Rather than juggle dozens of airline websites, meta-search engines do the job for you, rifling through countless prices to find the best offers. The only snag is there are dozens of such sites, too, so which should you use?
To find out, I tested 10 leading flight search and booking sites against a range of journeys, including domestic flights within the UK, short-haul hops to Europe, and longer trips to the USA, Australia, and China. To shake things up, an internal US flight was thrown into the mix, along with Shanghai to Sydney, and then — for those sites capable of it — a couple of multi-city breaks.
In each case, prices were noted down for a trip only a few days away and a more sensible booking months in advance. Colossal layovers were ignored, on the basis no-one likes spending 30 hours in an airport.
This was all about finding the cheapest sensible flights. Which one is the best, then? Although meta-search engines and flight scanners have come on in recent years, there are shortcomings. Now and again, other quirks become evident.
Hipmunk weirdly failed on a few too many occasions and kept covering the page with adverts.
TravelSupermarket had a bad time during testing for short-notice European trips, seemingly lacking access to certain budget carriers. Google Flights fortunately rarely had the opposite problem, unable to display pricing for direct trips from China to Australia, despite other sites having no such issues.
For short-notice journeys, I found much more variance. Despite this, it quietly ended up the cheapest site overall when totting up the entire range of short-term journeys, and was within two per cent of Google Flights for bookings made months in advance.
Do note, though, that Kayak seems particularly invested in hacker fares.Using comparison websites.
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