How do I find good airfare for a three-leg journey?
August 24, 2014 8:06 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I will be flying with our daughter for the first time this fall, on a cross-country journey to see grandparents and relatives who haven't met her yet. We'll be traveling from Seattle to Pittsburgh to Minneapolis and back home to Seattle, staying a few days at each stop. The plan is set--now I just need to buy the plane tickets, and I don't know how to go about finding the best deal.

This is the first time I'm buying three seats on the plane, but it's also the first time I've tried to set up a multi-stop trip like this. I know how to look online for deals (or at least the best available price) for round-trip tickets between two points, but I don't know how to go about it for a situation like this. Is buying one-way legs the best way to go, or are there some tricks and options I should know about?

Help me find some affordable plane tickets, so I can go back to worrying about traveling with an infant for the first time!
posted by Inkslinger to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I usually start with a search on Matrix followed by Kayak. Both allow for multi-city searches. The former doesn't allow for purchasing the actual tickets, but it gives me a good idea of who's got the best deals for my schedule, and then I can tinker around on Kayak or wherever to actually nail something down.
posted by romakimmy at 8:21 AM on August 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My favorite is the multi-city search on Kayak, but you should definitely look up the one-way tickets individually and see how much they cost. It's usually harder to do fuzzy searching (like, which of these four days will be the cheapest to fly on, that kind of thing) when you're looking at a multi-city ticket, so looking up the one-way costs can give you a sense of which days will be cheapest. Ultimately, though, it's really not much more complicated than booking a round-trip flight.

It's entirely possible to buy the whole trip on one ticket, but it's also possible to buy the individual legs. There are costs and benefits either way. (Like, if you want to fly an airline that does SEA-MSP but not SEA-PIT, it will be easier to book individual tickets.)
posted by mskyle at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

D'oh. Mskyle's response reminded me that I also used Skyscanner for some one way legs. It doesn't have a multi city search, but it does have some budget airline options not found on the other two I mentioned.
posted by romakimmy at 8:31 AM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pittsburgh is a US Airways hub and Minneapolis is a Delta hub. You'll have good luck checking Multi-City itineraries on those sites directly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:49 AM on August 24, 2014

Unfortunately (and to my mind anti-competitively), most airlines will not sell you an affordable one-way ticket. I wanted a one-way flight on United a couple years ago, and the price of the one-way was actually higher than a round trip. The best price was on an itinerary that was all on United and partners, which Kayak found for me, as others have recommended. However, I wanted a particular Virgin America nonstop so I ended up booking separately and paid more. Southwest is unfortunately not on Kayak but they price flights purely by segment, so you can simply check individual flights.

The other thing is that you can play clever games with "stopovers" on frequent flier tickets. You'd want to look for the specific carrier that you have the miles with.
posted by wnissen at 9:09 AM on August 24, 2014

Best answer: Won't help for the entire flight, but Sun Country out of Mpls has service to Seattle. They generally have good deals advertised periodically; might be worth your time to check to see whether you can save money on the return leg. We've flown them many times and like the service.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:16 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Sun Country for the legs around Minneapolis. Look up the one way legs on their site, then call to finalize (becuase they can some times package at that point).
posted by gregglind at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2014

Look for airlines that do one way fares like Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin. I'm a fan of Southwest because, among other reasons, they don't charge fees if you need to rebook - you just pay the difference if the new flight is more expensive. If you're a parent flying with children on Southwest and you're not in the A group, you board right after the A group (before the B group starts boarding).
posted by kat518 at 10:31 AM on August 24, 2014

If you have any flexibility in your dates search for regular round trip tickets using 3 days +/- to find out what days are least expensive between your destinations--once noting tham then use kayak ( or another favorite fight search--I prefer Kayak) using multiple destinations of the least expensive days.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2014

If Southwest flies to your destinations then I've found them pretty good for setting up trips like that by stringing cheap one-way fares together.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:58 PM on August 24, 2014

I was going to suggest Southwest as well. They fly between each of those cities. You buy all Southwest flights essentially as individual one way flights. There's no difference in buying round trip or one way only flights. The price of course may or may not be the best.
posted by sevenless at 8:02 PM on August 24, 2014

Watch out for luggage fees! Southwest is great about luggage, I think, but airlines in general are getting a bit crazy with the fees for domestic flights. When you find a good deal, make sure you aware of the fees and limits, for both checked bags and carry-ons. Also, know in advance the rules for gate checking strollers/car seats.

My experience with Southwest out of Minneapolis to the west coast is that the best deals will usually have you lay over in Denver. Also, pay extra to be able to pick your seats in advance or be in the first group to board so you can sit together.
posted by soelo at 7:51 AM on August 25, 2014

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