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Having travelled quite a bit over the past fifteen years, we have found and tested some of the most useful tools out there for travellers. With the advent of the smartphone, the value of using apps on the move has made life a lot simpler and finding a good deal is now within everyone’s reach if they know where to look for it.
For us, finding a cheap flight usually takes precedent over choosing a specific destination and if you are prepared to be somewhat flexible in your approach, you can almost always find a good match.
One of my favourite ways to look for flights is to search in Google Flights with the destination left blank! As an example, we wanted to fly to the Philippines from Cape Town but found it to much cheaper to fly to Taiwan and then on to the Philippines with a smaller local carrier! The added bonus is we get to spend time in another country as well. We very rarely book flights via an online travel agent and mostly purchase directly from the airline – unless there is a major price difference.
Flight Deal Sites
Google has built what is perhaps the world’s best search engine for flights. It’s powerful, easy to use, with a simple and intuitive interface and its currently where we start any flight search.
Instead of overwhelming you with options, it will highlight the best few options according to your preferences, and even suggest slightly different travel dates or airports if it can save you a significant chunk of cash. It is also very snappy, and shows tickets other engines do not show. My favourite feature is that it will show you a map with the prices to different destinations.
The most powerful publicly available flight search engine by far is Matrix by ITA Software.
There used to be a smartphone app but when Google acquired the technology it was unfortunately discontinued.
Although it’s the same engine which powers the above-mentioned Google Flights, unlike Google’s flight search, Matrix allows you to radically fine-tune your search. The main drawback of Matrix is that you cannot actually book the flights through the interface and they won’t even send you to a partner site to buy tickets either. It’s great to find that perfect flight option but afterwards, you will still have to manually find that flights again on the airline’s website.
If price is your number one concern, then kiwi.com is the answer. While most online tools will only show itineraries where all flights are on the same carrier or at least partner airlines, Kiwi doesn’t limit its search in that way. Instead, they use algorithms to find the cheapest way from A to B, even if that means flying two competing airlines on separate tickets.
It might not work for all itineraries but you can actually save a lot of money this way even if it comes at the cost of flexibility. Plenty of powerful features make it really useful for flexible travellers and you can even do a radius search both for departure and arrival airports, as well as being as flexible as you’d like for your dates. Kiwi.com is also available in app form for both Android and iPhone.
Together with Momondo, Skyscanner is sometimes able to find some significantly cheaper fares than their competitors. It might not be the most user-friendly of the bunch, but it’s well worth checking the price on Skyscanner after finding flights on a different site.
Something to consider is that many of the travel agents featured on Skyscanner may add fees for using most credit or debit cards or making changes to your booking or selecting seats. Personally, we mostly book directly with airlines, unless there’s a huge saving booking via Skyscanner and know for a fact that there’s a slim chance of needing to make changes.
Skiplagged is one of the most innovative flight search engines but has received a lot of flak from the industry. The search engine is so controversial that, in fact, United Airlines sued them! What made them deserving of a lawsuit? Skiplagged helps travellers find cheap tickets through a strategy called "hidden city" ticketing. The idea is that you buy an airline ticket that has a layover at your actual destination.
Say you want to fly from New York to San Francisco. You book a flight from New York to Portland with a layover in San Francisco and get off there, without bothering to take the last leg of the flight. Sometimes, this can save you money. Flying this way isn't always cheapest, but it can be. Don’t try this if you have checked-in luggage, but if you travel light it can definitely save.
While the options above will help you find the cheapest flights available right now, Hopper will attempt to help you tell WHEN to book to get the best deal. Enter your destination and preferred dates, then leave it to Hopper.
The app will monitor the price of the itinerary and give advice along the lines of “your flight price will probably increase with $ or more on or around April 10” or “the current price is $450, but you can likely save about $125 if you wait”. We’ve had mixed results with Hopper and usually prefer to use Google Flight Alerts but Hopper can provide some assurance that you’re booking your flight at the optimal time.
One major limitation of Hopper is that it requires sufficient historical price data being available for a particular route in order to provide accurate predictions. This would mean that less frequented routes will have limited or no helpful information.
Do I Need an Onward Ticket?
You want to be free, spontaneous, go where the wind takes you…
Sadly, many countries require you to have an onward ticket booked before they will let you pass immigration. Actually, airlines will often deny you boarding without one.
So what options are there?
1. Hope for the best… but you might end up having to buy an expensive ticket at the airport or be denied boarding.
2. Book a 100% refundable flight… which can be expensive and might reserve or block funds in your bank account.
3. Book a cheap flight that you might or might not use.
4. Print a fake ticket… easy enough to do and it might work. This is not something we advise! If the airline decides to check the validity of your ticket (which is really easy to do), you might be in trouble - see Option 1.
Step in Onward Ticket… they will issue a ticket that stays valid for at least 48 hours. Then they will cancel it. Peace of mind and more flexibility, for $12.