The Process for Finding the Perfect Flight

As I’ll be doing more traveling (flying in particular) this year than the past few years combined, I have learned both the joys and anguish of searching for flights online. On the one hand, more information is available than ever, on the other… more information is available than ever. Particularly hard was the trip I am planning to Spain and the overwhelming permutations of travel arrangements available. So I would like to share what I’ve learned to hopefully help some others dig through the mountains of data and popups (yes – who knew they still existed?) to find the flight you’re looking for as painlessly as possible. Below is the process I devised, which assumes you know roughly the dates you will be traveling.

  • By far the coolest site I discovered was Hipmunk.com. I’m not usually a huge fan of sites with weird names and large, cartoonish graphics, but this site nailed it. Forgive the few UI quirks on the homepage and enter your information. The results screen that greets you is a beautiful untangling of departures and arrivals with rich sorting options (including “sort by: agony”). So much better than having to think to yourself, “Ok this one leaves at this time… but gets in at this time. And this other one leaves at this time…” Instead, it is laid out plainly where the shorter the line, the shorter the travel time.
    Hipmunk Screenshot
  • Once on this screen, you can easily determine which flights best fit into your schedule, which are the shortest, and which offer the best mix of all factors. This one thing alleviated the biggest frustration I found on most travel sites, and that is most of them don’t want to tell you what day your flight arrives if it spans days. Maybe it’s an oversight, but I can’t tell you how many times I had the perfect flight picked out only to realize it arrives at 7:35 PM on Sunday instead of Saturday. It’s probably not a problem unless you’re flying internationally, but that’s when everything takes much more forethought, isn’t it?
  • Once you have decided on a flight, it’s time to shop around. The prices on Hipmunk seemed comparable, but that’s the beauty of the multitude of travel sites. Competition = lower prices. So I will say that I found these sites to have the broadest choices.
  • They’re nothing earth-shattering, but there is certainly power in breadth of search. I noticed that different sites had different deals, and even those that claimed to aggregate didn’t always catch everything. So once you find the flight you want, look all over the place to find the lowest price. I will also note that some sites have checkboxes that allow you to “search other sites at the same time.” I don’t recommend checking those boxes unless you like being taken back to 1998 and the land of pop-ups, as that’s how they work across the board.
  • So find yours for the lowest price, buy, then fly!

At any rate, I hope this can save someone else some time. Let me know if you find better and less painful ways to see what flights are available and then find the cheapest one

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