The best flight comparison websites
Posted on Dec 16th 2018 By obptravel
When it comes to searching flights online, we users have more options than ever before. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming at times. As we try to make sense of it all, we last explained the main differences between travel agents and flight comparison or meta-search websites. So this time we would like to discuss comparison sites in more detail.
There are several flight comparison websites out there. Some of them are part of the history of the internet, and have become key players in the travel industry. Other more recent ones are finding an audience by doing things differently. One way or another, these companies have transformed how most of us buy flights. It wasn’t that long ago that we had to visit bricks and mortar stores to book our holidays. And… anybody remember ceefax holidays?
One flight comparison website deserves a special mention for its pioneering role and legacy. We are talking of course about the brilliantly named Cheapflights. The company started in a London attic by John Hatt back in 1996 was one the first to introduce a pay-per-click advertising model, and achieved success in the United States with little investment. It is now part of Booking Holdings Inc., a group that also owns brands Kayak and Momondo. These two, along with Edinburgh-based Skyscanner are currently the three flight meta-search behemoths.
They are not, however, the only ones. Google flights is gathering momentum as part of the wider search engine. Liligo continues to provide an excellent flight comparison alternative. While Wego is virtually unknown on these shores but is a very good meta-search, especially for travel in Asia.
We have tested them all to provide the following analysis. The test consisted on 20 searches to different destinations on both desktop and mobile. We looked at the speed, the features available, the fares, and how easy it is use, including whether there are too many ads, pop-ups or click diversions. These are the results.
Momondo: It’s cheap
Are you looking to fly on the cheap? Then use Momondo. The Danish-born company (almost) always finds the cheapest flights. Our tests have confirmed what many of us already believed. That said, the stopovers on offer are ridiculous at times, and the prices not always up-to-date. Despite these flaws, we love Momondo. The overall website (and app) design is possibly the most attractive. We like their exquisite blue, purple and pink colour combination. There are great features, too. Type in a country e.g. France, and it will suggest all the possible airports on a map. The filters include the usual stops, flight duration, airline alliance… etc. as well as “flight quality”, which is quite original. However, we would have liked to see others like type of payment or checked baggage fees. The calendar suggesting cheaper alternative dates never seems to work properly, and the flight insights option is so subtle it is almost invisible. Momondo’s achilles heel is its speed, or lack of it rather. Our tests show it is the slowest website, with most search results taking 30 seconds or more to complete. We didn’t have any joy either setting up e-mail alerts, and we miss an “anytime” option for choosing dates. Overall though, Momondo is a very powerful meta-search engine
Ease of use: 7/10
Kayak: The full package
Kayak is one of the oldest flight meta-search engines around. It is also the most popular one in the US, but here in Europe it has always played second fiddle to Skyscanner. This is probably the main reason why its parent company acquired Momondo back in 2017. Nevertheless, Kayak still offers a great experience to cheap flight hunters. The design is somewhat less sophisticated than that of Momondo, with bright orange colours reminiscent of Easyjet. However, the fight search options are almost identical. Kayak has the advantage of having a “fare assistant” that re-calculates air fares to include baggage fees. Despite both brands being part of the same group, Momondo almost always beats Kayak on price. But Kayak is still a great product to use. The more you use Kayak, the more Kayak gets to know about you, and it suggests flights and holidays it believes will be of interest. You can track the status of a live flight, and we love the “explore the world” feature with a world map. However both these features appear hidden on the desktop version. There is also a paperless “trips” planner feature, and generally the more we used Kayak, the more we learned to appreciate it. Kayak is so much more than a flight comparison website. It wants to be your personal travel assistant. Whether it succeeds or not, only time will tell.
Ease of use: 7/10
For many people, “looking for a flight online” equals to using Skyscanner. The Scottish meta-search engine is one of the longest standing brands of the entire internet. Since they were taken over in 2016 by Ctrip, there are many rumours circulating that Skyscanner will convert into a travel agent and be absorbed into Ctrip. While there may be some truth to that, it remains one of the best flight comparison websites around. We love the interface for its simplicity and ease of use. Their mobile app is also very intuitive, feeling less gimmicky than other brands. There is map explorer option, the possibility to log in and set up fare alerts, and all the usual things you would expect. They were one of the first to include “anywhere” and “anytime” options into their search, features that we use a lot to this day. The search results are not that fast though. And what about fares? Well… they are still competitive, but these days they often get undercut by Momondo. On top of that, Skyscanner’s entire commercial strategy is based on upselling. They will recommend direct (and more expensive dates), different flight combinations, airport transfers, hotels, and more. This is a shame because the main reason for using a flight comparison website is to save money, and by using Skyscanner you could end up spending more than you thought. This is why it is no longer our favourite flight search website. We do hope they focus again on being the cheapest, and let go of other strategies.
Ease of use: 7/10
Liligo: More than flights
We like Liligo, but we would like it more if the website wasn’t an ugly duckling. The French-Hungarian flight comparison site, owned by eDreams ODIGEO, has many positive attributes. It is a no nonsense, search and click website. Users will find all sorts of features: filters, fare alerts, maps, fare tables, fare forecasts… there is also hotel and car hire search. It offers fast searches, and the prices are extremely competitive, just as good as Momondo. On top of that, we really like their multiple transport options, including bus and rail into their search results. This is extremely useful on some short-haul routes, e.g. London-Paris. The website design, however, feels clunky and overloaded with adverts. There are even some unavoidable annoying pop-ups. They seem mobile-centric, as the app provides a better user experience than the desktop version. Generally speaking, Liligo is a very competitive product. We hope that it is soon re-designed because it has great potential.
Ease of use: 7/10
Google flights: Lightning speed
Back in 2011, Google sent shockwaves across the travel industry with the acquisition of ITA Software. Many companies feared they would succumb to the mighty search company from Mountain View. Well, it has been over seven years and while Google flights has become a very serious player, flight comparison websites are still around. At least for now. The first thing that stands out is the lightning speed at which Google delivers results. 2 or 3 seconds is enough. It is really remarkable. The search engine is built slightly differently, splitting results into “Best departing flights” first and “Other departing flights” second. At times it produces odd results, because the best flights are actually to be found in the latter. It is not the most straightforward interface either. However, having a Gmail account is great because it is very easy to track flight prices. One of Google’s biggest drawbacks is that it hardly ever achieves the lowest fares. While we do like using Google flights, we always end up finding a cheaper option elsewhere. In fact, we prefer to use the ITA Software that powers Google flights for broader options and more detailed results.
Ease of use: 6/10
Wego: Made in Asia
You have probably never heard of the Singapore-based Wego. Now that you have, you should know that it is one of the best meta-search engines in the market. It is easy to use, fast, packed with options, and finds very cheap flights. The interface, including the app, is very clean and intuitive. While Europe is not their core market, they have paired up with enough merchants to make them competitive enough. Where Wego perform best however is in Asia. This is the ideal flight comparison website if you are backpacking around the Asian continent. The more far-flung your destination is, the better Wego works.
Ease of use: 7/10
And that’s not all. There are several more flight comparison websites out there, each one vying to become the best in a saturated environment with low profit margins. Hipmunk made a significant impact a few years back sorting flight results by “agony”, more focused on saving time than money. Available on mobile only, Hopper is a flight comparison app that predicts prices informing their users when is the best time to buy a flight. There is also Skiplagged, who famously got sued (and won) by United Airlines for showing “hidden” fares derived from indirect flights. It works very well in the U.S. for one way flights without checked bags.
The Icelandic Dohop is also very competitive and a great alternative to the big corporations. Jetcost is still around after all these years, although it could really do with a facelift. The French-based Easyvoyage continues to innovate with a more reviews-based approach to travel. And we have our superb TravelCritix flights meta-search, which is powered by Travelpayouts.
With so many options, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each website. Choose the one that is right for you. It is always good practice to use at least two different ones, to make sure you are getting the best possible deal. If you are loyal to one particular site, go ahead and feel free to use a new one. You might like it even more. We hope this has been useful and above everything else, keep travelling!