Once upon a time, prospective vacation-goers would journey to an IRL storefront, where a person called a “travel agent” would be waiting amid stacks of maps and dog-eared travel guides. (Probably.) There, the travel agent would type away on a gigantic desktop computer for several minutes, summoning the perfect itinerary from some inscrutable database of flight options.
But thanks to the internet, travel agents have been rendered largely obsolete, leaving travelers to sift through thousands of flights on their own. Or at least, it might seem that way.
The truth is we’re not alone, or at least not completely. Websites abound to help us amateurs parse an often overwhelming number of choices, comparing everything from prices to the ideal layover city.
Read on to discover which websites are the best for finding (and booking) flights, whether you’re looking for cheap flights, packages, travel rewards, and everything in between.
Best way to find flights: Google Flights
You may want there to be a less obvious answer, but unfortunately, Google Flights is the top dog when it comes to reliably finding the best deals on airfare. Not only does it cast the widest net when scouring airlines for the cheapest flights for specific dates and destinations, it also has a very useful Explore feature. Whether you’re an adventurer whose idea of a fun afternoon is one spent clicking around an interactive map sniffing out the best deal, or you simply want the most economical flight to Atlanta for your cousin’s wedding, it’s hard to beat Google Flights.
It’s true that many other sites on this list boast similar features. But Google Flights sets itself apart for the same reason Google sets itself apart from other search engines: The first is that it’s fast. While others can take upwards of a minute to load search results, Google spits them out almost instantaneously. A minute not seem like a lot, but flight deal hunting is often a grind (and, frequently, a task you’re hoping to complete in between meetings while your boss is at lunch.) In this regard, Google Flights wins handily.
The other way Google differentiates itself is its ease of use. Perhaps this is because our Google Overlords have programmed us to respond positively to all Google products. Still, for travelers unsure precisely where in the world they’re looking to go, Google’s interactive map is unrivaled. Say you want to go to Asia in the month of August. Just select your departure city (if you have one), and type “Asia” into the destination box. Google will spit out a list of popular destinations, but travelers can also click around the map and explore fares in real time, with readily available links to airline sites.
The major downside of Google is that it does not include Southwest, which is often the cheapest option for domestic travel (and some international), nor is it always the absolute cheapest. Our advice is to use it to isolate a destination and rough time you’d like to travel, then head on over to Momondo (see below) to pinpoint a rock-bottom fare.
Best website for cheap flights: Momondo
If you had to choose just one aggregating site to hunt for cheap flights, make it Momondo. Why? Because it comes up with the least expensive fares an almost mythical 95 percent of the time. And how does it do it? By searching nearly every airline, online travel agency (OTA), and travel booking site under the sun, with few exclusions, from the heavy-hitters down to rinky-dink boutique sites you’ve probably never heard of.
Momondo is great because not only is it comprehensive, it’s extremely user-friendly. Like other sites, Momondo gives users the option of comparing its results to Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, CheapOair and JustFly. Click them if you want, or just go ahead and trust it. Results are then broken down into “cheapest,” “quickest,” “best” and “custom.” (Best seeks to find the ideal balance between cost and flight time.)
The cheapest days to fly are also visually represented in bar graphs at the top of the page, with exact prices made visible simply by hovering over a given bar. You can’t book directly through Momondo (and honestly, booking through a third-party site is generally not a good idea anyway), but you’ll be seamlessly routed to the airline’s site for a relatively painless payment process.
The possible only downside of Momondo is that it takes up to a minute to load. Time is money, as they say, but even so, the math still works in Momondo’s favor.
Most user-friendly: Hipmunk
Hipmunk is a top contender among similar flight aggregators, but where it really shines is its excellent usability. It’s not as fast to load as Google, but time seems to pass quickly while you watch a happy animated chipmunk in an aviator cap, arms flung open as he flies through the sky in search of deals.
Results are presented as a graph that conveys all pertinent information — flight times, layover length and flight duration — at a single glance. Moreover, Hipmunk also offers users a helpful set of filters, including “Agony,” “Price,” “Duration,” “Takeoff” and “Landing,” and it’s easy to toggle between them for a thorough sense of your options. You can also quickly see which amenities are offered on a flight, like whether it has WiFi, extra legroom, or live TV — features that can make or break a flight.
Best for when you just want to get away: Skyscanner
The UK-based Skyscanner ranks with the best when it comes to finding the best deals with an appealing, easy-to-use interface. But what really sets it apart is its “Everywhere” feature, which allows users with no particular destination in mind to see an entire world of options starting with the cheapest fares. Each country listed has a drop down menu with available cities to fly into, and from there, you can poke around with available dates and compare your options. After all, sometimes the best destination is the one you knew nothing about before you showed up there!
Most dependable: Kayak
In the 14 years that it’s been in business, Kayak has gone from being a scrappy young upstart to an elder statesman of fare aggregators. Its proven itself durable in a very crowded market, which is no small feat, especially as new kids on the block are showing up every day. But Kayak still competes with the cheapest, regularly churning out fares that beat all the others, not just on flights but with hotels and rental cars, too.
At the very least, Kayak is essential to include when you’re comparing aggregators against each other. It’s also known for its great hacker fares, in which the site pairs individual one-way tickets together to make one ridiculously affordable round-trip flight deal. As Kayak explains it, this can sometimes mean taking two different carriers each direction, or booking with the same carrier but in such a way that the system simply has you as two one-ways. Either way, the savings are notable.
Best site for travel rewards: Expedia
Expedia provides a solid round-up of flight deals, but its real strength lies in its rewards program. Users are able to earn between one and four points for every dollar spent on flights, hotel stays, and car rentals, which add up especially quickly when you purchase those things in bundles. (Which is another area at which Expedia excels.) Furthermore, the site often allows you to triple-dip rewards points, meaning that in addition to points earned through Expedia, you’re also entitled to whatever you’d normally get through your airline frequent-flyer points and credit card, too.
Best site for bundling a car and hotel with your flight: Hotwire
Like Expedia, Hotwire is a great option when you’re looking to book the whole travel shebang, including a rental car and hotel. Just input your dates, including when you’d need a hotel and car, and Hotwire will spit out the total for your entire vacation. It’s a nice, tidy method of booking, particularly when you’re on a budget and just want to know what everything will cost, including taxes and fees, without having to do any messy addition.