Go for OTAs, meta-search sites or the airlines themselves?
George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, offers hints as to how to find the best air fares. First step is to sign up for free airfare alerts. There are several airfare search and listing sites, such as TripAdvisor.com/flights, Travelocity.com, Farecompare.com, Hotwire.com, Bing.com/travel (and, of course, Airfarewatchdog.com), which email alerts to you when fares fall in price. Some allow users to specify the exact airline and flight criteria you’re looking for. You can also get email newsletters from airlines, of course. Airlines are currently making an effort to persuade customers to book direct and offer special deals if you add your name to their email lists. For example, they provide “promo code” discounts that can only be used on their websites.
Flexible fliers often get the lowest airfares. Websites that cater to travellers with flexible dates include the OTAs Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Hotwire.com and Cheaptickets.com, which carry “flexible dates” buttons. If you’re not flexible, sites like Kayak.com, Tripadvisor.com/Flights and Momondo.com are “meta search” sites that often include fares that airlines sell only on their own websites.
There are several differences between meta-search sites and OTAs. The latter have toll-free numbers with agents on hand to help customers book or rebook a flight. Meta-search sites may send you directly to an airline to book or forward you to an OTA if the best fates are through a combination of airlines. OTAs show the broadest range of schedules and fares and occasionally have lower fares than even the meta-search sites do. They also offer air-plus-hotel packages. But it’s also true that airline websites themselves can have the best fares.
[pictured: Cha Am Beach, Thailand]