Finding cheap airline tickets is a traveler’s dream. There’s no denying that it’s a dark art — if you really want to maximize your savings you’ll need to use some of the secret, tips, and tricks of the best travel hackers in the world.
Sadly, most of us don’t have either the time or the dedication to go to such extraordinary lengths — but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to get a good deal.
How can you know if it’s the perfect moment to buy your ticket? It’s extremely difficult to be precise.
If you buy too soon, you’ll be left glumly watching the price fall to a level that’s significantly below what you paid for it. If you buy too late, you’ll have missed the bottom of the trough and end up paying more than you need to.
Unfortunately, there’s no exact science to knowing when the perfect moment is upon you. Getting the cheapest tickets is often as much about luck as it is about planning. Research suggests that tickets are typically at their cheapest between 20 and 50 days before departure, but that’s still a very large window. To complicate matters further, some airlines drop their prices significantly on the day of departure, while some will bump them up significantly.
Hopper aims to remove some of those unknowns.
The app analyses thousands of flights around the world every day, monitoring the price fluctuations on an hourly basis, which means it has a good understanding of the prime time to buy a ticket for hundreds of routes. Just tell it where and when you want to fly, and it will instantly alert you when the tickets are thought to be at their cheapest level.
The developers claim it can save you more than 40 percent over the price you would pay if you were booking on an ad hoc basis via the airlines’ websites.
Unlike Hopper, Bravofly doesn’t keep a track of price fluctuations over time. Instead, it searches real-time flight prices to find you the best price at that moment. This is particularly useful if you need to book a last minute flight for an emergency or a spur-of-the-moment getaway.
The app will scan 350 different carriers (including both budget airlines and the more traditional “luxury” carriers) and will allow you to book for groups of up to nine people.
Its advanced search will let you find flights by airport, time, carrier, price, and number of changes, and once you’ve booked your ticket, you can use the app to track your flight’s status, right up to its arrival at your destination.
CheapOair is similar to Bravofly, but has a couple of extra features that set it apart.
Firstly, the app will scan 450 carriers instead of 350. Obviously, the more carriers it scans, the better your chances of finding a really cheap fare.
Secondly, the app adds an extra layer of trip customization by allowing you to select your seat and meal preferences immediately after booking your ticket (rather than having to login into your carrier’s portal after your purchase).
The app’s developers claim it can save 65 percent on the price of a ticket. That makes it one of the best money-savers on this list, although it’s somewhat difficult to verify those claims.
OnTheFly is developed by ITA Software, which itself has been a subsidiary of Google since 2011.
That means their data is the driving force behind the increasingly popular Google Flight Search. There is no app for the Flight Search, so this is the app to use if you’re a big fan of Google’s web-based offering.
The app combines some of the best features of the suggestions we’ve already covered. For example, it has graphs to show you when tickets for your selected route are at their cheapest, it will give you a price that includes all hidden extras such as airport taxes and non-optional add-ons, and it scans thousands of routes and carriers.
The biggest drawback is that you cannot book the flights directly from the app; instead, you’ll still need to contact the airline directly, and some users have reported that the prices quoted in the app were not available.
Nonetheless, given that this is now owned by Google, hopefully we’ll see the search giant work to improve it in the future.
Skyscanner is arguably the one that started it all. The website burst onto the scene in 2002 and quickly became one of the most well-known and highly visited travel sites on the Internet. The first mobile apps were released in 2011 and the Android app has now been downloaded more than 35 million times since launch.
Like OnTheFly, Skyscanner does not allow you to book flights directly; it merely searches for the best prices and then redirects you to a carrier’s web page to complete the booking.
It has a chart view so you can see the best time to grab cheap prices during the course of each calendar month, it includes a widget that’ll display the latest flight prices for your previous searches directly on your device’s home screen, and it has an “Everywhere” search that aims to give you travel inspiration by listing the cheapest flights from your nearest airport.
Hipmunk aims to bring something new to the field by combining ticket prices with an “agony filter”.
The idea is to show you that although a particular route/option might be cheaper, if it’s going to take you an extra 24 hours of travel time, three more planes, a bus, and 12-hour stopover in Damascus, it might be better to shell out the extra $100 for a more comfortable option.
It also integrates your potential itinerary with your calendar so you can see if what you’re booking clashes with any existing commitments; it’ll stop any embarrassing or costly situations further down the line. Finally, it offers a hotel booking option.
They claim the app can save you 60 percent of the standard retail cost on both flights and hotels.
How Do You Save Money When You Travel?
What tips do you have to save money when you’re booking airline tickets? Do you rely on one of the apps we discussed, or do you use an app that we overlooked?
Do you even worry about shopping around, or is comfort and speed more important to you than price?
We’d love to hear your stories. You can let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.