Airfare Search Engines Compared

NOTE: This page is outdated.  I don't have time to keep it up-to-date any more.  Frommer's tested the search engines to find which sites have the best fares, but they didn't make a snazzy table like I did.   I'm keeping this page for historical purposes.


Searches for flexible dates (doesn't make you enter specific dates)
Shows total travel time when there's a layover
Finds cheap fares for one-way travel
Handles multi-city trips
Searches for nearby airports w/cheaper fares
Live controls to filter results instantly
Cheapest fares* found in our tests
Includes Southwest Airlines

Hipmunk

cheap airfares logo
limited*
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$280, 901,
1133,
550

Hands-down, the nicest, easiest-to-use list of flights.  Compact, color-coded, and super-easy to understand.  It also hides similar flights that are either longer or pricier, so you don't have to wade through pages of useless listings.  Has other unique features as well (see below).  Unfortunately their flexible-dates search feature is a bit clunky and not as full-featured as the others, but if you need specific dates, this site it.  It's not just pretty, either: it's excellent at finding the cheapest fares.

Kayak

cheap airfares logo
limited*
cheap airfares logo
cheap airfares logo
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$280, 901,
1133,
550

This is the alternative to Hipmunk if your travel dates are flexible. Searches a ton of sites (including Orbitz & CheapTickets), and does find the cheapest price.  It broke new ground for letting you filter the results to exclude flights you don't like so you see only what you want.

Momondo

sort of
usually
cheap airfare logo


cheap airfares logo
$280, 975,
1171, 568


Good site for international flights (starting or ending outside the U.S.), as they search a number of tiny international carriers that Kayak might miss, especially in Europe, though I'd still check the above sites first. Their price calendar is neat when it works.

Skyscanner

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and how!
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$280, 895,
1220, 647

Search from country-to-country without having to enter a specific city!  So, for example, you want to visit France, but you're not particular about which city, then Skyscanner will find the cheapeast flight to any city in the country, without your having to painstakingly search the fares for each city.  Amazing!  But that's not all:  Skyscanner can also show you the cheapest fares over the course of a month or even a whole year.  Wow.  Finally, Skyscanner can sometimes find cheaper international fares that the engines above miss.  But its inability to search for nearby airports makes it miss some of the cheapest fares sometimes.

Hotwire

cheap airfare logo
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sort of

$287, 930, 1165, 404

Excellent for last-minute fares.  Not so good when you're booking wel ahead of time.

Southwest

cheap airfare logo
search, then click Price Calendar

cheapest airfare logo



$291, n/a,
n/a, 724

cheap airfare logo

An individual airline, not a search engine, but we're listing them separately because the search engines above don't include their flights, and because their fares are often cheaper than what you can find in those engines.

Travelocity

cheap airfares logo
cheap airfares logo
cheap airfares logo
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cumbersome

$280, 901,
1173, 588

Hipmunk & Kayak are usually better. Travelocity sometimes returned worse prices than Kayak in our sample searches, and Travelocity's features are lame compared to its competitors' anyway.

Orbitz

Kayak searches Orbitz automatically, so there's no reason to search use Orbitz separately.


*The prices for our round-trip fare tests are listed in this order:  Austin > NYC,  Austin > Tokyo,  and Los Angeles > Barcelona 23 days out, and San Francisco to Columbus the next day.  Notice that Hotwire had the best price by a mile for the next-day flight, but never had the best price when buying well in advance.


The search engine offerings change quickly.
When I first started this website, what are now the top four search engines in my list didn't even exist.  And one of my early top picks, Qixo, has given up and thrown in the towel. So here's the current rundown of the best sites.  If you don't see your favorite listed here, it's probably because it's no better than the ones I do list. (But if you think yours deserves to be listed, feel free to drop me a line to let me know.)

Remember that no engine searches Southwest Airlines (because Southwest won't pay the referral fee), so it always pays to check Southwest separately.


Hipmunk. Wow!  Hipmunk's compact, color-coded list of flights is enough to make a weary web-searcher cry.  They definitely leapfrogged the competition with that one.  And the unique features don't stop there.  Here's what's great about Hipmunk:

The downside?  Flexible-date-searching isn't as good as the competitors, and if you search with flexible dates, the output is no longer as pretty.

Kayak. Kayak is easily a favorite, because it searches tons of sites to find the best fares, and has lots of features that make it truly easy to use.  They broke new ground by making the search results easy to use and understand.  Competitors have now copied many of the features that Kayak debuted (but not all of them).  A few nice things about Kayak:

Skyscanner. Search from country-to-country without having to enter a specific city!  So, for example, you want to visit France, but you're not particular about which city, then Skyscanner will find the cheapeast flight to any city in the country, without your having to painstakingly search the fares for each city.  Amazing.  But that's not all:  Skyscanner can also show you the cheapest fares over the course of a month or even a whole year.  Wow.  It's reportedly especially good with European flights.  In one test it saved more than $100 over the best international fare I could find with any other engine.  But its inability to search for nearby airports means it sometimes misses some of the cheapest fares.  Another annoyance:  They cheat by rounding the prices down.  So a $279.61 fare at the other engines properly shows as $280 there, but Skyscanner shows it as $279.  It's not that the $0.39 makes a difference, it's that they're cheating by trying to appear cheaper than their competitors when they're not.  Shame.

Momondo. Good for international flights (starting or ending outside the U.S.), as they search a ton of tiny carriers across the globe which Kayak might miss, especially in Europe. Their price calendar is neat when it works, but in our experience it usually doesn't.

Mobissimo. Their hype says they always show the cheapest international fares, but in our tests Momondo was often cheaper. Hard to say which one usually gives the cheapest fare, so it's worth checking both. Mobissimo is very lacking in features - its failure to show total trip duration is a major shortcoming. It pretends to handle multi-city trips, but if you choose that option then Mobissimo just sends you to Orbitz, which does.

Travelocity. Oh, how they've fallen. Travelocity pioneered the important feature of Flexible Dates, but after that they stood still and the other sites have outpaced them. Today Travelocity rarely finds better fares and it's woefully lacking in features, like live filtering. Kayak and Momondo/Mobissimo are usually better, but Travelocity still scores on one feature: Its Flexible Dates search is still the best around, since it's the most open-ended. If your travel dates aren't set in stone then it could be worth a try. Of course, since Kayak lets you launch a Travelocity search in a new window, there's really no reason to ever go to Travelocity first.

Orbitz. Orbitz has been eclipsed by Kayak, since Kayak includes results from Orbitz. (And Hipmunk's fares are just as cheap, too.)  Orbitz no longer charges booking fees on domestic flights, but there's no reason I can think of to search Orbitz separately..

Hotwire. When there are unsold seats on a flight airlines will offer them at a substantial discount at the last minute (a couple of days to a week before the flight leaves). You have to be flexible with your itinerary, but if that's you, you can score amazing cheap airfare this way. Many search engines don't have access to these special, suddenly-discounted flights, but Hotwire does, so Hotwire can often find you a much better deal than the others. (We got Texas to California RT airfare at the last minute for only $250 with only one connection; this route was being sold for at least $600 everywhere else, including Travelocity. We also got Baton Rouge to Miami one-way for just $152 with only four days' advance purchase.)

Southwest. Flights on this discount U.S. airline don't show up in the search engines, because Southwest won't pay the referral fee.  So after finding a fare with the other engines, it's a good idea to check Southwest separately.  Southwest will be competitive if they serve the particular route you won't, and won't be if they don't.  They also have a price calendar which shows the cheapest price for each day of the month nice!  One downside is that they don't search neighboring airports automatically.  It was the only site I tried which couldn't search all NYC airports at once.  I had to painstakingly search for each of the NY airports one at a time.  Bummer.


There are lots of other websites, but we don't list them all because we're focusing on quality, not quantity. If you know of a really good site that's better than the ones listed above (and can tell us why), feel free to let us know about it!

Regardless of which site you use, make sure you check out our Tips for getting cheapest airfares.

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