Searching for a flight can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many factors: dates, times, price, fare class, airline, and more. Even when you know exactly when and where you want to fly, where should you look for the absolute best price?
Unfortunately, no website consistently has the lowest prices. Most of the popular OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) are usually in the same ballpark for the price, but not all offer the same benefits or search functionality.
We’ve combed through many popular OTAs to compare prices and show you the benefits and drawbacks of each site.
Book Direct Through the Airline’s Website
More often than not, booking directly through the airline’s website will give you the best price, or will at least be the same as the OTAs.
Some airlines, like Southwest, won’t even show up on sites like Expedia or Orbitz, so you have to book direct. It can also be the most simple way to book. If a problem arises, you don’t have to deal with a third party to get it resolved.
Another reason to book directly through an airline’s website is to use those frequent flyer miles — hooray for award flights!
Of course, to book through the airline’s website, you first need to know which airline has the best prices. There are lots of travel search engines and OTAs that can help you find the best deals so you know which airline’s website to visit. Some OTAs even offer perks that might make it worth booking someplace other than the airline’s site.
FareArena is a travel metasearch engine similar to SkyScanner. The home page displays a simple search box where you can plug in your travel details.
One of the things we love about this site is the visual way it shows you the price trends for your flight. At first glance, you can tell if you could save some money by shifting around your travel dates a bit. It also offers a price tracker and lots of filtering options on the left-hand side of the screen.
It also offers Mix & Match fares (formerly Hacker Fares) which are simply 2 one-way tickets from different airlines packaged together to get you the best deal. However, unlike other sites, to book these types of tickets you do have to go to 2 separate websites to book.
Pros and Cons of FareArena
- Pros: Great price tracking tools
- Cons: Mix & Match fares require you to make 2 separate reservations; this is usually handled “behind the scenes” on other websites
Kayak is not an OTA. Rather, it’s a travel search engine — making it a great place to start your flight search.
The site compares prices from many different websites all in a single spot so you can easily see where the cheapest options are. Most of the time, you’ll end up clicking through to a different site to complete your booking.
Kayak offers the ability to combine 2 one-way tickets (usually on different airlines) in 1 itinerary, which is a great way to save money on your flight. These itineraries can be pretty good deals and something that doesn’t always appear in search results of other websites.
Pros and Cons of Kayak
- Pros: Ability to combine 2 one-way flights on a single itinerary
- Pros: Price Alerts to keep an eye on flight prices
- Cons: Kayak offers the most benefit when your travel plans are very flexible; many of its most valuable tools help you search for deals, so this site might be less appealing when you have a specific flight in mind
Daily Deals Special: Click here for up to 40% off at Expedia
Expedia is another tried-and-true OTA that people have been using since the 1990s. Back then, Expedia was a go-to source for searching and booking flights. But how does it stack up now?
As far as price goes, you aren’t necessarily getting a better deal booking through Expedia, but you aren’t paying any more than you might on the airline’s website.
A nice perk of using Expedia is that it offers a rewards program called Expedia Rewards. This program offers Member Prices that can save 10% or more on travel plus the ability to earn points for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, activities, and vacation packages.
Hot Tip: Expedia will introduce a new loyalty program called One Key in mid-2023 that will combine the ability to earn and redeem rewards across Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo.
If you’re a member of an airline’s frequent flyer program, you’ll be happy to know that you can still earn airline miles on a flight booked through Expedia. However, you often won’t be able to earn miles toward status or be eligible for seat upgrades.
Pros and Cons of Expedia
- Pros: Earn and redeem points through the Expedia Rewards program (although the earning potential is better on hotels, cars, packages, activities, and cruises than it is on flights)
- Cons: Booking through Expedia may limit your mileage earned toward elite status
- Cons: Your ability to be eligible for upgrades can be limited when you book through Expedia
Priceline is a popular OTA that introduced the Name Your Own Price tool and opaque bookings. These types of bookings can offer discounts, but many of the details are hidden until after the booking. The Name Your Own Price tool was discontinued for flights in 2016, so now Priceline operates like most other OTAs out there.
One of the nice things about searching for flights on Priceline is that it has a nice color-coded calendar so you can easily see which days offer the lowest prices.
The search results on Priceline are clear and easy to navigate. As you scroll through your search results, you can easily see the cheapest nonstop options and things like flights with no change fees or early bird flights.
Another way to save money is by looking at Priceline’s Express Deals. These “opaque bookings” are ones where select details of the flight (like the departure, arrival times, or even the airline) are hidden until the booking is complete.
Pros and Cons of Priceline
- Pros: Express Deal flights can offer a good discount if you have some flexibility; many of the details of the flight, including airline and arrival and departure times, are hidden until the booking is complete
- Pros: Color-coded calendar and easy-to-read search results
- Pros: Price Match Guarantee
- Pros: Free online cancellation within 24 hours of booking (except for Express Deal flights)
- Cons: No rewards program
- Cons: Express Deal flights can be good deals, but they can sometimes be even more expensive than a standard booking
Daily Deals Special: Check out Orbitz’s Daily Deals
Orbitz is another reliable OTA that has been around since 2001. One thing that makes this site a little different is that it offers its own rewards program called Orbitz Rewards. You can earn Orbucks when you book hotels, flights, and vacation packages through Orbitz. However, you can only redeem Orbucks for hotels.
When booking a flight through Orbitz, you’ll earn 1% of your purchase price back as Orbucks (or 2% if you use the Orbitz mobile app). If you book a $500 flight, you will earn 5 Orbucks, which is worth $5 toward a hotel booking. Joining the Orbitz Rewards program is free.
Unfortunately, Orbitz sometimes charges a 1% booking fee. Keep an eye out for these on your trip summary page before finalizing your purchase and factor them into your calculations to see if you’re getting a good deal or not. While earning Orbucks is great, paying a booking fee could wipe out all of the benefits.
Pros and Cons of Orbitz
- Pros: Orbitz Rewards lets you earn Orbucks that can be applied to hotel bookings
- Pros: 24-hour cancellation policy
- Pros: Low Price Guarantee: if you find a lower price for your flight on another website within 24 hours, Orbitz will refund the difference
- Cons: Flight booking fees
Agoda is an OTA owned by Priceline. This website doesn’t offer much more than a simple search with limited filter options when looking for flights. If you’re looking for unique accommodations such as an apartment or private villa, Agoda is worth checking out, but it doesn’t offer much when searching for flights.
One cool thing about Agoda is that the site is multilingual. You can select your language by clicking on the flag in the top menu bar.
Pros and Cons of Agoda
- Pros: Simple search functionality
- Pros: Multilingual option
- Cons: Limited filtering options for flights
Special: See these Hotwire Flight Deals
Hotwire is a popular OTA that has been around for almost 20 years.
The simple home page offers the main search box to input your departure and arrival cities as well as your desired dates of travel.
Hotwire can offer a great deal when booking a hotel along with your flight. Many times during the booking process, you’ll see pop-ups or prompts advertising great savings when booking a hotel at the same time. We tested it, and every time we priced out a Hotwire vacation package deal against purchasing a flight and hotel separately, the package deal was cheaper.
One other thing to keep in mind when using Hotwire to find great flight deals is that sometimes a booking fee will be charged.
Pros and Cons of Hotwire
- Pros: Package deals that include a hotel stay can save money
- Pros: 24-hour cancellation policy
- Pros: Low Price Guarantee
- Cons: Hotwire can sometimes charge a booking fee
Skyscanner is another travel search engine that does not sell flights directly. It shows you a list of flights and links to the airline’s website or OTA to complete the purchase.
This site excels for travelers with flexibility. In the search box, you can select Explore everywhere to search for the cheapest destinations on your chosen dates.
If you’ve got flexibility, you can use Skyscanner’s “Explore Everywhere” feature to save money. Image Credit: Skyscanner
If you have a set destination with specific dates, Skyscanner operates like most other travel search sites.
Pros and Cons of Skyscanner
- Pros: Flexible searches including Explore everywhere and Multi-city search
- Pros: Easy to change language and currency
- Pros: Price alerts
- Cons: No rewards program
Travelocity is yet another OTA that has been around for a while and is very similar to the other websites we’ve been looking at.
On the plus side, there are some nice filtering options to help you find the best flight for your needs. On the downside, prices can change between selection and booking. We did a dummy booking and by the time we got to the payment section, the flight price had gone up from $157 to $338!
Much like other online travel agencies, Travelocity can also charge booking fees, so keep an eye out for those in the payment section of the booking process.
Pros and Cons of Travelocity
- Pros: Price Guarantee - If you find a lower price on an identical itinerary within 24 hours, Travelocity will refund the difference in price
- Pros: Free cancellation on flights within 24 hours of booking (on most airlines)
- Cons: Travelocity sometimes charges a booking fee
- Cons: Prices can change between flight selection and payment
TripBalaji is not an OTA. Rather, it’s a metasearch engine similar to Kayak. Once you find a flight, TripBalaji will link you to the airline’s direct website or an OTA to complete the purchase. It is a powerful search engine built on the ITA Matrix, which was originally developed for travel agents.
This site shows you price trends and how your date of travel could affect the cost of your ticket. Plus, it allows you to track the prices of a route, so you can jump on low prices when they pop up. These features make TripBalaji a great tool to help you feel confident that the price you’re getting is a good deal.
TripBalaji is beginning to roll out a new price guarantee feature on select flights departing from the U.S. If you book a flight with the price guarantee badge and the price drops, you’ll get a refund of the difference (with a maximum of $500 per calendar year) from Google Flights via Google Pay. However, you can only receive up to 3 price guaranteed refunds at any one time.
Pros and Cons of TripBalaji
- Pros: Price graph shows you the pricing trends for your route and allows you to see what days might be cheaper to fly
- Pros: Price tracking will send you an email when your flight’s price increases or decreases
- Pros: Automatic price guarantee on select flights
- Cons: Since this search engine is so powerful with lots of options, it could get complicated for a novice traveler
CheapOair is an OTA that offers its own credit card. Before you go apply for the card, we recommend considering choosing a better travel rewards credit card for more lucrative and flexible travel rewards.
This site might not be as cheap as you would think. That’s because it can charge expensive “agency fees.” For most flights, the fees can be up to $35, however, once you read the fine print, you’ll see they can actually be as high as $200 per ticket!
In addition, CheapOair charges a fee to change or cancel any ticket, including within 24 hours, which is free on many other sites.
Pros and Cons of CheapOair
- Pros: Price Match Promise - CheapOair will refund the difference in price if you find a lower price on the same itinerary on a major OTA within 24 hours of booking
- Cons: CheapOair charges hefty booking fees in addition to fees to cancel or change your flight
- Cons: Price Match Promise is very limited; the guarantee is only good for identical flights on Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Travelocity