Looking to save money on your next flight? Forget calling the travel agent or using one of big flight search sites – it's the lesser-known sites that will really bring the price down. Here are five flight search tools you've probably never heard of, that can all offer significant savings.
One of my favorite flight search sites is Adioso, a small startup from Australia with a different approach to finding flights. Rather than rigidly selecting specific dates and airports, the site offers much more flexibility.
You can pick “Anywhere” as a destination, for instance, or choose an entire country or region instead of a specific airport. You can also search by time periods or entire months. For example, if you know you can take a two week vacation next September, and want to go to somewhere in Europe, Adioso makes it easy to search for exactly that.
If you prefer, you can use natural language instead. Click the 'Quick Search' box, then just type what you're after. If you'd like to fly from “New York to London for three weeks in May”, that's what you'd enter.
There's even a 'Your Friends' option, where the site uses the location of your domestic or international Facebook friends to find cheap flights to see them. It's remarkable just how well it all works.
The site has many of the low cost airlines in its system, as well as full-service options, and you can set up email alerts for when the price on a given route drops below your threshold.
Somewhat surprisingly for a Google product, its Flights service isn't particularly well known. It launched in the US in 2011 and Europe in 2013, and provides a simple yet powerful interface for finding the flight you're after.
At first glance it looks much like every other search site. Pick a city pair, some dates, maybe filter by cost or layover, and away you go.
Where it gets interesting is the ability to scroll indefinitely left and right to find the cheapest flights. A graph makes it easy to spot cheap fares, and you can click any date to see the details. If you're flexible on when you travel, this option pretty much guarantees you'll save money.
The map view is also useful, showing destinations with a little price bubble above them. You may end up choosing somewhere you'd never considered, just because there's a sale on.
Long before the Internet came along, travel agents used systems from Amadeus and its competitors to find flights for their customers. Now those customers can track down those flights for themselves, using the very same information.
The Amadeus site lets you fill in the blanks – where you're going to and from, how long for, which class of flight – and then searches its database for the best options. It shows you the price for the details you've entered, but also offers a matrix of other (often cheaper) alternative dates and trip ideas.
For a different type of search, check out the Secret Flying site. Ridiculously cheap deals are posted every day, including both domestic US and international flights. Error fares often show up, sometimes letting you get a business class seat for less than the cost of coach.
Browse the site for the latest deals, or sign up for alerts by email (or on Twitter).
It's always worth checking Secret Flying before using the mainstream search sites. You won't always find a bargain, but when you do, it can offer a significant saving. As an example, I recently picked up a return flight from Portugal to South Africa for $300.
Finally, Skiplagged is a controversial site that uses a little-publicized technique to track down discounts you won't find any other way. Due to the way airlines price their tickets, it can sometimes be cheaper to book a flight with a layover in the destination you're looking for, rather than making that your final destination.
The idea is that you then deplane during your layover, and don't get back on. Usually it's hard to find these kind of "hidden city" flights – but that's exactly what Skiplagged is set up to do.
Obviously this only works if you don't have checked bags, but there's a bigger problem than that. The airlines are strongly opposed to these kinds of techniques, and even though it's technically not illegal, United Airlines sued the developer of the site to try to shut it down.
For now, though, it's still up and running. It's well worth checking out if you travel light, as there are some significant savings to be made.