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How to buy cheap airline tickets

View from airplaneI don’t do a lot of air travel but when I happen to go somewhere I try to use the most out of what I know about the travel industry and the online tools that have grown around it to get the best savings on my airfare.

Unfortunately there is no single source for the cheapest airline tickets because a lot of factors affect the price. The ticket pricing depends on your departure/destination airport, airline, and time of travel and there is no single tool that will show you the complete picture.

But before I get to the tools part let me first list some general tips that apply when you want to save on air tickets.

  • Buy a package — buying a hotel room with an air ticket can often save you a lot. This also brings extra revenue to the booking agencies and if you happen to use one you will be reminded about the savings not once
  • Be flexible with dates — plus/minus one day can make a huge difference with air travel. Once I saved around $200 on a ticket to Europe by moving the departure date from June 1 to May 31.
  • Research nearby airports — many services provide an option which will enable you to include into your search the nearby airports around your departure/destination point. This may help you reduce the price.
  • Go for extra stops — non-stop flights are usually the most expensive and if you have time at your hands consider a connecting flight instead

Below are the online tools to help you find the best ticket price grouped by category. Each category is different and serves its own distinctive purpose.

Search Engines

These will search for the best price and then redirect you to the booking agency or airline website to buy the ticket. Search engines are free to use and make money from advertisement. Sometimes the listed price will not be up to date since search engines often cache prices to speed up search. Use them to get an estimate and don’t be surprised if the price at checkout will end up slightly higher.

United States

International

Booking Agencies

These will search for the best price and will charge you a fixed fee (around $5) to book the ticket. Unless you are in a hurry it is always a good idea to check the airline website directly (see the list below) before paying the agency. Just as with search engines the booking agency may sometime display stale pricing data although this usually happens less frequently

  • Orbitz — I have had the best experience with this company, their customer support actually answers phone calls. ;-) They claim to search 455 airlines.
  • Expedia — The largest and most popular booking agency according to Alexa ranking. Their airlines selection looks impressive as well.
  • Travelocity — I have always liked their “Flexible Dates” option which allows me to shop for discounted tickets however most competitors nowadays offer the functionality as well
  • Cheaptickets — another website to check. From my experience the prices you will see are the same as at Expedia or Orbitz but their booking fee can be $1 or $2 less
  • Hotwire — is owned by Expedia and has a shorter list of suppliers. I personally don’t see why you would want to use it instead of Expedia which gives you better search options
  • Priceline — better known for their “Name Your Own Price” functionality available with hotels (read about it here).
  • Qixo — a smaller and less popular agency with a subset of functionality compared to what you will find at the competitors

Airline Websites

You will get the most current information if you go to the airline website directly. Buying from the airline removes an extra piece in the ticket sale transaction chain which is always a good thing if you want to minimize the chance of an error with booking. Besides some airlines don’t list tickets with the agencies at all and if you want to have the complete picture you have to check these directly.

Travel Forums

Discuss travel deals and get tips from other travelers like you.

Travel Deals Sites

Last but not the least. These websites are operated by people who are professional bargain hunters in travel industry. If you travel a lot subscribing to their newsletter for hot travel deals delivered to your mailbox might be a good idea.

Photo courtesy of SilentFury at stock.xchng

Last updated: 03/25/2008


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12 Responses to “How to buy cheap airline tickets”


  1. 1 Alex Jan 8th, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Another cool site is http://www.farecast.com – it gives you air fare pricing information for US destinations so you can see when it will actually be cheaper to fly.

  2. 2 Yan Jan 8th, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I like them too. They are actually #4 in my search engines list

  3. 3 JOhn Jan 8th, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Be careful with EXPEDIA. THey are having really bad reputation. Search for “expedia complaints” in Google and you will find horrible stories from people that used EXPEDIA. (click on my name to read how they tried to scam me 1254.95.U$D).

    Good luck

  4. 4 Anita Feb 12th, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    People are travelling a lot nowadays because you can travel very cheaper than 10 years before.Some airlines gives offers if you book during the promotion time.I personally feel we should book directly from the airlines website.

  5. 5 Pooja Mar 29th, 2007 at 6:48 am

    Hi
    This is great Information.
    For India there is a site called Zoomtra
    (url http://www.zoomtra.com )Which Search cheap Airfare and Hotels for its user. It Works Similar to kayak.com. If you travel to India you must use this site.

    Regards
    C P Singh

  6. 6 Charles McCool Nov 14th, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Excellent write up. I am almost two years too late but I find new stuff on the net every day.

    So much I can say about this topic, as I am the author of “Winning the Airfare Game” and I teach travel classes. Two of my favorite tactics that you did not mention are one-way flights and split tickets.

    Certainly there are some routes that do not have decent one-way fares. Consumers can select different carriers for each leg of the trip for most routes. Do this to save yourself money, time, and/or stress. Indeed, I usually do it to save money but often I book one-way flights because it is more convenient.

    Split tickets are a bit more complicated. When your trip involves a stopover, often you can book two separate round trip flights to save money. For instance, instead of booking one carrier between New York and Australia, book separate flights between New York and San Francisco, and between San Francisco and Australia. Air-fare.com is good for showing what routes are cheapest at any given moment. I use it frequently to research such split ticket opportunities.

    Happy travels!

  7. 7 Rhea Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Awesome article, thanks! Another cool site for airfare comparison shopping of budget airlines is http://www.cfares.com.

  8. 8 Christine Nov 3rd, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Another great website to refer and book your tickets is http://www.flightnetwork.com it gives you the best (lowest) air fare pricing for various destinations.
    I am a regular traveler (traveling almost every week) and I always prefer to book my tickets through FlightNetwork.com. The site is very clean and organized and gives me the best real time pricing!

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