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Where to Start to Find the Best Airfare


It’s that time of year when it’s difficult to find reasonable airfares – whether you’re traveling to see family or friends for the holidays or trying to find the lowest cost business travel days. Actually, it’s always difficult to find reasonable airfares!

It’s also difficult to get out of the analysis-paralysis that comes with searching for airfares. Start with checking one site, then two … and soon you find multiple windows open with more airfare search engines than you knew existed! It’s all so confusing that it’s likely you surrender without booking at all.

How do I know? Because I’ve also been part of that analysis-paralysis state of confusion that takes over when searching for airfares, hotel rooms, car rentals and more.

Let’s focus on airfares and let me share what sites I start searching with. No guarantees that the dang “A-P” syndrome won’t get you still, so set a timer for 10 minutes of searching and then make your choice.

If travel dates have any kind of flexibility in them, especially for holiday travel, check out Hipmunk (remember it as chipmunk without the “c”). I love their Price Graph which shows the days with the least expensive airfare across a 90-day period. When first going into, do not select all the boxes for Expedia, CheapOair, etc. or you’ll end up with the dreaded overdose of browser windows open. Instead, select the Price Graph to see the least expensive days to fly. When you click “Book this trip” you’ll see details on which airlines and times. No worries on it actually booking the ticket at this point. I prefer to always book directly on the airline’s website once I see which airline it is with the lowest fare. I like being able to call an airline directly if I do need to make a change or have questions on the flight rather than a third party.

I also look at two sites which are both owned by Google: Google Flights and ITA Matrix .

Google Flights offers the ability to search flights by airline alliance (Oneworld, Skyteam or Star Alliance) should this matter to you. It also searches flights on Southwest Airlines, which not all search engines do.

ITA Matrix (originally developed by MIT engineers and later acquired by Google) does not let you book airline tickets, though it’s a great flight search engine for you to see what’s available – then you can book it directly on the airline’s site. They offer an option to “See Calendar of lowest fares” similar to Hipmunk and in a nice, easy to read format.

If international flights are also involved, I also search Momondo. Momondo searches hundreds of airlines as well as online booking sites for the best fares. Its search includes budget airlines, so go to the budget airline’s site to see what other fees may be included (wise words for any of these search methods).

After that, I STOP and decide on which fare to book. As I mentioned earlier, I always try to book that fare directly on the airline’s website vs. these airfare search/booking sites.

Then I close all browser windows. I don’t clear my browser cache and check airfares day after day. I don’t wait until midnight on Tuesday night and book when the fares “should” be the lowest based on some reports. And I don’t create a math project in Excel of every possible airfare/date combination and see what’s statistically most likely to happen.

These search engines should give you ample information in which to more easily and quickly decide on the flights that make the most sense to you. I know there are many options so I’ve tried to narrow it down to the sites that have worked well for me.

If you have a favorite airline search/booking site, do share in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for the newest and best tools to help us make better travel decisions, so if I have to jump back into the analysis-paralysis quagmire for a look-see at another site, I’ll happily do it in the name of “travel research” to benefit us all.

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