Search For Flights
Click Factor: Even as its competition grows, Kayak remains the most functional and flexible airfare-search site, compiling data from more than 200 online sources. The site is particularly good for trip planning: it allows you to search a whole region, such as the Caribbean, Europe, or Asia, and (with the Buzz tool) you can see the best fares that other Kayak users have turned up for upcoming weekends or a given month. Kayak’s filter options make it easy to find the combination of price, schedule, and even airline alliance that suits your needs. We also like the new baggage-fee calculator.
T+L Tip: For the best deals, we advise looking for fares here and then going directly to the primary source to book.
Predict When to Buy
Click Factor: Formerly farecast.com, this site is now backed by Microsoft and works and looks better than ever, forecasting whether fares on major domestic routes will go up or down. Its easy-to-use seven-day Price Predictor gives research-backed recommendations about whether you should book now or wait until fares drop. (See “Fare Forecasting” for a closer look.)
Drawback: It searches only half the sources that Kayak does and occasionally doesn’t transfer you directly to the purchasing page. You may have to reenter your search criteria after it sends you to the airline or online travel agency, which can be frustrating.
Ensure You’re Getting the Lowest Fare
Click Factor: Of the scores of websites offering best-price guarantees, Orbitz distinguishes itself with the most comprehensive program: should another customer book a cheaper fare after you’ve booked yours, you will be sent a check for the difference automatically. (See “What’s New at the Top Booking Engines” for information on Orbitz’s Hotel Price Assurance program.)
Runners-up: Both expedia.com and priceline.com offer similar services for airfares, but require on-their-toes travelers to do price research of their own: if you find a less costly flight than your original within 24 hours of booking, you may contact the website for a refund of the difference and a $50 coupon to put toward future bookings.
Book Low-Cost Carriers Within Europe
Click Factor: With low-cost carriers still proliferating across the Continent, Wegolo searches 75 different airlines serving more than 700 destinations. It works best for advance bookings, but can do last-minute searches as well.
T+L Tip: Click on “price” to get a breakdown of the taxes and fees you’ll pay, which, on certain flights, can be as much as (if not more than) the ticket itself.
Find Bargains in Asia
Click Factor: Travelocity’s Asian affiliate links with online agencies in six countries, often yielding bigger savings than you’ll find outside Asia. It even performs flexible international searches: up to three days before and after a specific date on business- and first-class fares.
T+L Tip: Zuji excels at finding fares within Asia; if you’re looking for flights to the region, try searching on itasoftware.com to get an idea of when the best fares are offered, then do a final check and book through Zuji.
Perform Flexible-Date Searches
Click Factor: Orbitz, Cheaptickets, and many other online aggregators actually run on Ita Software’s platform, and, frankly, it’s easier to perform a flexible-date search here. You can look by weekend or over the span of one month. The site digs up special fares that even the airlines’ own reservations agents don’t know about. It breaks down all the components of the price, so you’ll see base fares separate from taxes and fees. It also alerts you to tight layovers.
T+L Tip: Since you can’t book on the site, keep the fare code it gives you handy: You’ll need to reference it when you call the airline to buy your ticket.
Receive Fare-Sale Alerts
Click Factor: This human-powered site separates itself from other, less intelligent ones by searching where most don’t (including for Web-only fare sales) and alerting you to deals virtually the second they happen. Bonus: the Airfarewatchdog team hunts down promo code deals, including those on Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Air, calculates the discount, and lists the fares one by one. And unlike many online travel agents, a team of actual people is constantly verifying seat availability; if it’s no longer available, the site won’t list it.
T+L Tip: Read Airfarewatchblog for more ideas on searching and great insight into airline travel in general.
Track a Flight
Click Factor: Created for aviation buffs, this sophisticated tracking site is also remarkably consumer-friendly: Just plug in an airline and flight number, and it’ll show you on a live, animated map exactly where the plane is. It also has great weather updates and a function that allows you to type in an airport code and see all the flights that are coming and going. Just for fun: Want to see every Boeing 737 in the air over the United States? Look it up here.
Drawback: The service area is limited to the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. If you’re tracking a flight originating from outside those places, Flightaware will pick it up only when it enters the area.
Make the Best of a Layover
Click Factor: The most comprehensive airport guide online, it has terminal maps, layover ideas, restaurant information, ground transportation, and even security checkpoint wait times at 400 domestic airports.
Drawback: Some major international airports aren’t represented (why Bahrain and not Dubai or Abu Dhabi, for example?) and some tips are discouragingly generic, such as layover ideas for Paris-Charles de Gaulle International Airport: “Go to the Information Center.”