Quick: what’s the most expensive part of your trip? Flights.
If you’re going to spend time finding a good deal, start with your flights. They’re the most expensive part of travel, so they offer the biggest opportunity for savings.
One way to save money is by using frequent flyer miles and points for free flights. Check out The Points Guy’s Beginner’s Guide to learn how to use credit cards and other tricks to build up your miles balance.
In this guide, we’ll point out our favorite flight search engines for finding the best flights, saving money, and booking complex trips.
Editor’s Choice: Hipmunk
Hipmunk leapfrogged its competition when it debuted with a simple user interface and smart ranking system. Instead of having to wade through hundreds of nearly identical flights, Hipmunk cuts through the noise for you.
Hipmunk displays your flight results visually by time, stops, and airline. You will only see unique options instead of dozens of entries with the same departing flight. Hipmunk hides all of the similar but worse options. You only choose from the best flights, not every possible one.
The big flight search sites, like Kayak, still show you every flight option. Hipmunk intelligently uses their technology to simplify your choices and make your decision easier.
Hipmunk’s other huge advantage is how they rank your flight options. Most sites rank flights solely by price. Hipmunk uses a score they call “Agony” which is a combination of “price, flight duration, and number of stopovers.” If the cheapest flight has a layover and a direct flight is available for a few extra dollars, you’ll see the direct flight ranked first. Other sites would bury this one below every cheaper option.
Read our detailed Hipmunk review here.
For the Cheapest Flights: Skyscanner
After establishing a baseline of flight options and prices with Hipmunk, I cross-reference the results with Skyscanner. I can usually save $20 or more with Skyscanner, just enough to make a search there worthwhile.
You may not have heard of Skyscanner, but it’s the #1 flight search site in Europe. Read more about Skyscanner in our post “3 Under-the-Radar Flight Search Sites You Should Be Using (But Probably Aren’t).”
For Flexible Itineraries: Adioso
Looking for inspiration? Willing to go anywhere? Try Adioso.
On Adioso, you don’t have to choose specific cities and dates. Search the way you would talk and leave your search as open-ended as you like.
You can do searches like “San Francisco to Costa Rica next month returning 13 to 14 days later” or “New York to South America in December for 10 days.”
If you do a broad search like the latter, Adioso will show you beautiful visual results with prices for each destination. Searching this way is great for longer trips where you’re looking for a cheap entry point to a region or when you’re looking to explore a new area and don’t care where you start.
Read more in our step-by-step guide to using Adioso.
For Complex Trips: Flightfox
Ambitious travelers should use Flightfox to find the best itineraries for complex and RTW trips. If you’re taking a multi-stop trip or visiting a less-common destination, Flightfox could save you a lot of money.
Flightfox isn’t a traditional flight search engine. You can’t even search on the site.
Instead, you describe where and how you want to travel. Then Flightfox matches you with a flight hacking expert who can find and help you book the best itinerary for you.
By paying for Flightfox’s experts’ help (from $29), you can save hundreds or thousands on your itinerary. In one case study, Flightfox’s experts booked a business class trip from Sydney to Montreal to Lima to Sydney at Christmas for just $2,700.
I used Flightfox to book a trip from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City, then from Hanoi to Hong Kong and back to San Francisco. The whole trip cost $65, including Flightfox’s fee.
Best Flight Search App: Skyscanner
Since flight bookings aren’t usually urgent or made last-minute, having an app might not be necessary.
However, if you don’t have computer access, prefer your smartphone or tablet, or are booking while traveling, an app could be useful.
Our choice is Skyscanner. The Skyscanner apps are available for every platform and pack in a ton of options without an overwhelming or clunky interface. Once you master the icons within the app, you’ll have endless search options and filters just a tap away.
You might not think that you need a flight search app, but, if you’re a spontaneous traveler, you’ll want Skyscanner in your travel toolkit.
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