Searching for the best airfare can be a stressful and time consuming process. Online travel agents like Priceline, Orbitz and Expedia get a lot of attention for their comparison resources, but they don’t always show the complete picture. There are actually a handful of alternative, lesser-known sites out there that can help you find even cheaper tickets. To ensure you’re getting the cheapest flights, check these out before you book.
If you have patience:
If you want to do a comprehensive search, look no further than Matrix Airfare Search by the ITA Matrix. Powered by Google, and built by MIT scientists in the ‘90s, this advanced tool is a great way to look for the lowest fares on every airline. Even better, sites like Orbitz and Kayak use the ITA Matrix technology, so why not go straight to the source?
While Matrix Airfare Search will display a lot of options, actually booking a fare takes some extra effort. After putting in your travel dates, destination and preferences (round-trip, non-stop, etc.), you can scour through pages of results to find the best and most affordable flight. When you find an itinerary you like, simply copy and paste that itinerary from your results page into the website Book With Matrix. (There are instructional videos on the homepage if you get confused with what to copy and where to paste it.) From there, you will be directed to book the flight on Priceline or directly on the airline.
Bonus: The Matrix Airfare Search was purchased by Google and is used to power that company’s airfare tool, Google Flights. The services are pretty comparable, but you’re able to book some flights directly through Google Flights. So if the Book With Matrix site is confusing for you, it might make your life easier to try Google Flights.
If your destination is flexible:
Just because a plane ticket is discounted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a good deal. Using this as their guiding philosophy, the team at The Flight Deal breaks down fares by assigning a price per mile traveled. More specifically, they will only advertise fares costing 6 cents per mile or less.
The process is pretty simple. Pick your point of origin from a list of suggestions, and the site will list daily deals for you to choose from. If you like one, simply click on it to see fare availability, mileage and the minimum stay. This site essentially gives you windows of time when a flight will be a certain rate, and then you can search online (perhaps with the Matrix Airfare Search), to find the flights you want. So yes, it requires a bit more legwork, but the The Flight Deal puts cheap fares on your radar that you might have missed otherwise.
In addition to helping you find cheap flights, The Flight Deal also provides tips to help travelers get the most out of their frequent flier and rewards programs.
If your travel dates are flexible:
If you’re not locked into a specific date, Skyscanner is a great tool to find the cheapest days to travel throughout the year. After putting in the search parameters, you can choose to view airfare for the entire month, giving you an overview of the cheapest days to fly. After selecting your preferred dates, Skyscanner will search hundreds of different travel sites, mixing and matching airlines to find you the best price and times to fly. Simply pick the itinerary that fits your budget, and the travel site will direct you to the appropriate agency or airline to book it.
If you just want to skip town
Sometimes you just gotta get away, without necessarily having a firm destination in mind. That’s why the getaway map by FareCompare is the perfect pressure-free planning tool. Imagine it’s like a Mad Libs where you fill in the blanks: “ I want to fly from ____ to ____. I want to do ______ in ________month for under ______ price.”
After completing these questions, the site displays a map with locations and prices outlined in your parameters. It’s a great way to discover cheap destinations, as well as places you didn’t even know you wanted to visit.
When you find a flight you like, simply click on the link and book it through FareCompare.
Twitter price drops and flash sales
If you’re not already, you should be following discount airlines like Wow Air, Spirit, Southwest and JetBlue on Twitter. They constantly tweet out deals and discounts on flights. It also pays to follow sites like Airfare Watchdog on Twitter, which keeps an eye on drastic price drops and flash sales.
Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.