“Hands Down” The Top 2 Best Sites For Cheap Flights (16 Travel Sites Tested)

By Mike Leighton | Travel Tips and Hacks
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Front view of passenger plane flying over mountains - best sites for cheap flights featured image

Everyone has a favorite comparison site for finding cheap hotel deals, last minute offers and cheap flight tickets, and it will come as no surprise that for the vast majority their favorite go-to travel sites for practically everything are Tripadvisor, Kayak and Expedia

These are three of the biggest and most trusted names in the travel industry with everything under one roof. But just how reliable are they at finding cheap flights?

And what about Skyscanner, how do they rank when compared to other flight search engines such as Google Flights and Momondo?

You could spend a ridiculous amount of time going round in circles from one flight booking site to the next… what would be useful is knowing right from the outset which flight comparison sites are “proven” to be the best at consistently finding the cheapest flights, and which sites you should avoid at all costs.

And what else?…

… how about a 15 Tips & Hacks guide to getting the best flight deals and a video that reveals all the clever tricks that flight hackers are using daily to snag the cheapest flight deals.

16 travel comparison sites are put to the test

Given that there are so many online travel agencies and comparison sites competing with each other on price, travel experts Frommers did their own batch of rigorous tests to determine which cheap flight booking sites are the best, which sites should be avoided, and who takes the crown – the #1 spot.

They pitted sixteen of best known flight booking sites and aggregators in a head-to-head challenge to see who would come out on top as the clear winner – Agoda, Booking.com, CheapOAir, CheapTickets, Expedia, Fareness, FlightNetwork, Google Flights, Hipmunk, Hotwire, Kayak, Momondo, Priceline, Skiplagged, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor.

Each site was tested on last minute flight bookings (flights leaving within 72 hours) and flights booked 6 weeks ahead of departure date. They then used a complex scoring system to analyze the results – “We then used a complicated, weighted scoring system – including negative points for finding the worst fares – to determine the final ranking for each one.”

The results were a ‘BIG SHOCK' to say the least…

And the winner is… NOT Kayak NOT Expedia NOT even Skyscanner

And not even Momondo who were knocked off the #1 spot for the first time in almost a decade. By some distance and from out of nowhere, Skiplagged.com is the new champion of flight comparison sites.

They've been around since 2013 and they were originally a flight hacking site exploiting a sneaky travel technique known as “skiplagging”, something which airlines absolutely hate, so much so that United Airlines tried to sue Skiplagged but the case was thrown out of court.

At this point, it's important to mention that this contest was done fair and square, only legitimate airfares where included in the analysis and not ‘skiplagged fares'.

The results from 25 flight search scenarios covering domestic, transatlantic and inter-european flights, showed that they were able to find the lowest priced airfares 40% of the time, and the ‘lowest or 2nd lowest' airfares 60% of the time.

Skiplagged may not have all the filters and ‘bells and whistles' when you compare them to the big name flight comparison sites, but they are hands-down the best at finding the cheapest airfares. Both Kayak and Expedia didn't even come close.

The biggest shock result is Google Flights who previously ranked #3 behind Momondo and Skyscanner, but this time around didn't even make it into the top 10, and neither did Hotwire or Priceline who rank top for cheap hotel deals.

Top 2 best sites for cheap flights… guess who came 10th?

Although the Frommer cheap flights challenge only listed the accumulated points scored for the top 3 (see results beneath), they had this to say about TripAdvisor who came 4th… “the fare results on our Top Three were all head and shoulders above TripAdvisor”

So just how reliable are the search results given by Kayak (6th) and Expedia who scraped in at 10th?.. perhaps you'll have to rethink which cheap flight booking sites you use from now on!

But the unexpected surprise is Skiplagged.com who came from nowhere to win by a comfortable margin and snatch the #1 spot from Momondo.

#1 (-) Skiplagged – 23 points
#2 (1) Momondo -13 points
#3 (2) Skyscanner – 12 points
#4 (-) TripAdvisor
#5 (-) Agoda
#6 (4) Kayak
#7 (-) Booking.com
#8 (5) Hipmunk
#9 (6) CheapOAir
#10 (9) Expedia / Travelocity / Orbitz

And those that didn’t make the top 10

Google Flights (3)
Priceline (10)
Hotwire (8)
CheapTickets (-)
FlightNetwork (-)
Fareness (-)

(previous years rankings are in brackets)

You'll have noticed that Travelocity and Orbitz share 10th position alongside Expedia even though they were excluded from this challenge, that's because they are now part of the Expedia Group and they all share the same results.

Finally, Southwest Airlines don't show-up on any comparison sites because they don't allow third party access to their data, but it's still worthwhile doing a quick search on their site as they do offer competitive airfares and no baggage fees.

The top 10 travel apps for booking cheap flights

The following 10 travel apps (in no ranking order) are briefly reviewed in this short video – Momondo (0:35), Kayak (0:56), Skyscanner (1:07), Expedia (1:07), Hipmunk (1:26), Kiwi.com (1:39), Hopper (1:52), Skiplagged (2:06), SeatGuru (2:24), Google Flights (2:50)

15 tips & hacks to help you get the best flight deals

Below is our pick of the 5 best tips from this video with some additional notes (watch the full video to learn the more advanced flight booking tips including ‘hidden city tickets' and ‘fuel dumping')

Being more flexible with your travel plans

Be flexible with where you want to go, when you want to go and how you want to go. Ticket prices will vary greatly during the year, and expect to pay more when everyone one else is traveling at the same time, such as Christmas, New Year's Eve, Fourth of July etc.

Many flight search engines now have a flexible dates feature where you simply enter two cities, your starting city and the destination city and the search engines will output a calendar showing you what days are the cheapest to travel.

Another way of saving on airfares is to be flexible on your destination, search engines like Google Flights and Kayak have an ‘explore destinations' option, you pick your starting city and you can see for example all the airfares to European city destinations.

Always use multiple flight search engines (try these top 3 rated)

Results from the Frommers cheap flights challenge show us that no single comparison site is able to find the cheapest airfares more than 40% of the time, and the ‘lowest or 2nd lowest' airfares 60% of the time. It's only common sense then to use multiple search engines when comparing flights and fares.

There are many to choose from but the only ones you need are the current top 3 rated – Skiplagged, Momondo and Skyscanner. The big name ‘cheap flight' comparison sites, Google Flights, Kayak and Expedia are no longer reliable.

But don't only restrict yourself to comparison sites, check the airline websites as well, they may be able to offer the same flight for less.

Start planning your trip 12 weeks in advance

Start planning your trip at least 12 weeks in advance, this is the time when you need to be checking the prices every two or so days. The ideal time to book your flight is usually around 6 to 7 weeks before your departure date. As you count down from 6 weeks the airlines will gradually bump up the fares as demand gets stronger.

For most destinations tickets are cheapest between 6 and 12 weeks out, but there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. The first being last minute flight deals which are usually offered between 1-4 days before departure date and are snapped up pretty quickly, sometimes within an hour.

The other exception is during the peak travel and festive seasons when there is a greater demand and tickets will sell out more quickly than at any other time. You should start planning at least 16 weeks ahead of your flight and booking your ticket much sooner.

Here's an interesting “best time to buy flights” airfare study by cheapair.com based on an analysis of 917 million airfares in more than 8,000 markets.

Lookout for airfare sales and ‘mistake fares'

Get cheap flight deals through airfare sales or flight sales. The best way to do this is to sign-up to a bunch of airline email lists, and the prices are usually pretty good when they advertise airfare sales

Some other ways to get great deals is to lookout for ‘airline mistake fares', this is when an online travel agency or an airline accidentaly price a ticket significantly less than what it should be.

This can be due to several factors including technological issues, foreign currency devaluations and online travel agencies applying the wrong percentage discount,

But more commonly it's down to human error, for example, an airline is supposed to charge $1,200 for a round trip ticket but the same ticket is priced at $120 because the last digit is accidentally missing.

They don't happen often but when they do ‘mistake fares' only last for a few hours. So how do you spot them? You can setup price alerts with Kayak and Google flights but book your flight directly with the airline to avoid any time delays.

There is a 10% risk that the ‘mistake fare' gets canceled, but if that happens you'll get a full refund. There's more here about airline mistake fares and you can also sign up to get email alerts.

If TWO+ are traveling search for ONE passenger tickets

For every single flight the airlines have multiple seating price-points that can vary in price quite substantially from the cheapest seats to the most expensive, there could be as many as 28 different price bands between economy and first class.

The airlines also have an unusual reservation system which allocates seats by matching the number of seats requested in a single transaction to a single price band, so that all seats are identical in price.

For example… lets say there are 3 seats left available at $100 and the next price-point is $150. If four people book a flight in a single transaction the reservation system will ignore the three cheaper seats and will instead charge 4 x $150 (total cost $600)

Now if the same four people booked their flight independently in four separate transactions, then three would pay $100 each for the last remaining cheap tickets and one would pay $150 (total cost $450)

Do this in two steps…

Step 1 – when you're ready to book your flight and you are asked for the number of passengers, enter ‘1' and make a note of the price quoted for one passenger.

Step 2 – now enter ‘4' for the number of passengers, if the price quoted per ticket is the same as in step 1, then go ahead and buy all four tickets in one transaction.

But if the price quoted is more expensive, all you have to do is check the price per ticket for two passengers and for three passengers to determine at what ‘number' the price jumps to the next price band. This way you can buy your tickets in two transactions and guarantee you're getting the cheapest rates.

Myths and whispers and rumors you CAN ignore

Things that DO NOT matter when you want to book a cheap flight… myths, whispers and rumors are finally put to rest.

  • the day of the week you book your flight – it DOES NOT matter anymore
  • the time of day you book your flight – it DOES NOT matter anymore
  • booking after midnight will get you the cheapest airfares – in the ‘floppy disc' years perhaps, but today it DOES NOT matter
  • incognito or private browsing will get you the cheapest deals – it DOES NOT matter what browser you use or how you browse the internet

The rationale behind this thinking and why you should always be using private browsing mode, is because (some ‘experts' are saying) online travel agencies use specific cookies to track your movements. In effect they're spying on the flights you are searching and when they see you repeatedly search for the same flight again they will hike up the prices in an effort to make you buy.

But there's no evidence of this happening, in fact the opposite can be said that cookies are actually helping your research, and rather than raising the price when you search for the same flight again, the online travel agencies will try to encourage you to book the flight today by sweetening the deal a little.

“Lost your luggage”?.. What to do before every flight

Sometimes baggage can get lost, especially when you have to transfer to another plane en-route to your destination. Hopefully it will never happen to you, but it's always better to be prepared for such eventualities. Here are six steps you can take that will help track down your luggage

(1) Luggage tags – Always use luggage tags for quick ‘on the spot' identification of your bags.

(2) Easily spotted – can your luggage be easily described and identified? If not, then either tie a bright colored ribbon or wrap colored electrical tape around your luggage handles/straps, or fasten your luggage with a colored luggage strap.

(3) Take a photo – take a picture of each item of luggage, make sure your colored ribbon/ tape is visible in the photo.

(4) Inside your luggage – put your contact details inside your luggage on top of your clothes. Most people have identification tags on the outside but sometimes these can break-off accidentally.

(5) GPS tracker – pop a GPS luggage tracker into in your suitcase or backpack and you can track your luggage with Google maps in real time over the internet.

This might seem a little over the top and for most people this won't be necessary, but if you're traveling with a lot of valuable gear which cannot be packed into your carry-on bag then a GPS tracker will give you that extra peace of mind.

(6) Bring a carry-on – always bring a carry-on bag. Keep your medicine, camera, laptop, passport, spare cash and other valuables in your carry-on bag. Also have a change of underwear, socks and a shirt, just incase you have to go a day or two without a change of clothes.

IMPORTANT – Always stay alert at airports, bus and train stations, pickpocket gangs are always nearby. You may not be able to spot them but they are there waiting and watching, so you have to be vigilant at all times.

For added security and maximum protection, you should consider packing your valuable gear into a small/medium sized anti-theft and slash proof backpack.

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