretty good deals and something that doesn’t always appear in search results of other websites.
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 called One Key. This program offers member pricing plus the ability to earn points for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, activities, and more.Hot Tip:
The One Key loyalty program is also used by Hotels.com and Vrbo.
If you’re a member of an airline’s frequent flyer program, you’ll be happy to know that you can still earn airline miles on a flight booked through Expedia. However, you often won’t be able to earn miles toward status or be eligible for seat upgrades.
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. As you scroll through your search results, you can 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 where select details of the flight (like the departure, arrival times, or even the airline) are hidden until the booking is complete.
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.
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.
Hot Tip: Agoda has a loyalty program called VIP, but it only applies to hotel stays. For more information, check out our guide to booking travel through Agoda.
Special: See these Hotwire Flight Deals
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.
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.
One other thing to keep in mind when using Hotwire to find great flight deals is that sometimes a booking fee will be charged.
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 Explore 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.
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 can also charge booking fees, so keep an eye out for those in the payment section of the booking process.
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.
Google Flights recently rolled out a price guarantee feature on select flights departing from the U.S. If you book a flight with the price guarantee badge and the price drops, you’ll get a refund of the difference (with a maximum of $500 per calendar year) from Google Flights via Google Pay. However, you can only receive up to 3 price guaranteed refunds at any one time.
Hot Tip: You can earn frequent flyer miles on flights booked through an OTA, but you might not earn miles toward 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.
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.
Hot Tip: There are many credit cards with travel insurance and extra protections like trip interruption and cancellation protection and baggage delay coverage. We suggest looking at Chase credit cards or Amex credit cards for great insurance 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.
|Lowest Cost Flight (With Taxes and Fees) Available for LAX>JFK
In this example, Google Flights, Hopper, and Priceline tied for the cheapest flight cost with Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, and Travelocity coming in just $3 more expensive. CheapOair was by far the most expensive option.
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 guide to the best websites for cheap, discount student flights.
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For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
There is no single website that has the cheapest flights all of the time. Most of the travel search engines and online travel agencies all have similar pricing, however you can find some really nice deals when looking at opaque (hidden) bookings or vacation packages.
An opaque booking hides many of the flight details, including arrival and departure times and the operating airline, until your booking is complete. Many sites including Hotwire, Orbitz, and Travelocity offer these types of bookings.
Generally, yes, you will still be able to earn frequent flyer miles on flights booked through an online travel agency. However, miles earned to qualify for elite status may be not be awarded unless you book directly through the airline’s website.
Your best bet would be to start with a travel search engine like Kayak or Google Flights. You will be able to see prices from many different websites in one place and you can track flight prices to help determine the best time to purchase tickets. Be sure to check out our guide to the best websites to book European vacation packages if you want to bundle your flight with a hotel and/or rental car.
Often, an airline will offer the lowest prices through its own website. However, you can often save money booking through an online travel agency (OTA) that has the ability to combine flights from more than 1 airline into a single itinerary.
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