Best tools to book cheap flights

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Inflation may be slowing down, but travelers may still feel the sting of high flight prices — finding cheap airfare to your desired destination at your preferred time can be a challenge. For people with flexible schedules looking for some great deals and inspiration, the array of available planning tools can be confusing and intimidating.

Fortunately, TPG is here to help by sharing some of our best tools, tips and tricks for finding the cheapest and best airfares. We’ve covered the topic of cheap airfare extensively, featuring many tried-and-true methods that our staff uses to book travel that can also work for you.

TPG also regularly posts deal alerts on some of the best airfares to make it even easier for you to find affordable flights.

Here are our favorite tools, tips and tricks for securing cheap airfare deals. Be sure to click on the related links for more details.

Google Flights

Google Flights is perhaps the most intuitive, straightforward and useful flight search tool on the internet. Its many features and functionalities help you identify the best flight prices and options for both specific flight times and flexible itineraries.

You can also search based on what TPG recommends as the best times of day to book flights.

When you’re exploring Google Flights, examine the map search feature. It can show you the least expensive fares to various destinations, which can be a great source of inspiration. You can also click on the date grid to see flight pricing for entire months at a time, and the price graph to see overall trends for pricing on your target itinerary.

Another useful feature is Google’s embedded price tracker. The tracker appears on the search results page, allowing you to track overall prices on the route you’re searching. When tracking prices, if you sign in to your Google account, you can receive notifications for price changes, new offers and expiration dates of an itinerary you have saved. You’ll then receive notifications of price changes directly to your inbox, preventing the need to manually search multiple times a day in the hopes of a price drop.

Note that while this tool includes nearly all airlines, it won’t show ticket prices on some carriers, like Southwest Airlines.

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GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS

Google Flights also recently added a Price Guarantee program where you might be eligible for a refund of the difference in the price if it drops. The way this works is if a “guarantee badge” is next to the itinerary, your flight is eligible for the program if the fare falls by more than $5 — as long as you purchase directly with Google. The difference is capped at $500, and you are eligible for up to three itineraries per year.

GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS

For more detailed information on how to use Google Flights, check out TPG’s how-to guides to some features and tips:

Additional flight-comparison sites

Google Flights is a great site to use. However, there are a few other comparable sites that work in a similar fashion with slightly different features. Just note that similar to Google Flights, Southwest fares will not be pulled.

Kayak

As one of the original fare-comparison sites, Kayak serves as a one-stop shop for finding the best price. The site will pull in fares directly from the airlines, and you’ll also be able to compare against third-party booking websites, such as Expedia.com and Orbitz.com.

Kayak also offers many enhanced filter options, where you can search by a specific airline, an airline alliance, aircraft, layover airports and more.

If your dates are flexible, there’s also a calendar grid allowing you to see pricing up to three days before and after your desired dates, but you need to make sure to include that in your search. Kayak also goes one step further than some other sites and displays the pricing of a round-trip flight with two separate airlines — one for the departure and one for the return — if pricing is, in fact, cheaper.

KAYAK.COM

Momondo

Momondo is great for those who love a good visual. If your travel dates are flexible, it’s very easy to find the least expensive dates at a quick glance. The site also offers many filters and allows you to set up price alerts if the fare goes down. Momondo will also advise you whether now is a great time to purchase or if you should hold out, based on recent fare trends.

Unfortunately, though, if booking a round trip, the site will not display the cheapest airline for the departure and return and will only list fares from the same airline. This means you’ll want to search as two one-ways, which can be time-consuming.

MOMONDO.COM

Skyscanner

If you are looking for a cheap flight to any destination, Skyscanner is the site for you. Just enter your departure city and select “Explore everywhere” in the “To” field, and the world is your oyster. You’ll then receive a list of destinations in order of price. The site is incredibly easy to use and can truly open your eyes to new parts of the world if you are destination-agnostic.

SKYSCANNER.COM

The Flight Deal alerts

If you want to receive real-time deal alerts without having to search for them yourself, following The Flight Deal on Twitter is a great option. This team constantly finds deals (from many destinations), and you might be lucky enough to find one from your home airport.

Go one step further and set up your Twitter account to receive push notifications specifically from The Flight Deal. This means anytime the team sends out a tweet, you’ll receive a notification right on your phone, so you don’t have to keep checking Twitter.

TWITTER.COM

Subscription sites

GOING.COM

Many independent travel websites promise to find you the cheapest deals available. Not all of these websites are worthwhile, however, and some are flat-out scams, directing you to travel agencies that may be selling more expensive tickets with hidden fees or extensive surcharges.

When looking for deals, TPG scans a few websites that generally provide reliable airfare notifications and highlighted offerings. Many of these websites offer premium paid subscription services that could be worthwhile, depending on your appetite for travel and passion for deals.

Registering for regular email deal alerts from these websites and subscribing to their Twitter feeds can provide regular travel inspiration and alerts for breaking deals to your favorite destinations.

Some of TPG’s favorite airline deal websites:

Note that many of these deal websites include links to “hacker fare”-type itineraries involving multiple airlines, circuitous routings and extended layover and travel times. Discounted fares on these flights may not include mileage awards features or may not be eligible for status points. So read the fine print and itineraries closely on these deals.

Assuming the details work for you, scanning or subscribing to airfare deal websites can be a great way to find super-discounted flight prices that may not appear on Google Flights or other standard booking platforms.

Related: TPG’s deals page

Book directly with airline websites

Don’t overlook Southwest in your search for inexpensive flights. SOUTHWEST.COM

In the effort to try to hack the system and find the best “secret” airfare deal, people often neglect to search the place where many of these deals originate: the airline itself.

Virtually every airline features a deals section on its website. Many of these so-called deals can be underwhelming. However, sometimes the airlines offer incredible, short-term deals that will likely be fully booked before even reaching some deal-consolidating websites.

For example, Southwest Airlines recently had a deal offering 40% off all flights, but the tickets had to be booked with a specific coupon code directly on the Southwest website.

You can find out the latest by regularly checking airline websites like the American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines deal pages. Many airlines also offer package deals combining hotels and rental cars, but you should price these out individually, as the value of these offers can vary widely.

Subscribing to airlines’ newsletters about deal alerts can be another way to find out the latest offers, but you’ll risk your email inbox being filled with destinations that might not interest you. Still, these push alerts may inspire you to take a last-minute vacation you didn’t think was affordable.

Airline websites also sometimes have mileage or status promotions that you can use to maximize your rewards — but often, you must book these deals directly on the airline’s website.

Southwest Airlines is a special case for finding airfare deals because its fares are not generally available on third-party websites.

Google Flights will show Southwest itineraries on sample flight schedules but will not show the pricing. You can book Southwest flights on the Kayak for Business website but not on consumer searches. So it may be worth your while to double-check any fare deal you find with a similar itinerary mapped on the Southwest website.

Particularly when booking directly on an airline website, branded airline cards can be a good call for earning status and rewards specific to those airlines, including the United Explorer Card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.

Related: Book travel via a portal or directly? How to decide

Optimize credit card usage

WERA RODSAWANG/GETTY IMAGES

Booking tools can help ensure you’re finding the most economical flight option for your next trip, but it’s also important to use the right credit card to pay for the flight. There are a variety of top travel rewards cards that could fit this bill, but a few stand out:

Related: The best credit cards for airfare purchases

Bottom line

Finding the lowest airfare can be more of an art than a science, but a number of strategies and tools can help you with this search.

Everyone’s travel goals and circumstances differ. However, use one of the above strategies, and you’ll be on the right path to snag that much-wanted trip without such a high price tag.

Additional reporting by Bill Fink.

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