Flight search sites compared

Flight search sites – how good are they?Flight sites

I don’t know how many websites there are out there that claim to find you a flight at a good price – dozens probably!  But which can you rely on to find the cheapest routing? (Or the cheapest routing that any sane person would actually book, which is not necessarily the same thing).

After reading a blog post recommending a site I hadn’t come across before, I decided to put a few to the test.  So here are the results.  All the tests were performed on a Samsung Tab A using a Malaysian hotel wifi or an Indian data SIM.  And I’m British, so the results are in sterling.

Test 1 – Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai, 6th December 2015 (tested 28/10/2015).

The cheapest, most convenient and most obvious route is Air Asia’s direct flight.  So why Google would want to send you on Thai Air via Bangkok for £129 is a bit of a mystery.  All the other sites flagged the Air Asia flight, at costs ranging between Adioso and Cheapflights at £44 and Expedia at £115.  All were below £55 except Expedia and Hipmunk (£75).  The price on the Air Asia site was £44, but that doesn’t include the credit card booking fee.

Test 2 – Goa to Kuala Lumpur on 5 December 2015 (tested 28/10/15)

I picked this as a test because the GOI-KUL route is new (commenced Sept 2015) and doesn’t run every day.  Adioso, Expedia, Google, Hipmunk and Travelocity all failed to find it, recommending routes with stopovers in Mumbai and Chennai or Singapore (yes, 2 stopovers instead of a direct flight, and at almost twice the cost!).  The price on Air Asia was £107.  Cheapflights headlined £102, the rest up to £114 (Opodo).  But again, I don’t know which sites charge a credit card fee on top.

Test 3 – Goa to Chiang Mai on 5 December (tested 28/10/15)

This was a journey I actually wanted to make and I knew there was a route via KL for around £155 – but which sites could cope with the fact that GOI-KUL was overnight, with KUL-CNX the next day?  Only Cheapflights, Kayak, Momondo, Skypicker and Tripadvisor, with prices at £163-£173.  All the others suggested going via Mumbai and Bangkok for around £230 – except Expedia who wanted £427 for the same route!

At this point I decided that Expedia was no longer worth even testing.

Test 4 – Labuanbajo to Bajawa on 6th December 2015 (tested 28/10/15)

I chose this as a test because in the planning of my trip to Flores, Indonesia, I hadn’t even realised this route existed – openflights.org had let me down this time.  Only Kayak, Momondo and Skyscanner found the £10 Wings flight – the others either failed to find any flights or didn’t even list one or both airports.

At this point Google and Hipmunk had done badly on all 4 tests, and Hipmunks’s interface was really annoying me with constant pop-ups pushing their app – time for them to drop out.

Test 5 – London to Mexico City 20th January 2016 (tested 21/11/15)

Lots of route options for this.  Skypicker found one via Copenhagen and New York for £306, and it was referenced by Cheapflights, Kayak, Momondo and Tripadvisor.  Skyscanner found one via Frankfurt, Dominican Republic and Panama (ouch) for £407.  Opodo was £628 via Bogota, Travelocity £805 via Orlando, Ebookers £826 via Phoenix, and Adioso an eye-watering £1032 via Amsterdam (referencing Expedia).

Since the only test Adioso and Travelocity had passed was finding the long-established Air Asia flight in test 1, they weren’t worth further testing – there were still plenty of others in the running.  And Travelocity was irritating with its lack of currency options (all prices were in US$).

Test 6 – London to Bangkok in under 18 hours between 20th and 30th January 2016 (tested 21/11/15)

Time to test aspects of the sites other than just their ability to find cheap flights on a specific day.  All the remaining sites found 1-stop routes between £239 and £277.  Momondo, Skypicker and Skyscanner let me do it easily without having to search every single date separately.

At first I thought Kayak didn’t allow flexible date searches – then found that it does, but only if you switch to the desktop site, and only + or – 3 days.  Then once you’ve got the results, asking to switch back to the mobile site takes you to the Google app store – infuriating.

Ebookers will also allow a + or – 3 day search, but only if you switch to the desktop site and if you search for a return fare, not a one-way!

By now, all that Ebookers and Opodo had done successfully was find a couple of Air Asia flights – bye bye.

Test 7 – London to anywhere in India on 20th January 2015 (tested 22/11/15).  How flexible are the search destinations?

On Kayak, Momondo and Tripadvisor you have to enter a city, although there is a “+ nearby airports” option.  But that means airports near the same city so entering Mumbai only brought up Mumbai flights, not ones to Delhi etc.

Cheapflights allowed “India” as the destination and returned as cheapest a fare on netflights.com to Tiruchirapalli for £309 via Delhi and Chennai.  Yet when asked about flights to Delhi, it found one for £243.  So Cheapflights doesn’t appear to recognise Delhi as being in India!

Skypicker allows a very wide search, but won’t give you the option to filter on journey length until after you have selected the city, and the results are unreliable.  It might highlight that the cheapest fare is to Calicut for £199, but when you click for the details you find it takes 42 hours and actually costs £262.  So you have to go through all the cities separately and on Skypicker that takes a long, long time.  One of Skypicker’s unique features is a map showing the destinations and allowing a radius search, but it automatically starts searching as soon as you change one criteria.  This makes the site operate impossibly slowly on a poor connection, and eats your mobile data allowance.

Skyscanner similarly produces a list of possible destinations which then have to be reveiwed individually, but without Skypicker’s map and images it’s a lot quicker.  The first list is just as unreliable though – it headlined a £274 fare to Kochi as the cheapest, but actually had a direct flight to Mumbai for £260 when you delved deeper, and the advertised £350 flight to Delhi was only £281.

So the conclusion?

Momondo passed all the tests except for the last one, which none passed really.  The country-wide search results were all unreliable, but I shall use Skyscanner for ideas as to possible destination options.  I’ll mainly be using these two in future.  Skypicker is good at finding cheap routes but the site is too slow to use – I might try it again when I have fast cable broadband.  Kayak is OK if your dates are reasonably fixed, but mine never are.

But I’ll only use any of them for research – when it comes to booking, I always go to the airline’s website.

Screenshot of Momondo search results. The bar chart shows when prices are cheapest, and there are filters down the left hand side for flight duration, departure time, number of stops etc

Screenshot of Momondo search results. The bar chart shows when prices are cheapest, and there are filters down the left hand side for flight duration, departure time, number of stops etc


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