The Internet has definitely made getting cheap airfare much easier in recent years since now all the airlines have to compete fiercely on price in order to sell out all their seats. If one airline tries to charge even a bit more than the competition very few people will even see those flights when people compare in airfare search sites. There are a few tricks to getting cheap airfare, but for the most part it’s never been easier.
Where to begin
There seems to be no end to the number of airfare-booking sites on the Internet, but some of them are much better than others. Many of the first sites to become famous started simply enough, but now they’ve discovered that they can maximize profits by charging a booking fee on top of each ticket, and also making every attempt possible to sell the consumer something else in addition to the ticket they came for. It’s not just hotels, but also rental cars, ground transportation, airport parking, theme park admissions and even stranger things.
The best sites for getting cheap airfare
Kayak — This site searches every other relevant site on the internet looking for the lowest fare it can find you, and then it sends you to that site to complete the purchase. Usually this means sending you to a site owned by one of the airlines themselves, which are usually around $5 cheaper per ticket, but sometimes even more. Also, once you get your search results you can control how they are displayed as if you are operating your own database. There are powerful and helpful tools that allow you to decide which times of the day you’d like to depart and land, and you’ll instantly see what the lowest available price is for your criteria. The site takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be hooked.
SideStep — This site is basically identical to Kayak and they merged in late 2007 so they do virtually everything identically to one another now. Use Kayak or SideStep, but no reason to use both.
Priceline — This site used to specialize in a reverse-auction format where you’d name a price and they’d try to find an airline to sell a seat at that price. But that system never worked too well for most people so now Priceline operates just like many other booking sites, although the reverse auction feature is still available and it can be the best way to get a cheap airfare if your schedule is flexible. There are other sites out that where people compare airfares that Priceline has recently accepted, so starting with one of those will probably save a lot of hassle. Even without the reverse auction thing, Priceline is the cheapest of the major booking sites
Another important thing to consider
Most of the major airlines and even most of the discount airlines are listed on all the search sites mentioned above, but not all of them. In the United States you’ll find that Southwest Airlines notoriously does not show up on those sites so if you are flying between cities they serve you should also check the airfare on their site in order to make sure you are getting the best price.
Check out the big list of cheap airlines in order to make sure your search has included any of them that might cover your flight. It’s very rare that one of the airlines that isn’t in the search results is significantly cheaper than the ones that are listed, but if you want to make sure you are getting the lowest airfare it’s worth checking.