How to find airline tickets/fares without spending hours on dozens of sites?
October 14, 2008 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Sorting out the airline ticket sites -- is there an efficient way to do this? Confusion and madness reign.

So it seems like there are a jillion airline ticket sites, all with different schedules, prices, gnarly interfaces, etc. There are the big sites, like orbitz, travelocity, hotwire, etc., and then there's the individual airline sites, and then there are specialty sites like priceline...

Does anyone know efficient way to cut down on the search costs to find the cheapest ticket and the best schedule? If I hired an old-fashioned bricks 'n mortar travel agent, would (s)he be able to get me the same kind of deal that the websites get? Is there some kind of meta search-engine that can do this?

Every time I try and buy plane tickets, I feel like I should walk up to Ken Arrow and say "here's your damn general equilibrium theory!"
posted by paultopia to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A website I like for this purpose is Kayak. It aggregates ticket prices from all the major airlines, and also gives you the option to compare the specialty sites. You can filter by time, price, etc. It's pretty slick.
posted by saturngirl at 12:31 PM on October 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Most of the big travel sites are powered by ITA Software. They run their own price tracker which checks all scheduled flights, not just those covered by the site you happen to be searching on. (except Southwest)
posted by mkb at 12:41 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you're dealing in direct flights, i'd suggest going direct to the airlines themselves. Search for the destination airport on Wikipedia and you'll find a list of all the airlines and routes they fly from. Then simply get onto the relevant airlines websites and find the best flight times and prices to suit.

Unfortunately this doesn't help so much for taking multiple flights, but if you want to fly direct I think it works pretty well.
posted by Fezzer at 12:49 PM on October 14, 2008

Are you a student? If so, I've seen occasional deals on Student Universe. Mobissimo is another aggregator.

On the routes I fly,. though, Southwest is almost always the cheapest. They've hedged fuel incredibly well for the past decade or so, and so no one can compete with their rates.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:51 PM on October 14, 2008

Seconding Kayak. I always start there as a baseline.

Then I go to Orbitz, because I personally like the UI better than the other aggregators. I will run my desired dates and itineraries. After Orbitz I'll try Travelocity. I almost never use Expedia. It used to be the best IMO, and now it's so clogged with sponsorships and partnerships I don't believe I ever see the true lowest fares.

Once I get a handle on fares, schedules and airlines, I go to the individual airline sites and check there. Even if I'm saving $5 by booking it there, I'll do it. Other times I will find that the aggregators are the only ones with access to a certain routing.

Keep in mind that the aggregators will not have Southwest, Jet Blue or Virgin America, so if you are going places that those companies fly to, you will have to check them separately as well.
posted by micawber at 1:03 PM on October 14, 2008

I usually use Farecast to figure out when's the best time to buy (if I know far in advance when I'll be travelling) and then I book directly through the airline. I won't book through the aggregators (Expedia, Hotwire, etc) because they have NO ability to help when things go wrong or if you need to change something. And usually the airlines have cheaper prices or the same price with no booking fee.

I also sign up for RSS feeds from Travelocity and Spirit, and often find the best deals through those sale updates.
posted by purplecurlygirl at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding ITA. Simple user interface. Always has more choices than any other site. Lots of options for sorting by departure time, duration, price etc.

However, you then need to go to the airline or some other site to actually book. (This can work to your advantage bc sometimes you get miles or other bonuses for using the airline site rather than an aggregator.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2008

I really like Farecast. It's really good in general, but mostly they have this tool that I haven't seen elsewhere (pick grid, the third tab). You pick your cities and date range, and it shows you a grid of options, with departure date on the X and trip length on the Y, with all the options color coded by price. I'm sure MS will mess it up somehow.
posted by zazerr at 1:12 PM on October 14, 2008

The ITA thing just found me a much lower price + better schedule than orbitz: thank you!
posted by paultopia at 10:50 PM on October 14, 2008

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