This article was updated October, 2019 .
The quest for cheap airline tickets can sometimes feel never-ending. And it often leads to this question: Do fare aggregators really find the cheapest flights?
The answer is: sometimes.
As with any flight-booking tool, fare aggregators come with their own unique pros and cons. Here’s a look at what a fare aggregator is, as well as the benefits and drawbacks each offers.
Fare Aggregators vs. Flight Booking Engines
When you think of a fare aggregator, you may be picturing Expedia, Travelocity or a similar site. But these are actually flight booking engines. There’s a fine line between fare aggregators and booking engines, but it’s an important distinction to make.
Booking engines like Orbitz, Expedia or Travelocity are basically search engines that find travel deals from airlines that agree to let their fares show in the results. In exchange for doing this heavy lifting, they charge a fee when you choose to book.
Fare aggregators are slightly different. They actually search the search engines, scouring the Internet more broadly to help pinpoint the very best deal possible. CheapFlights.com and Momondo.com are examples of fare aggregators — sites that are likely to share what you’ll find using booking engines, plus a multitude of other options that sometimes help reduce the cost of your trip. Fare aggregators charge a fee, too, but the additional savings you discover often cover this fee.
What Makes a Good Fare Aggregator?
What makes a good fare aggregator? First things first: helping you find the absolute cheapest airline tickets. But what helps a fare aggregator find this lowest-possible price? You’ll want to use a fare aggregator that is searching as many search engines as possible — casting the widest net, if you will.
There’s also user experience. You’ll want to use a fare aggregator that works quickly and that displays your options in an easy-to-understand manner. For example, you’ll want to be able to sort on different metrics, including number of stops, price, schedule, etc.
Some fare aggregators display cheap flight tickets that aren’t typically available to the public, and others allow you to search with vague dates — a function that helps you find the lowest fare from among multiple departure/arrival options. Each of these features makes for a more effective aggregator.
The Pros of Fare Aggregators
A good fare aggregator is a useful tool because it canvasses the greatest amount of options in search of the cheap air fare. You’re not always getting such a vast search when you choose booking engines or other flight search options.
Another benefit to using fare aggregators is that some focus on a specific type of travel. For example, Vayama.com looks at only international fares. This type of specialization is rare among other flight search options, but it can often yield a really affordable rate that you wouldn’t be able to secure otherwise.
The Cons of Fare Aggregators
Fare aggregators are only as effective as the search engines they are searching, so there’s no guarantee that you’re truly securing the lowest-possible rate. Also, some fare aggregators will prey on your desire for a low price by offering initial pricing at first, then upping the fare once you click through.
Fare aggregators are also imperfect in many ways. Some will bill a fare as non-stop even when the flight includes a stopover without changing planes. Of course, in this scenario, you’re technically getting a non-stop flight, but you still get all of the waiting and inconvenience of a multi-leg trip.
Ranking the 10 Best Airfare Search Sites
Frommer’s recently tested a number of different search sites, including both aggregators and booking engines. For each search site, they tested a blend of last-minute and well-in-advance flights traveling in and out of both major hubs and regional airports around the world. Here’s how different sites performed, starting with the best and working down to the worst:
- Momondo (aggregator): Momondo easily beat the competition in this test, returning the lowest price 16 times out of a total of 25 searches. It also features a helpful, user-friendly interface.
- Skyscanner (aggregator): Skyscanner is known as one of the first aggregators to include discount airlines, and it returned the lowest price several times during this test.
- Google Flights (aggregator): Google Flights couples incredibly fast performance with search results that include fares other sites have a hard time finding.
- Kayak (aggregator): Kayak is one of the best-known aggregators, and it did well in this test at finding ways to shave a few dollars off what other sites returned as the lowest-cost flight.
- Hipmunk (aggregator): Hipmunk never returned the lowest fares compared to the other sites, but it did serve consistently low prices — and it scores highly for user-friendliness.
- com (booking engine): CheapOAir.com did well finding deals on last-minute international flights with plane changes, but it did not perform as well at finding good direct flights.
- Seatguru (booking engine): While Seatguru does provide a wealth of information about plane configuration and comfort, it does not perform well on price or user experience.
- Hotwire (booking engine): Hotwire performed in the middle of the pack in this test, and it also offered a poor user experience that slowed down the fare search process.
- Expedia/Travelocity/Orbitz (booking engine): While Expedia/Travelocity/Orbitz does include baggage feeds in its results, it struggled to find good fares for itineraries that were off major routes.
- Priceline (OTA): Priceline often served the worst fares out of all search sites tested, and Priceline also does not offer low-cost airlines in its results.
JTB: Finding the Lowest Fares
At JTB Business Travel, we can be your partner as you search for the lowest possible airfares. Not only do we provide online and mobile booking, we also offer trip disruption assistance — you’re assured of getting the best service when you choose JTB as your business travel agency.
Contact us today about our comprehensive services and how we can help you secure the best air fares possible.