Yay! We just booked airline tickets to return to India! While the information is still fresh in our heads we thought we would write down a few notes about the online tools we used to find the most convenient flights and best prices.
Online tools of every type are constantly evolving and improving, and travel search engines are no exception. In the past, we have researched international ticket prices primarily on KAYAK. Well, today there are LOTS of great online tools in addition to KAYAK! We list 9 online booking tools below that you should know about.
So why bother with SO MANY? Why not just say which one is the BEST and be done with it? Because it turns out that different tools have different strengths. Some tools are optimized to allow you to see prices over a flexible range of dates. Other tools may have limited ability to search a range of dates but appear to routinely provide better ticket prices. Some tools have predictive abilities that can guide you to purchase when prices are expected to be at their lowest. Others have powerful searching capabilities that allow you to search for complex multi-city itineraries that are impossible using other tools. Long story short, these tools are not all the same, and which is best for you depends on what you need. Because traveling internationally to India can be expensive it is WELL worth your while to check out some new tools and compare the ticket prices you find.
Here are the tools we found most helpful when booking our most recent international flights:
1. Hopper. Hopper is an app for iOS and Android. It was named the best travel app of 2015 by Apple. What makes this app unique is its ability to tell you the best time to buy. You search for a trip by tapping dates on a color-coded calendar. Hopper then gives you a prediction about when your flight will be cheapest. They basically tell you whether you should wait or book now. If they say wait, you can "watch" the trip and you will get notifications when prices drop. You can buy flights right from the app, or simply use it for its predictive ability, which is what we have done. Apparently, the team at Hopper has collected a huge historical archive of trillions of flight prices. They analyze that data and claim that their advice consistently performs with 95% accuracy. This is a free app and does not have ads or other annoyances, which we hugely appreciate.
2. Google Flights. Google Flights is fast, provides great information and allows you to purchase tickets. It does everything you would expect, plus a few extra things you might not expect. For example, you can look at a map and see ticket prices to many destinations all at the same time. This is great if you are open to various itineraries and it doesn't matter to you if you fly into Delhi, Mumbai, or Chennai for example. Google flights can also show you prices for every day of the month all at once, with the lowest cost days highlighted in green. A bar graph at the bottom lets you know if prices will likely drop or rise over time.
3. Matrix ITA by Google. Google also provides a MUCH more complex and technical tool for researching flights. Matrix ITA by Google does not allow you to actually purchase tickets, but it is arguably the most POWERFUL airline search tool you can use. Interested in complex multi-city searches? Come here first. Matrix is not obvious and takes some time to learn to use, but it can make you a master of the flight hunting process!
4. Skyscanner. Skyscanner is a travel search engine that compares millions of flights to find you the cheapest deal. That's a short description, but probably all you need to know. They have a great user interface and the site is a pleasure to use.
5. Dohop. Dohop is a fast and easy-to-use flight search engine. After using the tools above to figure out more or less which flights and dates we were interested in we did most of our final searching on Dohop since it is so clean and clear. It is also much faster than some of the other sites, which matters when you are comparing lots of options. They do a great job of filtering out all those ridiculous flights that cost 10 times the market rate or have unnecessarily complex routes. We found our tickets for our upcoming trip on Dohop. If we had to book tickets again, we might start here and then check the other sites. We like this one a lot.
6, 7, 8, and 9... We did not end up using these other tools extensively to book our recent India tickets, but they are all well reviewed and might be worth checking out: Superfly, Hipmunk, Adioso, and Skiplagged. Skiplagged deserves special mention for its useful sparkline graph of ticket prices over time and its ability to search for "hidden-city ticketing". Skiplagged was having trouble showing data for Air India, so we did not end up using it for our India tickets, but it is an interesting tool to know about!