|Photo by Michael Davis|
In a comparison of 16 fare search engines and 12 aggregators for two separate trips, six sites rose to the top (two tied and are treated here as one). Click through to see the results.
The difference between highest and lowest fares was $142 for the first flight (San Francisco to New York, Sept. 18-22) and $36 for the second (Chicago to Mexico City, June 19-23), but most were clustered around the middle. These fares are a snapshot of a fleeting moment. If you try to search a dozen sites, fares from the first ones will likely change before you reach the last. You’re better off working through a manageable number of reliable sites at a brisk pace. This is where aggregators can help. The best ones allow you to enter your flight details once, then simply click one button to get results from each fare site.
Smarter Travel shines here; besides searching a robust array of sites—including all of our top ones—it’s well-organized and speedy. Fares below include mandatory taxes and fees. They don’t include baggage or other airline-imposed fees, though these sites link to a list of current baggage fees.
OneTravel: $236/$479 The very lowest fares usually substitute alternative airports and/or dates (most other sites let you choose whether to include those options). For consistency, we tossed them out. Fares shown do reflect the site’s own discounts of 12 percent for flight 1 and 18 percent for flight 2.
Kayak: $264/$479 Technically, Kayak is an aggregator, but it sorts the flights for you and sends you to another site for booking only after you’ve made your choice. Fares are consistently near the bottom.
CheapoAir: $314/$491 Again, lowest fares displayed use alternate airports or dates and were excluded. Fares shown include CheapoAir’s $12 booking bonus. If fares go down, they promise to pay back the difference.
Travelocity and Expedia: $327/$490 Only two of the Big Three kept pace with most newer sites. While Orbitz actually came in $2 lower for flight 2, its fare for flight1 was significantly above average.
Priceline: $327/$498 Fares from the transparent booking engine are usually among the lowest, though not rock bottom. The savings lie in its “Name your Own Price” feature,” which usually can shave at least 20 percent off the price.