Which flight search app is the best? Find where to buy cheap airline tickets

Booking a flight today is easy, with so many websites and apps that are doing just that, searching for the best flights and helping you to buy the cheapest flight tickets for your trip. If you know where to buy cheap airline tickets you just have to tap in your destination, the dates you want to go and you’re set. Fair and simple, right? Not really! It proves that deciding which flight search website or mobile app to use can be confusing, with so many solution out there promising to deliver the best deals and the smoothest process. If you think that all are the same and it makes no difference which one you will use for your next trip you may be just about to make a mistake that will cost you some serious money. As our test will prove, some flight apps will deliver better than others, sometimes hundred or thousands of dollars better. Read this to find what is the best flight search app.

do you think you’ll get the same results with every flight search app or website? You’re wrong!

If you are just like me, you probably have an app or a favorite website that you use regularly  when searching for plane tickets to buy. In my case is SkyScanner. I know how to use it and it always delivered what I was looking for, no complains about it. But recently I needed to book a trip that was a little more exotic and complex: Bucharest (Romania) to San Salvador (El Salvador). I wanted an one way ticket, and the results I got from my SkyScanner  app were all over $1800. Ouch! Since I wasn’t in the mood to pay through the nose for this trip I did a similar search using some different apps, and surprise, surprise, I found different flights starting from $750. This is when I decided to do an in-deep test of various flight search apps or websites and see which one will prove to be the most efficient in terms of cost and practicality.

let’s make a test. 5 different routes on two dates

I arbitrary pick up 5 different routes to test against, both usual domestic flights and more complex multi-continents ones. To simplify things I went for single person, one way flights. I tried to make the test similar to a real life situation, so I decided to search for tickets in two months from the test time. I also performed a similar search for tickets in the next day of the test. Since I was curious to see if the apps were bringing similar results to the websites I took this in consideration and I performed identical searches on the websites as well. The criteria for selecting the best flights was the price, but I looked up for other sorting options, like total flight time or number and duration of stops.

the apps. I selected 5 flight search apps

OnTheFly (Android and iPhone) – this app is a not so popular service from Google. Actually Google bought this company for $700 million in cash. It is the actual source of information behind many travel websites, so I had great hopes. It has some enthusiastic users, some calling it the ultimate tool when it comes to flights. One nasty thing about this app is that it doesn’t let you book the flights. You have to go on a different website for booking.

SkyScanner (Android and iPhone) – sleek, easy to use, this was the everyday app for my flights. It’s inability to bring the best results for one of my long trips made me do this test in the first place. I was really curious to see how it will perform in the test.

Kayak (Android and iPhone) is one of the veterans of the flight booking field. It is the actual app that delivered the cheaper result for my Bucharest to San Salvador flight, so I wanted to see if it will prove to be as good in all the searches.

Hipmunk (Android and iPhone) is new for me. I used the site couple of times, but it was the first time I installed the app on any of my devices.

Expedia (Andoird and iPhone) since it is a popular travel app I wanted to take it for a ride in this test to see how it will perform.

Momondo (Android and iPhone) is a complete novelty for me. I never used its services before and I was eager to discover the way it works and what results will give in this test. I uploaded all the apps on an Android device and I started to play with them. No test was made for the iPhone version of the apps. I double checked the results on a desktop computer to see if there is any discrepancy between apps and websites results. I was careful not to let a long time pass between tests in order to minimize the objective differences in the result sets.

how did they performed?

Let’s start with the searches for flights in 2 months time. As you can see the much praise OnTheFly app was never the cheapest option. SkyScanner performed better on the Frankfurt to Los Angeles trip, but the winner is Momondo, with 3 best results. For the Bucharest to San Salvador flight Kayak and Hipmunk gave similar results, but a little more expensive than Momondo. The others are serving way to costly option with flights at around $2000. This is the most problematic flight of them all, and I found the reason why. The expensive results are all 2 stops, one of them in an US airport. The cheapest ones have 3 stops and take a few more hours. While I understand that for many travelers time is important, I still prefer to be able to see flights that have 3 stops but cost $1200 less. The fact that those flights are missing is a major flaw in my case.

Route in two months OnTheFly SkyScanner Kayak Hipmunk Expedia Momondo
Paris to London 95 55 62 68 67 64
Frankfurt to Los Angeles 1372 739 880 1372 1372 865
Moscow to Sidney 739 730 740 740 740 722
Bucharest to San Salvador 2013 1932 891 891 2064 706
Boston to Atlanta 143 120 120 143 120 120

For the next day flights the data is even more interesting, with Momondo performing better on all the flights but two. SkyScanner and Kayak missed completely the results for Moscow to Sydney route and Hipmunk performed better than the rest on the short London to Paris flight. Interestingly enough,  Kayak showed Eurostar Train tickets in its results.  The price was a little lower, with $311 for a two and a half hours trip across the Canal through the Eurotunel.

Route next day OnTheFly SkyScanner Kayak Hipmunk Expedia Momondo
Paris to London 424 390 351 208 350 324
Frankfurt to Los Angeles 1991 1395 1993 1993 4318 1314
Moscow to Sidney 1305 none none 1308 1308 1113
Bucharest to San Salvador 2026 3070 3767 3079 2539 2196
Boston to Atlanta 669 524 611 249 678 287

so which app is better for your flights?

As expected, I think there’s no clear winner. Momondo performed a little better in this test, showing 3 best results on both dates. Kayak was never the cheapest option, but its results were always closed to the best deals, so I think it’s a trusty app whatsoever. The same must be said for Hipmunk. SkyScanner missed completely on the most complex trip buy ignoring 3 stops flights. I wasn’t convince by OnTheFly and Expedia, so they are both down to bottom of my list. After spending hours playing with every of these apps it become clear that there are pros and cons in using each of them.

Momondo

Pros: It did return the cheapest flights for three of the five routes on both dates and the app is easy to use.

Cons: Not so flexible. You can not search for flexible dates. If you use the site, prices for surrounding days are shown in a graph, but there is no such feature in the app or in the site mobile version. You don’t have the option to search flights from an airport to any destination, or flights to one country with no specific airport. Momondo acts more like a search flight engine and will point you to another site to book the ticket. Because of this you don’t have a similar experience from the start to the end of your booking. In some cases the website was in a different language, making things more confusing. But hey, the price was the best. In the app option you can select which of the Momodo websites to use for your search with a long list of country domains like momondo.fr, momondo.co.uk and so on. I don’t have conclusive data to tell if this will impact the results whatsoever. Truth to be said, I don’t find many reasons to install the app. I would prefer to use the mobile site instead since it has a similar experience. It would be a lot more useful to have the flights for close dates in the app as well. Momondo was a true surprise and you must keep an eye on this website and its app since it seems to be capable to return real bargain results.

SkyScanner

Pros: Very flexible search options, you can select flights to everywhere, country or city, by date, month or year. The results are displayed on a graph so it’s easy to select the most convenient  fares. The app experience is persuasive, being really user friendly and easier to use than the website, especially for a flexible search.

Cons: the app doesn’t emphasize the results with more then two stops, even if they are cheaper. Sometimes it lacks results when you search for all month or full year well in advance, especially when it comes to longer trips that have a few stops.

Kayak 

Pros: Easy to use interface, working multi-city option, ability to search 2 days before or after the selected date. It was capable to return the cheaper 3 stops option for a long trip.

Cons: It was never the cheapest option, but it did have fair, competent prices. On the website you have the possibility to search for  3 days before or after the selected date instead of only two on the app version. Lacks in flexibility when it comes to destination.

Hipmunk

Pros: reasonable interface, interesting agony filter that tries to take in consideration price and length for the flight.

Cons: It had only one best price in the test, but the overall performance was good, with fare prices. The only fail was on the Frankfurt to Los Angeles flight where its price was well over the best offer, but in line with other 2 apps. Lacks in flexibility, with the app asking for exact date. If you use the site there is an option to add two days before or after the date.

OnTheFly

Pros: Very nice interface, user friendly and with many options. It’s flexible and lets you select specific dates or entire date range. Overall experience of the app is superior to the website, so I prefer to use the app over the site desktop or mobile versions.

Cons: You don’t have the possibility to book flights directly from the app, so once you decided on the flight you want to book you’ll have to go on a different site, insert your flight details and continue with the booking. This is a major usability flown in my view that limits the appeal of this otherwise good app. Another disappointment was given by the fact that it didn’t came first to any but one of the searches. I was expecting considerable better performance from this app since it is a product of the company that is powering most of the websites and apps in the flight search ecosystem. I will still play a little with this app because the possibilities to perform a highly custom search are important and it can be really useful when trying to book flights for a long trip. It is the only app that crashed during the test. The problem occurred when I selected a date range for the search.

Expedia

Pros: this is an app that can help you plan your trip, from searching and buying flight tickets to booking hotel rooms. It had a decent performance in terms of price but was never on top.

Cons: Interface can take a little time to get use to it, but then is usable. It had a complete miss with the next day result for Frankfurt to Los Angeles flight, but performed well for the rest of the searches.

… and the best flight search app is

SkyScanner is still the app that gives the better user experience on a mobile device, so it scores high in usability area. But it turns out that when it comes to prices you can do better by using Momondo. This was especially true for the next day flights, a situation where you are the most likely to use your phone and not a desktop computer. Will I uninstall SkyScanner from my phone? No, it is still the most user friendly and flexible app in terms of destination and date range, but is not perfect when planing long distance trips from and to not so popular destinations. What will I do instead is to take a look at Momondo results when searching for longer routes or close date trips. And maybe install Kayak, just in case.

what feature I would like to see?

None of these apps let me exclude a city or a country from my route. This would be a handy feature for someone trying to book a flight combination that doesn’t has a stop in one particular place.  Useful not only if you are wanted in some jurisdiction, but also when you need a visa to land somewhere. If you need a visa for USA maybe you don’t want a layover in an US airport when flying from London to Panama.

Later Edit: Kayak lets you unchecked layover airports.

Your turn now. How do you prefer to book your flights? Do you use any mobile app for this? What is your favorite flight booking site?

2 thoughts on “Which flight search app is the best? Find where to buy cheap airline tickets

  1. paul

    I have tried Momondo and it consistently shows the lowest prices but…when I clicked to purchase the sites that open are priced in British Pounds or Euros and the prices are never what was listed on Momondo. Not sure what’s up with that?

    • Andrew SpadaAndrew Spada Post author

      Yes, I saw that as well. From what I can tell Momondo is scanning a consistent number of non English websites. In some cases I landed on pages in French or German or in English, but from UK. Naturally, those websites have prices in their local currency, Euro or Pounds. I came across more exotic currencies as well, I must say. I suppose this way you can have the best offer.
      From my experience, Momondo tries to convert those prices in the currency you use, but I am not sure if it’s accurate.
      And sometimes prices are not updated, I saw that to.
      Is not a perfect tool, but can still be useful, don’t you think?

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