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How to Find the Best Airfare Deals Online

Third-party online travel agencies and flight hacking sites can unlock major discounts, but beware the fine print

by Lark Gould

December 20, 2022

Checking in at the airport / Photo: Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

Finding airfare deals can be as much a shell game as finding the hidden $10 billion under a paper cup on the sidewalk. But for the simple ante, perhaps the winner-take-all reward is worth the one-in-three odds. Similarly, getting a 20 percent discount off an airline ticket—or better yet, cashing in on a mistake fare published by an airline—can feel like winning the lottery.

Third-party online travel agencies (OTAs)

That said, there are several third-party online travel agencies (OTAs) that have earned customer confidence over the years for their decent deals and somewhat responsive customer service: Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, Hotwire and Momondo, all making their deals with the airlines in exchange for volume sales.

However, seasoned and time-starved business travelers don’t often have the luxury to spend time hunting for the right fare, departure time, destination and perfect combination.

Third-party flight hacking sites

To solve that problem, Flights-Finder, an amasser of discount airfares, pulls in live content from such aggregators as Kayak, Skyscanner, Kiwi, Momondo, Jetradar, Skiplagged, Google Flights and others, presenting a single dashboard view of what fares are, the number of stops, flight times, and connecting airports so flyers can get a bird’s-eye view into their planning.

The site claims discounts of up to 20 percent using this method for booking tickets. Indeed, recent searches pulled ticket possibilities not shown on related airline sites and not seen in other research. Other third-party flight hacking sites, such as FlightAware, keep track of dropping fares, which are dynamic and change according to daily demand. The apps send alerts to those who sign up to receive them. For those travelers with flexibility, Scott’s Cheap Flights wins for delivering the best fares, usually based on taking advantage of errors airlines make in their published inventory.

The fine print

Flyers looking to hack these online fare companies must keep in mind a few caveats:

Ticket changes

Tickets that need to be changed or returned will likely see problems, if not costly fees or outright refusals.

Customer service

If a live person can be reached, customer service may not be exceptionally accommodating.

Final purchases

The aggregator site is not the seller and thus will not be of help beyond pulling in the fares and then sending the buyer elsewhere to finalize the purchase. The fare may not be such a discount and may be available directly from the airline—a safer bet for purchases and services.

Points and miles

The OTA ticket may not include earning points or miles.

Beware of scams

The OTA ticket may not be a ticket at all but a scam, mistake or an item not honored by the airline that is impossible to correct.

After digging through the fine print, excavating the buried flight details, forgoing support services and flexibility and then crossing your fingers, what’s too good to be true may be tried and true directly from the airline.