5 little-known websites that will save you time and money when booking airfare online

When booking airfare online, most people think of the popular online aggregation sites. You know the ones: They have the fancy commercials, catchy jingles, and washed-up celebrity pitchmen. While those sites aren't inherently bad, there are a few well-documented problems with relying solely on these larger engines:

  1. Many of the aggregation sites neglect to include smaller, budget carriers.
  2. Larger airline companies may temporarily exclude or intentionally block these aggregation sites from fares.
  3. Short-term specials or incentive sales aren't usually aggregated either. They're often only found by visiting the individual sites of the carriers.

Obviously, there isn't just one website capable of giving you the best deal every time. I wish it were that easy.

Many larger carriers make a significant amount of money off of the loyalty factor — meaning those individuals and companies who choose to fly the same airline every time for whatever reason. Because of this, they're not necessarily in a rush to make all their fare data open and available for the world to dissect.

In most cases, the cheapest fare will be found using a combination of sites depending on your specific travel plans. Here are some lesser-known websites you can add to your bag of tricks when searching for the lowest airfare available.

skyscanner

SkyScanner.net

SkyScanner is a traditional aggregation site. But it actively differentiates (and brands) itself, by including a wider variety of budget options than most larger sites of the same type.

Another helpful feature of SkyScanner is the ability to search for a whole month or even a whole year with just the click of a button. For example, you can choose December 2009 as your departure date and easily compare data for different days. If your travel plans are flexible, this is a convenient benefit.

In addition, you don't have to specify a specific airport, but rather just a city. Many other websites allow you to search flexible dates and close airports, but I haven't found any that make it as easy as SkyScanner. This convenience, and its access to some small budget sites, give it the nod of the larger sites in our book.

whichbudget

WhichBudget.com

WhichBudget is popular in international-traveling circles, and for good reason. Rather than pulling specific pricing information for flights, WhichBudget simply allows you to find budget airlines that fly a specific route.

For example, to plan our upcoming trip to Thailand, Courtney and I used WhichBudget to find budget airlines that flew various potential routes — Christchurch, NZ to Bangkok, Thailand for one. This is the type of flight that might not show up in the larger airfare search sites.

This service is especially valuable for places that play host to a variety of smaller, budget airlines, such as Europe and Southeast Asia.

budgetflightfinder

BudgetFlightFinder.com

BudgetFlightFinder is an alternative site to WhichBudget. We've only been turned onto it recently, but I'm starting to favor it. Once again, it allows you to find budget airlines that fly a specific route.

Sometimes it's good to check multiple sites for information like this. For example, on a sample flight path of LAX to IND, WhichBudget shows only Southwest as a budget option. BudgetFlightFinder displays Frontier as the only option for the same path.

Once you've uncovered a budget carrier that flies your specific route, you can go to the individual website and double check the actual prices.

SeatGuru

SeatGuru.com

SeatGuru is a unique site that contains the specific layouts of over 700+ different planes from various airlines. How is this useful information to you?

Well for each type of aircraft, they label the different seats as “good” (green), “some drawback” (yellow), or “bad” (red).

For example, because of the layout of the hull a specific row may have a considerable amount of extra legroom. Conversely, some rows may be a tighter fit or be close to the engines or infant seating. SeatGuru will show you in full color what to look out for.

They even break down where to find power outlets, overhead television locations, and, of course, bathrooms.

This may not directly save you time or money, but it can add value. Next time an agent asks you for your seating preference, you can tell them, “I'll take 12E, since it has a little extra leg room, a good view of a television, and nice accessibility to the exit after we land!”

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David Turnbull
David Turnbull
10 years ago

Great post. One of my biggest decision breakers with travel is that flights from Australia are damn expensive. It makes it tricky to choose where my money will be best spent.

Looks like these sites will help with that (a bit at least) – skyscanner.net looks particularly useful, and is actually designed well compared to so many Aussie flight search engines which are straight out of the mid 90’s.

Foxie || CarsxGirl
Foxie || CarsxGirl
10 years ago

I’m totally bookmarking this and using it when we start hashing out details for Japan. 🙂 Sounds like it’ll come in handy for when we get back to Europe too. (It’ll be a while for that, but I’m hopeful!)

Bon
Bon
10 years ago

David (#1) — do you not like wego.com? I’m new to Asia and have been moderately happy with it but have not yet checked out skyscanner.

Mister E
Mister E
10 years ago

I have to say I have used Seat Guru and it’s very helpful especially for longer flights in selecting the most comfortable location.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Wow. This is incredibly useful. Thank you so much. Since graduating college I’ve become incredibly behind in the latest technology. I will definitely bookmark this post.

David F
David F
10 years ago

Thanks for tip on SeatGuru! I wish I had access to something like that years ago when I was traveling all over the country. I learned through trial and error where not to sit (front seats behind bulkhead) and the pros and cons of different aircraft and airlines but didn’t keep good notes. As a result I spent many uncomfortable hours in the air. I would highly recommend this site to anyone who flies.

– David F
[email protected]

Craig
Craig
10 years ago

Good resources, I have only used Orbitz and Kayak but could use some more. Planning a trip to Miami in Feb and would like a cheaper flight.

Alan Cordle
Alan Cordle
10 years ago

Thanks JD! All but one was new to me.

Colin Wright
Colin Wright
10 years ago

Love it! I’ve been using Kayak.com, but after just a cursory glance these sites seem to offer quite a bit more than the big K.

Great post, Baker, and thanks J.D. for hosting it!

Cali
Cali
10 years ago

I love skyscanner.net and used it extensively when traveling throughout Europe for five months.

Dutchguy
Dutchguy
10 years ago

Try Momondo.com and Mobissimo.com as well. Especially the latter one has given me numerous good deals to Europe!

Jean
Jean
10 years ago

This was a timely post. I have a friend who needs to make flight arrangements for next week for a funeral. Even though I work for an airline, I checked these sites out. She can get a secured seat for less than $30 more than she would pay flying stand-by on my buddy pass. And even though I can fly for free (stand-by), I may check this out when looking for flights to Germany next summer. Thanks!

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

Thanks for this- it’s very timely!

I tried Sky Scanner out this morning but found it frustrating as it doesn’t specify which currency it’s being priced out in.

If I clicked around, a little bubble would come up saying “XYZ is likely to price in USD” but a) that came up even when XYZ was a Canadian airline, and b) doesn’t ACTUALLY say what currency it’s in.

bethh
bethh
10 years ago

hmm.. I’ll need to do some more playing with those when I have some real travel needs. I used whichbudget when I was planning my trip to the UK last spring – it was SO helpful, since I had absolutely no idea about airlines. Word of caution – once you identify a budget airline of interest, it may behoove you to look around online to see what other travelers think of the airlines. When I was planning my trip I found that EasyJet, RyanAir, and Aer Lingus would all work for me, but after reading reviews I opted not to… Read more »

corey
corey
10 years ago

Thanks for the great tips. I always suspected there was a lot being over-looked or not included in the bigger-name sites orbitz .

OK…a little off topic, but Shatner is not “washed-up”! If you haven’t listened to his “Has Been” CD he did with Ben Folds a few years ago (+Aimee Mann and Joe Jackson and Henry Rollins), you are missing out.

Ana
Ana
10 years ago

I love SeatGuru. I get claustrophobic if I don’t have an aisle seat and it’s really helpful to be able to check out the layout of the plane first because while seat lettering is generally consistent airline to airline, I’ve seen variations. I also prefer to be in the middle of the plane (the pointy end is way out of my price range and you feel the turbulence more at the back) so when I call the airline to ask for my aisle seat, I’ll know how far back the row they are offering is located. This might sound a… Read more »

David Turnbull
David Turnbull
10 years ago

@Bon – I’d never actually tried wego.com and it seems better than a lot of other flight search engines, although I still prefer Skyscanner’s interface. Thanks for sharing though, I’ll definitely consult the site before purchasing any tickets. 🙂

Jeff Pecor
Jeff Pecor
10 years ago

There’s another site that travelers can use to capture low holiday fares: Yapta.com. Yapta (short for Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant) enables travelers to find their ideal flights, track airfare prices and be alerted via email when the fare on a particular flight drops or falls within a desired spending limit. But here’s what’s really unique: The site can track the price of your flight even AFTER you’ve purchased your ticket and it will alert you when you’re eligible for a travel credit from your airline. (Most U.S. airlines have “guaranteed airfare” policies that enable you to claim a travel… Read more »

Bradley
Bradley
10 years ago

great post. the only one i had heard of before was seat guru. i have been searching for a site that would include the budget carriers in the search. especially since i am always on a super tight budget!

John DeFlumeri Jr
John DeFlumeri Jr
10 years ago

Yes, we need to break the habit of using the same airline without shopping around. Thanks for your reminder and the help you provided.

John DeFlumeri Jr

Casey
Casey
10 years ago

Geez Baker. I wish I knew about these awhile ago, haha. I have never heard of any of these. Nice to be able to compare prices to Kayak.

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

I had always thought that the “bigdog” airfare sites out there were all virtually the same–this post confirms it. This post is now on my faves list and I will definitely use it to book airfare!

Thx

Stuart
Stuart
10 years ago

There’s some great sites here. It takes so much time to shop airfares online. Glad there are some easier ways here. I always just used expedia, but will try some of these out in the future.

Evan
Evan
10 years ago

Matt,

You have to remember to clear your cookies each time you use these sites. They are notorious for knowing when you are searching and bumping up the price 5 to 10% leaving you to think it is because time (day or two) has passed when in actuality its the cookies!

Scot
Scot
10 years ago

Hi Baker, I wanted to drop you a line and thank you for the mention in your blog today! My name is Scot, and I manage ‘www.skyscanner.com’, our US and Canadian site. As we are getting ready for our ‘big debut’ in North America, I welcome any feedback that anyone may have with regard to what we do well–or could do better. (@Kate: Kate, I am happy to hear your feedback. We have just launched our geo-specific sites, so if there are any currency-issues, I would like to know about them: [email protected] [dot] com) Thanks again for the mention…enjoy the… Read more »

Eric @ thriftyvillage
Eric @ thriftyvillage
10 years ago

Another site that I find extremely valuable for getting a complete overview of who flies between a certain city pair at any given time is Passrider.com. It has a tool that allows you to search schedules and it will show every single carrier flying the given route during your search period. It’s useful for finding the flight option that works best for you, or picking a few options and then going right to the carrier’s website to book the fare which is often the cheapest way to do it.

Martino
Martino
10 years ago

Hi Baker, Martino from WhichBudget here. I am the Founder & CEO of http://www.whichbudget.com Thank you for mentioning us in your review. We are really proud of the work we do and your recognition is a wonderful encouragement. As you said, some larger aggregators focus too much on price and hence are unable to include some smaller, lesser known airlines. We are community run (no, no shareholders to satisfy, just our visitors), so can concentrate on listing as many budget airlines worldwide as possible and welcome all feedback and offer of involvement from travelers worldwide. Stay in touch. Regards, Martino… Read more »

Jamie
Jamie
10 years ago

I use TripIt when I fly to keep my flight info straight. Once you’ve bought your tickets, you basically just forward the receipt to the service and it automatically creates a simple, easy-to-read itinerary for your whole flight. I love it. http://www.tripit.com/

Kristen
Kristen
10 years ago

Thanks for this. I’ve always just used kayak.com. I’ll be giving these sites a whirl this holiday season.

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

ITA Planner (http://matrix.itasoftware.com/cvg/dispatch/) can replace most of the websites you’ve mentioned. Book loose or strict itineraries, book connecting flights at different airports in the same town if it’s cheaper, review a graphic view of your itinerary.
I bought round trip tickets from IAH to Buenos Aires a few months ago for $243/ea (oh! and the price it shows you includes taxes and fees – a book and board price) using ITA Planner. I used to do the “lookup flights on a dozen different websites always getting different rates” dance, but now ITA planner does everything for the cheapest rate possible.

Jeff
Jeff
10 years ago

You should try farecompare.com
They get their pricing information directly from the source and will show sales before the other site do.

Mary
Mary
10 years ago

Thanks! I bookmarked this post for use in January when I’ll be planning a trip from Panama to Missouri. Only one stumbling block for me: you didn’t mention exactly how to use Tripeedo, and it took a little looking around on their site for it to become clear just how easy it is – once you know how! If you decide to update this post sometime in the feature, a simple example for using tripeedo would really help.

Thanks again. It’s definitely a useful post.

Manfred Georg
Manfred Georg
10 years ago

Thank you for posting this. I just saved more than $100 on a flight, and got to go on the days I wanted to the airport I wanted by finding a flight through tripeedo.com (it found one on airtran). Thank you for posting this.

Kyle Lester
Kyle Lester
10 years ago

Another tip I would give is to try to find travel agencies who focus or fly solely to the country you are looking for. For example, I’ve been to Japan 6 times in the last 2 years, and I wouldn’t use anyone besides iace-usa.com. They focus only on flights USAJapan, and they absolutely have the cheapest rates I have ever found.

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