Flight prices have skyrocketed this year. Aviation is a mess around the world and it will take a decade to fix things. So booking a cheap flight has become a skill, and thankfully, there’s help online. Recently, Google Flights launched a new update that tells consumers the window to book cheapest flights for their trip. It is already a great option to know what the cheapest days to fly are and it even indicates if the prices are typical, high, or low.
It is just one of the tools you can use though. There are many more platforms as well as aggregators that have become part of the process when travelers begin looking up flights and we asked two experts to compare three of them: Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Booking.com.
Related: Domestic Airfares Are Finally Falling. How Long Will It Last?
The Three Contenders
Google Flights and Skyscanner are platforms that can help you find flights and redirect you to different websites to book. Both have search functions and show you results from around the world. Eric Jones, co-founder of The Vacationer explains that both of these are metasearch engines that show airlines prices along with prices from other travel agencies (such as Booking.com).
Google Flights features an Explore Map, which is useful for flexible plans. “Enter up to seven origin airports or cities, flexible or specific dates, and Google Flights will show you the cheapest destinations to fly to in the United States or around the world,” Jones explains. Skyscanner has a comparable feature called Explore Anywhere, but it doesn’t show a map.
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While Google Flights allows you to enter up to seven airports or cities or origin, Skyscanner lets you choose only one. Both Google Flights and Skyscanner have calendar views, alerts, and filters. He also mentions that Skyscanner includes more travel agencies and regional websites with tempting deals. (Note: these smaller airlines might not have the same 24-hour refund policies and may be difficult to contact in case of a problem). The metasearch engine also lets you search flights originating from anywhere in a country while Google doesn’t have the feature yet. But the new update from Google Flights means you can check the cheapest days to book flights.
Meanwhile, Booking.com is a travel booking site—you can book flights, hotels, car rentals, and travel experiences. It doesn’t have an Explore feature like the previously mentioned two and it doesn’t show any other travel agency prices. However, it can sometimes offer the lowest prices. Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) travel expert Katy Nastro reminds travelers that it is not the same as booking directly with the airlines. “Booking.com is a third-party online marketplace that you can purchase from but agree to their terms for that particular flight.” So, if you want a quick resolution for refunds or cancellations or rebooking, you don’t directly go to the airline but have to contact the third-party’s customer service.
The Clear Winner
Google Flights wins hands down. Both Jones and Nastro picked Google Flights for the best option for finding cheap deals.
Jones mentioned its fast, clean interface and its Explore Map is better than Skyscanner’s Explore Anywhere tool. The Price Guarantee for certain flights is another powerful feature, Jones says. “Google is almost positive the price for a particular flight (it will have a price guarantee badge next to it) is not going to get cheaper. For qualifying flights, Google will refund you the difference via Google Pay if the price (up to $500 per calendar year) drops after booking.”
For Nastro, it’s about personal preference. Google Flights and Skyscanner both have better functionality than Booking.com. But Google Flights offers price insights and book-by suggestions based on historical data.
Tips To Book
Nastro recommends multiple website searches. “You may start your search on Google Flights to cast the net wide on dates and locations but then move to the same search on Skyscanner to see if the prices are similar or you see something significantly lower.”
Jones has the same suggestion. Let Google Flights do most of the heavy-lifting and check Skyscanner for small online travel agencies and airlines. But you should book directly with the airline to avoid hassles in case of delays and disruptions. Southwest is not covered by Google Flights or Skyscanner, so for Southwest, you should anyway check their own website.
“Your best odds of saving significant dollars with an online travel agency is booking an entire vacation package, which includes a flight, hotel, and sometimes a rental car. Even then, I still recommend booking your flight directly with the airline unless the savings are significant,” Jones recommends.
Any Other Options?
So many! Online travel agencies such Priceline and Expedia, and search engines like Momondo. Nastro says, “Google Flights might be the most recognized by frequent flyers at this point, but large online travel agencies like Expedia still reign supreme where most people in the U.S. are searching from.”