After looking at your friends’ picture perfect holiday photos on Instagram, you decide that you too deserve a good break. “Now you’re less than 10 clicks away from seeing an image on Instagram to purchasing a ticket to go there,” observed Chris Burkard, a renowned landscape photographer.
Chances are, those 10 clicks you make are at one of the many flight comparison sites, also known as aggregators. The idea is simple and enticing: these websites scour hundreds of airlines and online travel agents for the lowest prices and present the best deals to you, even suggesting itineraries that make use of a combination of airlines.
But do these comparison sites always give you the best deals? Let’s see.
Limitations of Flight Comparison Sites
Websites like Skyscanner, Kayak, and Google Flights are flight search engines. They present prices from airlines and online travel agents, but once you click on the results, you will be redirected to another website to complete your transaction.
One caveat you need to note with flight comparison sites is that they don’t always compare ALL airlines, though they might give the impression that they do. This is especially true for smaller carriers or domestic flights.
“Best Price” Does Not Always Equal “Best Deal”
A plane ticket from Point A to Point B isn’t a commodity where price is the only the differentiating factor.
Certain airlines deposit you at a less-than-ideal part of an airport, or fly you to a different airport altogether (first-time flyer to Bangkok, anyone?). There’s also the size of the aircraft, with the resulting amenities (or lack thereof) to consider.
Departure or arrival times might be terrible. And sometimes, the cheapest flights are those with connections, sometimes even multiple ones.
Whether you’re willing to sacrifice convenience for the sake of price, that is a decision you’ll need to weigh.
Prices Displayed May Not Be the Price You Pay
You are probably a savvy consumer who already knows this, but its worth taking note.
When you sort results from flight search engines by “cheapest” fares, these typically don’t include the baggage fees, especially for budget carriers. In some cases, they don’t include fuel taxes and other surcharges;
You should check how much these additional charges would cost you, and compare to see if a more “expensive” airline may in fact end up being actually cheaper once these hidden costs are added up.
Read Also: How Budget Airlines Trick You To Spend More
Prices Vary Depending on When You’re Buying
Ticket costs can fluctuate wildly based on when they’re booked, the planned travel date, which cities are involved, how competitive a given route is, and how much passengers are willing to spend.
Typically, airlines begin releasing their discount fares about three months before a flight. The adage that the early bird gets the worm does hold true in this case, if you can commit to the travel dates.
Airlines regularly change the prices of their tickets up to the day of the flight, depending on demand. Sometimes, a “bargain price” today might be even cheaper the following week.
The drawback for holding off too long is you may not get the tickets in the end. Usually, cancellations are allowed within a 24-hour period. So if you check back the next day and see a better deal, you are free to seize it!
Results May Not Yield the Best Deals
Flight comparison websites may have commissions for sending customers to certain airlines or online booking agent and be incentivised to highlight or bump up certain results. It would be wise to look carefully and play around with the filters.
There is also a longheld suspicion that certain websites display different prices based on your browsing history and cookies. For instance, if you have been visiting the site daily in search of a flight that is days away, the site might bump the price up, with the assumption you would be more desperate.
While we do not have enough data to prove that websites are raising their prices based on your search habits, it sure doesn’t hurt to clear your cookies or use your browser’s incognito mode before booking a flight.
Use Comparison Sites, But Not Exclusively
Knowing what we know now, a prudent approach is to use two or three flight comparison sites, and then check to see if the airline’s own website do not offer a better price before you book. In addition, airlines sometimes include other benefits like additional frequent flyer miles or increased baggage allowance for booking directly with them.
It would also help to use a web search engine to see if there are carriers serving the route you’re interested in, but are not surfaced by the flight comparison websites.
Also, don’t assume that a roundtrip flight with one airline is always cheaper. Sometimes, buying 2 one-way tickets might be a cheaper option that save you hundreds. Some flight comparison websites might give you this option to mix and match, but they might not show every option.
Good Luck and Bon Voyage!
Understanding the complex workings of airfare pricing can be a complicated, time-consuming process and there is no secret formula for finding the best ticket (though flight comparison sites want you to think they have it).
Doing so requires patience and frequent price comparisons. However, if you’re willing to invest the time, you’ll improve your chances of finding the best deal and a most idyllic start your holiday! Just don’t forget to get travel insurance. Bon voyage!