Television commercials are one of the primary outlets for airfare compilers, which is why we’re familiar with the big-name brands like Expedia, Orbitz, and Kayak. Even their mascots are synonymous with airline savings: from William Shatner’s silly reprisal as the Priceline Negotiator (and possibly his most outstanding role since Captain Kirk) to the blatant Amélie ripoff in the form of the Travelocity Gnome, branding is a big part of these companies’ success.
But what about the other guys?
I spend a lot of time finding the best deals on
Best Travel Store: Warm, inviting tones and clean interface might have subliminally affected my color choices when laying out Sparkpunk, but Best Travel remains my go-to in international airfare planning, and it’s not uncommon for me to find prices 10% lower than the Big Five (which is enough to buy almost 13 gallons of Karlovačko beer in Croatia, when your round-trip tab exceeds $1,000USD). It used to lack a little in terms of search flexibility (you used to be able to search with only a 3-day margin), but their recently-added Fare Cruncher™ allows you to search for recorded lowest fares along a monthlong bar graph. Some destinations seem to be a bit hard to track down using it, as it currently displays recorded results only, not real-time results.
At a Glance: Monthlong fare comparison (limited); Multi-city fare search; Consolidation options: Hotel, Hostel, Car Rental, Cruises; Travel insurance; Travel guides offered
Skyscanner: I first heard of Skyscanner on the FlyerTalk forums a few years ago, and since then it has solidified its spot as my singular benchmark test. One of the distinguishing features of Skyscanner is its booking procedure: instead of selling you the tickets directly, Skyscanner looks to the most recent prices listed by the airlines themselves and then shuttles you off to their proprietary website for securing your boarding pass. Additionally, their flexibility options are arguably the best on the market: you can view fares for a single day, a week, two weeks, or the full month—oh, and don’t forget about the map function. They just redesigned their website and mobile apps, and the whole thing looks like delicious saltwater taffy. Mmm…
At a Glance: Monthlong fare comparison; Consolidation options: Hotel, Car Rental
Hipmunk: It might have been Chrome’s in-browser app store that you first saw the new kid on the block Hipmunk, which broke onto the travel scene in 2010 and captured the attention of frequent fliers everywhere. Its interface in sorting through airfares is unsurpassed: even though the organization options available here are more-or-less common on other consolidators, Hipmunk seems to have re-written the book on user interface & experience. Everything is intuitive on this resource, including its innovative multi-tab search option, allowing you to keep your travel-brainstorms separate.
At a Glance: Monthlong fare comparison; Tabbed fare searching; “Agony” fare sorting option and super-sleek visualization; Multi-city fare search; Consolidation options: Hotel; Live help availability
Momondo: Logging onto Momondo feels a little like walking into a neon bowling alley, but the bright colors direct your attention to all of the right places. Interface and usability is clean and unobtrusive, and the dual-monthlong fare comparison is intuitive and easily adjustable. In a couple of the test runs, airfares actually came in under Best Travel and Skyscanner, proving this as a valuable resource in any traveler’s quiver.
At a Glance: Dual-monthlong fare comparison; Multi-city fare search (currently in beta); Consolidation options: Hotel, Car rental; Travel guides offered
Icelandair: The only non-consolidator in an airline consolidator roundup, Icelandair is worth giving a nod to for a few reasons: despite being a smaller airline, it has successfully partnered with other airlines (like JetBlue) to expand its serviceability past the major North American and European hubs—but it still has smaller airline prices. On top of that, Icelandair has announced an initiative to bring more tourism króna to the small island country: if you book directly from the Icelandair website, you can take up to a 7-day layover in Icelandat no extra cost to your transatlantic flight. Brilliant, Iceland. Seriously. Why haven’t other airlines figured this out?
At a Glance: Semi-flexible date search; Multi-city fare search, Consolidation options: Hotel, Car rental; One-week stopover in Iceland for transatlantic flights with no additional airfare costs
What do you think? Have you had good experiences with any of these vendors/consolidators? Do you have others that you’d like to recommend?