The last few years have been rough for travelers. First, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world for most travel. This year, inflation and fuel prices have skyrocketed. Add into the mix a labor shortage that is pushing airline costs higher, and you have a recipe for expensive airfare.
As of August 2022, airline fares were up 33.4% compared to a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some industry executives say even higher prices may be on the way too, given limitations to refinery capacity, global unrest and the financial situation for some airlines.
While prices may be going up, there are still ways to find a deal on your next vacation. The best flight apps offer features that will alert you to price drops, let you search for cheaper travel times or help you find special pricing not found elsewhere.
Try one of these discount airfare apps and services that frequent flyers say work for them:
- Scott’s Cheap Flights.
- Dollar Flight Club.
- Google Flights.
- Your Favorite Airline’s App.
Scott’s Cheap Flights
A good flight alert program can simplify the process of finding a deal. These services send emails or notifications whenever there is discounted airfare available to selected destinations, and Scott’s Cheap Flights is a favorite source for flight alerts.
“Scott’s Cheap Flights is one of the best apps to use when searching for cheap flights,” says Alex Miller, CEO of UpgradedPoints.com. “It can narrow down what city you’re located in and then alert you when a qualifying airfare, based on criteria that you set, is found.”
Users can choose from three tiers of service. Free accounts receive alerts about deals on international economy flights. Premium plans cost $49 a year and include international and domestic economy flights as well as weekend getaways and mistake fares from chosen airports. Frequent globetrotters may want to spring for the elite plan that provides alerts for economy, business and first-class flights as well as mistake fares from all U.S. airports. It costs $199 per year.
Skyscanner has a free flight app that is compatible with both Apple and Android devices and provides pricing alerts when a good deal becomes available. The app is easy to use and allows you to set alerts for specific dates or routes.
Travelers can also use Skyscanner’s calendar and charts to compare hundreds of flights for both international and domestic destinations. The app highlights flights that emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, lets users mix and match flights from different carriers and offers a search option that allows travelers to find the best prices for flights originating from their chosen airport.
When you find a flight you like, Skyscanner will direct you to a third-party booking app to make the purchase. In addition to flights, users can search for hotels and car rentals using Skyscanner.
Dollar Flight Club
Dollar Flight Club is similar to Scott’s Cheap Flights, but it structures its plans differently.
Free accounts get alerted to deals from one departure airport while premium members can choose four departure airports for deal alerts on domestic and international economy flights. Premium membership costs $69 a year. There is also a Premium Plus+ membership that runs $169 per year and includes premium economy and business class deals as well.
The service says its goal is to save users $500 on their next adventure, and it provides additional discounts to Premium and Premium Plus+ members. With Premium Perks, members get access to special discounts from partners such as Babbel and Fodor’s Travel.
While not currently available as an app, Google Flights offers a simple online interface that allows you to search for flights to specific airports and then see a calendar view that shows when flights will be cheapest. It also has a price graph that allows you to see pricing trends over time.
“You can plug in your start city and then let Google Flights make suggestions on where to fly from there based upon the cost of airfare,” Miller says. That’s a useful tool for travelers with flexibility.
Once you find the right airfare, you’ll need to find and book it directly with the carrier or through a third-party booking service.
Hopper says it can predict future travel prices with 95% accuracy and, as a result, saves users an average of $65 on their flights. Users can watch certain flights and be notified when prices drop to their expected lowest level. Hotel and car rental deals can also be found on Hopper, and everything can be booked through the app.
That’s one reason it’s among the best flight apps, according to Kevin Raposo, founder of KnowTechie. He most recently used it to book a vacation to Saint Lucia and says it couldn’t have been easier. “You can do it all at the push of a button,” he notes.
Those booking through Hopper can earn Carrot Cash Rewards which can be redeemed on future bookings. For those just browsing on the app – which is free and available for Apple and Android devices – Hopper will color code flights using green, yellow and red to indicate which flights are most and least expensive.
Compatible with Android and Apple devices, Kiwi promises its app will provide travelers with exclusive offers and prices. It searches for the best rates from all available airlines to piece together the lowest-priced itinerary.
The free app also offers the opportunity to search for all deals from a specific airport, which can be handy for those who are ready to take a vacation but don’t have a particular destination in mind. Within the app, users can get price alerts, access mobile boarding passes and view airport maps.
Kiwi also offers travel hacks that can save money, such as bookings with “hidden cities” and a Nomad tool for those who want to visit multiple cities. What’s more, the app offers other travel services such as destination guides and the location of Wi-Fi hotspots.
The ExpertFlyer website won’t win any design awards. It looks like something from the early days of the internet and even references now-obsolete Blackberry devices. But frequent flyers say that shouldn’t deter you.
“ExpertFlyer is another great tool, though admittedly it’s for the more advanced flyer,” Miller says. “Rather than perform ordinary searches to uncover good airfare deals, you can set alerts and search by specific inventory on flights.”
That means that this service is intended for those who know where, when and with which airline they want to fly. If you have a specific route that you travel frequently, ExpertFlyer can help you find discounted fares. A free version provides seat alerts while a paid pro subscription, which starts at $4.99 per month, comes with additional features such as the ability to search for awards and upgrades.
Airfare apps aren’t only for those booking vacations. Business travelers and their employers are often searching for a good deal as well. That’s the niche Onriva fills.
“We’ve built a platform to bring everything in one place (so) you don’t have to hop from site to site,” says Onriva founder and CEO Vajid Jafri. “This has never existed before.”
While other apps may make it possible to book from multiple companies, they typically serve as a digital travel agency. With Onriva, all bookings are made directly with an airline or other vendor through the app’s platform. Onriva also provides customer service for these bookings for added convenience. The app brings together travel options from 2 million suppliers and then uses artificial intelligence to learn user preferences and make recommendations.
Anyone with a business email address can sign up for a free Onriva account. Those who want access to advanced features – including cash back on bookings – will need to sign up for the premium service that costs $96 per year.
Your Favorite Airline’s App
In your search for cheap flights, don’t overlook your favorite airline’s app. Booking direct can sometimes be the best option, according to Sandra McLemore, a travel TV host and travel industry expert.
“While these (third-party) apps may feel convenient and more user-friendly than other online booking options, buyer beware,” McLemore says. If you buy your tickets through that third-party app, you may find it difficult to receive customer service should any issues arise. “An airline will send you right back to the app or online booking engine to receive service,” McLemore explains.
By focusing your spending with a specific airline, you may find it easier to accumulate frequent flyer miles which can be redeemed for free flights and save you more money in the long run.