The airline industry desperately wants to squeeze as many Benjamins out of us flyers 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 30 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.
This article first ran June 22, 2015.
Best For Thinking Ahead: IFTTT If This Then That, the app that lets you pair various apps and devices with each other, isn't known as a place for travel deals, but it has some incredible ones. If you aren't looking to book something now, but want to be aware of any great deals in the future, add "The Flight Deal" applet to your list. Enter your departure city and every day you'll get emails with new deals. If you see one you like, go ahead and book it — it's that easy.
Best For Booking Economy Flights: Flight Center Flight Center, an app backed by travel agency Liberty Travel, offers you some of the best perks of a travel consultant for free. Simply enter your departure and return dates, as well as the city you're traveling to and from, and you'll see all your options in one, easy to compare list. You can see how the cheapest options stack up to the fastest and filter by number of stops and airlines. Should you decide you want to travel first or business class, you can always go the agency route to find those deals.
Best For Sticking To A Specific Price Range: OneTravel If you know you need to keep your airfare cost below a certain price tag, head to OneTravel. The discounted airfare site lets you search for fights under $200, under $400, and so on, in addition to letting you search by city and airline.
Best For Using Your Points: Fare Finders If you have points with a specific airline, head to their main web site. Many, including JetBlue and British Airways have fare finders that will help you find the lowest possible price to your destination. You can choose to see the cost in dollars or points, then make the decision about using the loyalty rewards in your account.
Best For Planning Specific Vacation Packages: Hotwire Sometimes you need to book a flight and a rental car. Other times it's just the flight and hotel. Or maybe it's all three. Regardless, Hotwire has you covered. The site saves you hundreds of dollars by finding the best group discounts around.
Best For Short Trips: Fly.com Fly.com offers stellar deals on airfare, hotels, and cars, but we especially love it for its "short trip" airfare offers. Go to "Today's Best Fares," enter your departure city and ideal price range. Select "short trips" and you'll see roundtrip airfare options for a range of reasonably close locales.
Best For Finding Major Airline Deals In One Place: RetailMeNot You might associate RetailMeNot with apparel discounts, but the site has a robust selection of travel discount codes and deals, too. Opt for the website over the app, though, to search specifically for flight deals. Before testing a code, be sure to check out the user comments to see if others have tried and found it successful.
Best For Finding The Perfect Time-Cost Balance: Momondo Like other apps, Momondo asks you to start off by entering the basics — where you're leaving from, where you're headed, and your dates of travel. From there it pulls three different categories of ticket options: Cheapest, Quickest, and Best. As you might guess, Best is, well, the best. For each listing in the category, Momondo provides a rating that's determined by weighing the length of the flight against the price. So, you can easily find the cheapest flight available that won't leave you with insanely long layovers.
Best For Finding What's Possible On A Budget: liligo If you want to get away, but aren't sure what's possible for your budget, download liligo. In addition to comparing prices across plane, train, and car, the app lets you put in a departure city, month, and budget. Then, it will map out the deals for you and show you where you can go on the fly.
Best For Business Travelers: Upside Travel The genius of Upside Travel is that it rewards you for work travel. Book your flights and hotel as a package online. The lower-priced bundle means that your company gets a better deal. Every time you book, you'll get a gift card to use for yourself, some of which can total hundreds of dollars, to places including Amazon, Target, and Whole Foods. Plus, you still get to use your own frequent flier miles when booking, so it's really a win-win situation.
Best If You Need To Get Away ASAP: GTFO (Get The Flight Out) GTFO (free, iOS) is one of the simplest travel apps out there, but it's also the best if you really need a weekend away at a second's notice. All you have to do is enter your departure airport. The app compiles a list of the cheapest next-day flights to cities around the world and, when you've found one you like, links you to the airline's site to buy your tickets. You're done in seconds and can go pack sooner.
Best for knowing what you're getting: TripAdvisor In addition to offering helpful alerts that will tell you when prices drop, TripAdvisor's app (free, iOS and Android) provides what the site does best: reviews. Photos and write-ups from other travelers will give you inside intel on your plane, so you'll know which seat to pick and can judge if the low price is worth the minimal legroom.
Photo: Thanks Again.
Best For Getting Upgrades: Thanks Again If you tend to buy coffee, food, or candy at the airport, download Thanks Again (free, iOS and Android). Add your credit or debit cards to the app and use it when shopping. You'll earn points at over 1000 merchants that are registered with the app that you can use towards free miles, cash back, and seat upgrades.
Best For Comparing Destinations: JetRadar If you don't have your heart set on visiting one location, download JetRadar (free, iOS and Android). The app's Price Map allows you to check out the cost of flights to cities around the world, so that you can find one that fits your budget or discover an insane deal to scoop up stat. The app also offers push notifications to alert you when ticket prices drop, and breaks down the best flights based on price and speed.
Best for Curated Deals: Travelzoo If you don't feel like scrolling through tons of deal listings, just read Travelzoo's Top 20. The app (free, via the App Store) researches the best deals across across the web and compiles them into one, easy to digest list every week. Not all of the packages include airfare, but many do.
Best for Package Deals: Orbitz Kill two birds with one stone with the Orbitz app (free, iOS and Android). Select "Packages" to book your hotel at the same time as your flights and you can save over $500.
Photo: Courtesy Fareness.
Best for Beach Goers: Fareness While Fareness (free, via the app store) will help you save 50% or more on flights to a wide range of locations, its dedicated beach section is what sets it apart. Find the best roundtrip deals to white sand locales including Cancun, St. Thomas, and Puerto Vallarta. Once you find one you like, you can easily share it with friends via iMessage or Facebook.
Best If You're Flexible (& Impulsive): DealRay DealRay (free trial, iOS or web) scours the web for the best flight deals all over the globe. If you become a member of the app, you can also set up alerts so you're notified when there's a bargain flight taking off from your area airport. If you're flexible about where and when you want to travel, so long as you're traveling on the cheap, this app is for you.
Photo: Courtesy Google.
Best If You’re Still In The Planning Stages: Google Flights 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 okay! 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,” for example, 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.
Photo: Courtesy Google.
latest update to Google Flights includes notifications that let you know when fares are expected to go up or down to help you decide whether to hold off or book right away. If you're having trouble picking a flight, use the site's tips on finding low airfare to guide your choice. If your plans are more flexible, tap the "Explore" tab to see suggested destinations and accompanying flights. For more price insights, tap "Dates" — you'll see various date combinations for your trip, with the more expensive options highlighted in red and the more affordable options highlighted in green.
Photo: Courtesy Lola Travel.
Best If You're Not In A Rush: Lola Travel If you want to take a trip at some point in the future, but you don't want to spend a lot of time planning it yourself, check out Lola Travel. This invite-only app gives you access to real, human travel consultants who will help you plan everything from your flight and hotel stay, to what you do once you get to your destination. You can be as specific or as general as you want in your requests (say you want a romantic week-long getaway with flights under $1,000, or a trip to the Bahamas during the cheapest time of year), and Lola will help solve your needs.
Photo: Courtesy Freebird.
Best If Your Flight Might Get Cancelled: Freebird When you've got to get to your destination tonight, and your flight's been cancelled, it can be a nightmare to deal with your airline, finding a new flight, and trying not to spend an insane amount of money. If you've got an important flight — or know you're traveling a route that often gets delayed or cancelled — pay $19 (one-way) or $34 (round-trip) for Freebird instead. Freebird is a lot like flight insurance, but it takes the cost of your new flight out of the equation entirely, so all you have to focus on is picking one of the available flights that best suits your needs.
Photo: Courtesy Hopper.
Best For Bargain Hunters: 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. Hopper also launched a new feature, Flex Watch, which makes it easier to make a broader, deal-based search. Once you pick your destination, you'll get push notifications to help you find the best price possible.
Photo: Courtesy Kayak.
Best For Travel Dates That Can't Change: 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 car rental and hotel deals after you’ve purchased your flight.
Photo: Courtesy Hipmunk.
Best For The Travel-Averse: 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.
Photo: Courtesy Skyscanner.
Best For The Multitasker: 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.
Best If You Have App Fatigue: 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.
Photo: Courtesy Hitlist.
Best For Spontaneous Getaways: Hitlist When you feel an itch to hop on a plane and go somewhere, Hitlist has you covered. The app will show you the best deals on upcoming flights to locations nearby. You can also search for the cheapest flights by region, such as those to Europe and Southeast Asia, as well as those for timely events, like Art Basel in Switzerland, for instance. If you're really feeling adventurous, select the "Best of the Rest" category. This will show you the best flights for the rest of day as determined by destination, duration, and price.
Photo: Courtesy App Store.
Best For Gaming The System: Skiplagged If you've ever booked a trip to L.A. and then booked a trip to Portland with a layover in L.A., you may have noticed that airlines charge less for the latter trip to L.A. Well, Skiplagged has found a way to get you those cheaper "layover" flights when they're actually your last stop — which can mean savings up to 80% off the normal ticket price. The app is also great for finding inexpensive fares and fare comparisons by date and airport, so you're guaranteed to get a good deal wherever you're headed.
Best For Getting Extra Deals: CheapOair In addition to helping you find the cheapest days to fly that month, CheapOair partners with airlines to give you extra deals on flights. You can also earn Loyalty Rewards for flights that you book through the app (in addition to your frequent-flier miles), that you can use to save on hotel stays. You'll save money all around.
Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Best For Avoiding Extra Fees: Cheapflights That great price you got on your flight to Zurich can easily get canceled out when you add in all the hidden expenses that come from baggage costs, payment fees, and more. But the Cheapflights app can help make sure that doesn't happen. After you've entered your travel details and are presented with possible itineraries, press the credit card icon in the center of the bottom toolbar. Here, you'll see what extras have additional charges, so you can be sure to avoid those in order to get the best deal possible.