There’s not much that can evoke thoughts of both work and play like buying airfare. You’re either trying to find a last-minute ticket to make it in time for a meeting, or hoping to get to a remote island as cheaply as possible.
Some trips are regular, essential and planned far in advance, like visiting the family for Christmas; while other trips — spending time with that long-distance significant other — are flexible on dates, but can break your wallet if not purchased strategically.
For whatever your airfare needs may be, there is a growing corral of consumer portals for searching available flights and getting deals. Some make the experience less stress-inducing; others make it feel like a game. Search giants Google and Bing are both on the scene amongst scrappy startups with pithy names. No matter where you’re going, the best flight at the best price is at your fingertips.
What site do you use to find the perfect flight price? Let us know in the comments.
You might have used Hotwire to book a room at a mystery hotel in your destination, but now GetGoing raises the stakes and applies the psychology to flights — except this time, you pick not one but two locations. The service boasts 40% discounts on airfare and is designed for cost-conscious travelers who are flexible with their destination — worth a shot for your next island escape or ski trip.
Did you dream of becoming a travel agent when you grew up, only to find the algorithms had taken over? Fear not; there are some problems that only human curators can solve. Flightfox allows you to post your more complex travel plans and other Flightfox users will compete to track down the cheapest or best route. You’ll pay an upfront fee of $24 (or more, depending on the challenge) and the winning user will take home 75%. If you’ve ever felt like there was a secret to finding good travel deals — there probably is, but Flightfox will connect you with the people in the know.
We usually assume flights are priced by supply and demand but sometimes it seems there’s a complex coefficient in there somewhere. FlyinAway is a new site that puts pricing directly into the hands of the traveler — and the other travelers interested in the same flight. That’s right, you’ll have to outbid other travelers to get a deal; however, things are complicated as the auction will not open unless enough users have expressed interest in that route (a la Groupon’s group buying).
Hipmunk animation video via Flickr, brownpau
The Y-Combinator darling from Reddit’s Steve Huffman (with a cuddly mascot you wish you could take with you on the plane) popularized the idea of searching for flights by “agony,” to optimize your flight for price, length and layovers. The site design is among the best, and along with hotel search, Hipmunk recently added flight deal alerts and the ability to track an airfare by email (if you’re up to holding out on your purchase to see if the price drops).
A mobile app brought to you by the makers of CheapOair, Geneo is a mobile-only experience perfect for someone who frequently needs to book flights on-the-go. The iOS app will keep track of your search history and home airport.
A colorful site that sticks to the basics, Momondo actually crawls or scrapes airfare sites rather than plugging into a third party aggregator. It’s possible the site will recommend a different airline for your trip out and back, but if this turns out to be cheaper, why not? Many people mix and match airlines themselves and Momondo does the work for you. There’s also a handy calendar so if pushing your trip back a day will save you some dough, you can easily navigate to it.
7. Bing Travel
Bing is a step into the future — literally. What makes the site stand out is one simple line, Bing’s “tip,” which will tell you to buy or to wait. For example, on a search today for a flight from New York to San Diego, Bing says fares will rise $50 or more and has 80% confidence. You can also filter by airline, specific airports, duration and “flight quality” — to avoid red eyes, for example.
8. Google Flights
Google bought flight software ITA (used by other consumer searches including Hipmunk) and the result of the purchase is Google’s own flight search. The site works best on domestic flights in the U.S. (although it services some international flights, it doesn’t include all airlines in the search results). A map view allows you to drag and drop your route to another location to see the price changes, while a bar graph view visualizes how fares change over time (changing trip duration by a day or two can cut down on cost as well).
If you’re a big shopper you know how frustrating it is when something you just bought goes on sale — unless you’re lucky enough that the store will give you a refund equal to the discount. Yapta wants to do the same for your airfares, depending on each airline’s policy. If it’s possible to get some money back, Yapta will tell you.
Also accelerated in Y Combinator, Adioso similarly is built for cost-conscious travelers with a flexible itinerary. What stands out is the search function, which behaves a little more like your brain — an example search might be “New York to Southeast Asia in mid-July for 10 days.” Your results will give you a good idea of where you can get and for how cheap — and if nothing meets your requirements, you can set up email alerts to see if the price drops. If your goal is to go somewhere cool, rather than stick to a specific vacation plan, you might have some luck with a deal via Adioso.