Now more than ever, there are tons of ways to find cheap flights. Whether you’re looking for a short hop or an international flight, the right website can help you find the best deals out there. With tons of factors to consider — such as the destination, fare class or travel dates — each website excels in something different. Regardless of your travel experience, it can be overwhelming to choose the best flight search engine. We compared the top 10 travel search engines and flight finders to find the best flight search engine.
Best cheap flight search engine: Skiplagged
Skiplagged finds cheap flights through a loophole in traditional airline ticketing. Instead of searching for tickets strictly from City A to City B, Skiplagged also searches for hidden-city tickets — meaning flights from City A to City C with a layover in City B. You can land in City B and skip your second leg since flights with layovers can often be cheaper than direct flights.
While rumors swirl that this practice is illegal — it’s not. However, airlines have been reported to retract airline miles or file a lawsuit to those who regularly do this. It’s always a good idea to double check your airline’s terms and conditions, as the contract may prohibit hidden-city tickets.
For example, let’s say you need to get to Chicago. If you search for a flight from New York to Chicago, Skiplagged may find a cheap flight from New York to Denver with a layover in Chicago. You can simply get off the plane in Chicago without completing the entire flight pattern. While Skiplagged also displays prices for traditional tickets, the website will let you know if it’s a hidden-city ticket marking it as a “Skiplagged rate.”
This flight search engine is best for those who are merely looking for cheap flight deals and don’t mind booking economy tickets, as Skiplagged doesn’t have an option to filter by class or to search for premium economy, business or first-class tickets. Instead, this website will automatically filter your search results by price. Therefore, economy tickets will always be at the top of the results page.
- Find insanely cheap flight deals, track flight prices
- No options for cheap business or first-class tickets
Best search engine for cheapest flights: Agoda
Agoda is an online ticket agency (OTA) that provides its users with a simple interface to reserve their travel needs quickly. Not only can you book flights, but you can also check out hotels and vacation homes, monthly homestays and airport transfers. Owned by the same parent company as Priceline, Kayak and Booking.com, you can be rest assured your booking is with a legitimate business.
Book flights and homestays in one
In addition, Agoda offers Agoda Homes, its proprietary homestay service. Comparable to Airbnb, many consumers may find it handy to book their flights and unique homestay experience on the same website. Agoda has access to over two million properties worldwide, including hotels, resorts, hostels and more.
Book cheap flights — with long layovers
Out of all the flight search engines, we found that Agoda displayed significantly cheaper flight prices than its competitors. However, the flights often have long layovers. While you have the potential of saving a couple of hundred dollars, you’ll want to make sure that these layovers are worth your time and money.
- Finding dirt-cheap flight deals, booking flights and accomodations (including homestays) in one place
- Cheapest flights have long layovers
Best mobile app search engine: Hopper
Hopper is an excellent mobile app for searching for cheap flight deals. It predicts flight prices for up to a year in advance, claiming up to 95% accuracy. To get started, simply search for a flight itinerary, and Hopper will predict the most optimal time to book your flight. Hopper claims that it can help you save up to 40% on flights, monitoring flights even when you’re not actively using the app.
A new approach to predicting the lowest flight prices
Using Hopper, you’ll be able to input trips you’re interested in booking. Then, you can save them and watch the prices change over time. Once Hopper notifies you that it’s the best time to book, you’ll be able to pay for your flight securely through the app.
- Monitoring flight prices, mobile app capability
- Not 100% reliable, not suitable for flights you need to book instantly
Best international flight search engine: Momondo
Compared to the other airfare sites we evaluated, Momondo performed the strongest when searching for international itineraries, particularly for business-class tickets. Momondo works by aggregating the prices for tickets on online ticket agencies instead of selling tickets on its own website.
Book through third-party online ticketing agencies (OTAs)
Most of the sites we evaluated allow users to book tickets directly on their platform or the airline’s website. Momondo only lets you book tickets through online ticketing agencies, known as OTAs. If you find an ideal ticket price, you’ll have to complete the sale on a website that may be unfamiliar to you, like Flights Mojo, Globehunters or TravelMint. Since you’re booking with an OTA rather than directly with the airline, you may face increased fees if you try to change or cancel your flight.
Mediocre search experience, interface and site speed
Compared to our top two picks, Momondo’s user experience falls behind. Google Flights loaded its search results significantly faster than Momondo, and Skiplagged’s interface had a much cleaner and more modern feel. In general, we recommend using Skiplagged and Google Flights for domestic bookings and Momondo only when searching for international flights.
- Excellent deals on international itineraries
- Slow load times
Best European flight search engine: Skyscanner
Skyscanner has an outstanding platform to search for flights to and within Europe. You can also search for hotels and rental cars on the site using its seamless tab integration for other travel needs. It has decent load times, a clean user interface and excels in offering plenty of European airlines in its listings, like Lufthansa and Air France. You can also filter by flight classes, making Skyscanner a great business-class search engine.
Toggle flights based on unique preferences
You’ll also be able to toggle based on preferences that most competitors lack. For example, you can search for flexible tickets or flights with lower carbon dioxide emissions. Recently, Skyscanner added a COVID-19 safety rating for each airline, with the most updated information on cleaning procedures, mandatory policies and changes to the in-flight service.
- European flights, unique toggling abilities
- Mediocre load times, lots of ads on the page
Best search engine for flight packages: Kayak
Kayak is a tried-and-true flight search option with quick load times and solid travel packages for hotels, rental cars and cruises. The website displays many advertisements and can have a disorderly interface, so it’s not our favorite for a minimal experience. If used correctly, however, you can find some excellent deals with Kayak.
Book travel packages at a discounted price
If you’re looking to book a travel package or domestic flights, Kayak is an excellent option. You’ll be able to search across hundreds of vacation packages, bundling flights and hotels together at a discounted rate. For popular destinations, it’s worth checking Kayak for these package deals.
- Discounted flight and hotel packages
- Disorganized website layout
Best multi-city flight search engine: Google Flights
Google Flights is our runner-up for our favorite flight search engines, thanks to its excellent user experience and consistent retrieval of competitively-priced tickets on various itineraries. One of the best features is that it allows you to search for flights across multiple airports with one query. For example, if you’re booking a flight to Charlotte, N.C., and you’re unsure whether you want to fly from Boston or New York, Google Flights will let you browse departures from both cities within one search.
Speedy load times and sleek interface
Without fail, Google Flights returned results the fastest across dozens of queries. Search results on Google Flights consistently loaded in under a second, while most other sites took much longer. Finally, both the mobile and desktop versions of the service provide an intuitive and familiar interface for people who already use Google apps.
Save money by booking each leg separately
One of the reasons Google Flights finds inexpensive itineraries is that it allows you to book departure and return legs of your trip on different airlines. This is helpful in cases where booking two one-way tickets is more affordable than booking a round trip. While Google Flights didn’t invent this concept — sites like Kayak have long offered a mixed-airline itinerary — we found that it was nicely integrated into Google’s search capabilities.
- Fast load times, search multi-city flights, ability to toggle by flight preferences
- Doesn’t always find the lowest fare available
Best search engine for price match guarantee: Priceline
Priceline is owned by the same company as Agoda and Kayak, offering search capability for flights, hotels, rental cars and cruises. It provides a “Bundle + Save” option if you want to mix and match different bookings together. For hotel discounts, Priceline offers its Express Deals, offering up to 60% off on hotels. However, the website design can be confusing and take much longer to load results than its competitors.
Best price guaranteed
Priceline stands out from the competition with its “Best Price Guaranteed” offer. If you find a lower price within 24 hours of booking your ticket, Priceline will refund you the difference. For Express Deals on hotels, if you find a better price up to midnight before your travel, you’ll be refunded 200% of the difference.
- Best price guaranteed, cheap hotel and travel bundles
- Slow load times, confusing website
Best search engine for Southwest flights: Southwest
For domestic tickets and trips to the Caribbean, the Southwest Airlines website is a must-visit. Southwest offers affordable tickets across its own route map — and it doesn’t allow its tickets to be sold or displayed on third-party websites like Skiplagged, Google Flights and Momondo. As such, you should always check Southwest before booking a domestic economy or Caribbean itinerary on another airline.
Check two bags for free on every flight
Southwest is the only domestic airline that offers two free checked bags with every flight. You’ll want to consider this benefit when comparing flight prices, as most cheap flights are basic economy and don’t even include a carry-on bag. If you’re taking a trip for an extended period and need to check your bags, you’ll save more money flying on Southwest.
- Southwest flights, two free checked bags
- Unable to compare prices across other airlines
Best cheap flight subscription service: Scott’s Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights isn’t a flight search engine, but users will receive email notifications on deal alerts for low fares out of their preferred airports. While it’s free to subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights email, Premium users are notified of up to five times more deals than normal readers, including mistake fares and holiday flights. For $49 per year, this subscription service can potentially save you hundreds — making this membership well worth it.
This service is best for travelers who have flexible travel plans. Scott’s Cheap Flights will send you an email with the destination, price range and dates. Only displaying nonstop or single-stop flights and on highly-rated airlines, you’ll be notified of some phenomenal flight deals. Then, you’ll be able to see the full deal details and book directly on the airline’s website. Most deals only last a couple of days, so you’ll need to be ready to book as soon as possible.
- Rare flight deals, only displays reputable airlines
- Limited-time offers only, specific destinations and dates
How to get cheap flights, regardless of which search engine you use
Even if your only purpose is to score a cheap flight, even the most advanced flight search engine can only get you so far. If you want to save money on airfare or your trip as a whole, your best bet is to gain maximum value with the following tips:
Earn travel rewards from credit cards
Earning frequent flyer miles through travel rewards credit cards can earn you free flights. A few of our favorite credit cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. With any of these three cards, you’ll earn bonus points for purchasing travel and use your rewards to book flights on a number of airlines. If you’re loyal to a particular airline, you can apply for an airline co-branded card to earn rewards through one frequent flyer program instead.
Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday
If possible, book the departure and return dates of your trip in the middle of the week, as Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly. Flights tend to be more expensive on the weekends and Mondays and Fridays. For even more flexibility, most of the search engines above allow you to view prices for flights on each day of the week.
Book two to three weeks in advance
According to a Skyscanner, the best time to book a domestic flight is at least three weeks in advance and two weeks in advance for an international flight. Prices start increasing after the two-week mark and skyrocket the week before the departure date, so you’ll be sure to snag a cheap flight by booking well in advance.
Take your trip in off-peak season
There are certain times when it will always be more expensive to fly — think major holidays, long weekends and public school vacation weeks. If you have flexibility, you can save hundreds by planning your vacation around these busy travel dates and booking your trip off-peak, especially if you’re flying to a seasonal destination like Hawaii.
Value Penguin’s verdict
Each flight search engine has its strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll want to compare flight prices across multiple prices to get the best deal. It’s important to keep in mind that the cheapest flight deal may not always present the best value. For example, flights with long layovers may be affordable but may not be worth your time. If you have a red-eye layover, you’ll have to consider additional costs associated with booking an overnight hotel or staying in the airport for a night. With any of these websites, you’ll want to conduct further research on the airline and its baggage and seating policies to round out your cheap flight search.
We searched for two roundtrip flights with the same dates: an international trip from New York to Paris (JFK to CDG) and a domestic trip from Boston to San Francisco (BOS to SFO). We took the price of the cheapest flight possible, not taking into account flight times, fare class or airline.
Image Credit: Value Penguin.AlertMe