By Christina Bonnington
The airline industry desperately wants to squeeze as many Benjamins out of us fliers as they can, but you don’t have to fall prey to their price-hiking tactics. With the right app, you can save hundreds of dollars on an upcoming trip, with virtually zero effort on your end.
While Tuesday afternoons are still often the cheapest time for fares, you don’t need to watch the clock to know when to start searching on the United website. Now, smart travel apps do all that thinking and management for you. Just plug in your destination, date range, and budget, and let them take it from there.
Click through for six awesome apps and services that will take the stress out of finding a cheap flight so you can focus on what really matters: having fun once you arrive at your destination.
Best If You’re Still In The Planning Stages: Google Flights
Photo: Courtesy Google.
You want to take a vacation at some point a few months from now, to somewhere… But, while you have an idea of what you want, you don’t have anything pinned down yet. That’s OK! You may not have ever realized it, but Google actually has a powerful flight search built into its browser, and if your travel plans are a bit open-ended, it’s excellent for exploring your options. Here’s how it works: Enter your search, like “Flights to Paris,” then in the search results, click “Flights” across the top navigation bar. There, you can customize the date range and budget and see a list of options from a variety of airlines neatly listed out. If you’re not sure (or you don’t care) which airport you want to travel to — say you just want the cheapest flight into Europe, it doesn’t matter if it’s actually Paris or not — Google shows a map that plots out other airports and their prices for the same travel dates. You can click a result for more details, like whether it has in-flight TV, Wi-Fi, and how often it’s usually delayed. Then you can choose what site to actually book the fare through.
Best For Bargain Hunters: Hopper
Photo: Courtesy Hopper
You’re one of those people that manages to find the cheapest deal on everything, aren’t you? You should check out Hopper (free on iOS), which provides an overview of when you can get the best deals on flights, and when’s the best time to purchase them. The app “analyzes billions of flight prices daily” so you can save up to 40% on flights. When you search a particular route, the app clearly tells you what the lowest price available is right now, whether you should purchase now or wait, and the latest date by which you should book tickets. The app also notifies you as soon as prices drop, and when they’re about to go up, thanks to a price predicting feature. If you’ve got some wiggle room when it comes to purchasing your tickets, Hopper is an excellent choice for figuring out the best deal.
Best For Business Trips: Kayak
Photo: Courtesy Kayak
If your upcoming travel dates are set in stone, there’s no point in browsing the deals you could get on other days. You just want the best available price, and Kayak (free on iOS and Android) can help with that. Kayak surfaces great deals from sites like Orbitz and Travelocity, as well as its own specials, so you find the absolute best rates for a particular day. The app organizes flights in order from least to most expensive, along with how many seats are available for each option. The app is super straightforward and easy to use, particularly since you can book flights straight through the app, rather than being redirected to another app or site. It’s also great if you’re looking for a car rental and hotel deals after you’ve purchased your flight.
Best For The Travel-Averse: Hipmunk
Photo: Courtesy Hipmunk
You want a good deal, but you’re not willing to sacrifice an entire day to layover after layover just to save $50. For you, Hipmunk is an awesome visual way to suss out the best flight deals. Enter your search, and then the app lays out each flight organized by “agony” — a mix of cost versus total travel time — in a straightforward, scrollable chart. You can quickly see how much of the day your flight(s) will take, compare takeoff times and airlines, and see how much each leg will cost. Most useful for keeping prices low: Hipmunk’s multi-day searching feature, which lets you search a small range of dates for your departure and arrival to find the best deal during your travel window.
Best For The Multitasker: Skyscanner
Photo: Courtesy Skyscanner
If you’re weighing a couple different options, like whether to head to Belize in August or take a trip to Hawaii, an app like Skyscanner (free on iOS and Android) makes juggling all the different flight possibilities more manageable. Skyscanner offers a different view for analyzing low airfares: a bar graph that makes it patently evident which days are the cheapest and which days are most expensive to fly. A tab view lets you easily compare different searches at the same time. If you want to keep an eye on a particular route, you can create an alert to know when the price drops. You can also easily compare prices for the airport you plan to fly into, versus other nearby airports.
Photo: Courtesy Airfarewatchdog
Do you get bombarded with a hundred different notifications on your smartphone each day? A web-based option might be a less intrusive way to keep tabs on the best flight deals. To search multiple deals sites at the same time, try Airfarewatchdog. It sources low rates from Hipmunk, Hotwire, Priceline, and more. But, while you can use it to compare prices on flights, other apps we’ve listed are better for that task. Instead, use Airfarewatchdog for its email-based low fare notifications. Input your flight search and your email address, and the site will send you a good old-fashioned email when super low fares crop up.
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