I’m just going to come out and say it: you are wasting your time searching for cheap flights.
A study conducted by Expedia Media Solutions determined the average traveler visits up to 38 sites prior to booking travel.
I don’t even want to know what that equates to in hours—but it must be the equivalent of one full season of Game of Thrones.
I’m not here to tell you to stop comparing prices across airlines, or to stop looking for optimum routes. And unlike thousands of other “travel hack” articles, I’m not here to share the secret of finding cheap flights.
I am here to tell you that you are probably searching wrong.
Customers have been led to believe that if they search really, really hard they can score some kind of secret travel deal. This myth, among others, has led to an obsessive quest for the holy grail of travel deals—the cheap flight.
So, buckle up, because we’re going to pull back the curtain on how airfare pricing works, and dispel some of the more widely-believed airfare myths. And maybe your search will only last for a single episode of GoT.
Myth #1: I need to check every third-party booking company to compare alllll the prices.
First of all, we need to have an honest conversation. Because I care about you.
Stop wasting your time comparing prices across third-party platforms. Every search engine has almost the same exact information.
Airlines determine the prices for their fares and then publish them to a grand total of four global database systems (GDS) that hold route and pricing information for participating airlines. Yep, just about all the routes and prices in the entire world are held in just four databases.
Third-party online search engines (aka Expedia, Priceline, etc) pull information from the GDS and display it for the traveler.
There are dozens of third-party companies, and they all say they have the cheapest airfare. This may tempt you to check each site.
But consider this—because of corporate consolidation, two big players have purchased most of their competitors. Priceline and Expedia now own most of the US travel market.
Go ahead. Google it. I’ll wait here (or you can just check out our sweet infographic below).
There is little difference in fares between third-party companies because almost all OTAs are pulling and displaying the same data.
Pro-Tip:When it comes to finding the cheapest published rate, pick your favorite search website and stick to it. Ours is Google Flights. It’s the fastest and takes you straight to the airline’s website to purchase tickets.
Myth #2: Some small companies have access to special rates—so I need to search them all or I’ll miss one!
If airlines decide to provide special, unpublished fares; you won’t have to search to find them. They will only be offered to major companies.
Spoiler alert: airlines are not benevolent. Groups like Expedia and Priceline create billions of dollars in revenue for airlines. If you don’t find special rates on Priceline and Expedia, chances are that small website from 1999 isn’t going to have them either.
The myth that special discounted flights exist in the depths of the internet is enough to make anyone search for hours. But don’t. Only a couple companies have them and I’m pretty sure you know which ones they are.
Pro Tip:We love small travel companies because they find creative ways to help you travel. But when it comes to airfare prices, small companies rarely get a better deal on published rates.
Myth #3: I can find “slick deals” with travel hacks, so I need to exhaust all of those options as well.
Recently, my mom shared a “too-good-to-be-true” deal from an online travel agency (OTA). A small company quoted a round trip flight from the US to New Zealand for under $400.
The only logical conclusion is that this company has an “in” with the airlines that nobody else does! Right?
Airlines have very small profit margins (about $10-20 per ticket). Taxes and fuel surcharges make up a majority of their overhead cost—so in most cases they will not be offering $400 international flights, because they would lose money.
Travel hacks and slick deals can exist (kind of), so I am not going to completely bust this myth. But published rates will be the best course for most people, unless you are willing to jump through hoops to save a few bucks. And when you buy into the “slick deals” hype, always be on high alert for scams. Sometimes a “too-good-to-be-true” deal is…too good to be true.
(In the case of the above example, I am already skeptical because the taxes alone for that flight would be at least $400. My guess is that the rates are either a mistake or a promotional fare—like WOW Airline’s awesome $99 Iceland flights).
Pro Tip: Be a critical thinker when you find these “slick” deals. Why aren’t they offered on the sites that are best buddies with the airlines (aka, the ones that drive the most business)?
The truth is this—there are very few ways to “hack” airfare and the ways that exist have strings attached. It is up to you to determine whether the time, effort, and inconvenience are worth the savings.
Check out the infographic below to get more details on these travel “hacks” and if they are right for you.
Myth #4: All hope is lost and I should just give up this futile search for cheap flights because I will never find a good deal.
Before putting on your favorite onesie and busting out the Ben & Jerry’s to mourn the death of cheap flights, there is hope. I’m not saying you should give up on finding the best price for your route (fight the good fight!). Comparing prices on different airlines and via different routes is still the best way to find a good deal.
We want to arm you with information, so you can search smarter.
Let’s keep it simple.
Start with your favorite third-party search engine to get an idea of prices across airlines and then maybe check a couple budget airlines (if that’s your thing) that aren’t included in the major search engines.
Timing is everything. If you want to stretch your dollar, fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and avoid Sunday night returns (you’ll save $76 on average).
If you are an avid travel hacker, you could try some of the travel hacks referenced above.
Oh yeah, and don’t be fooled by “cheap flight!” advertising.
It will just lure you in before pulling a bait and switch.
And that’s it! Only 3-5 sites instead of 38.
There are a lot of myths dictating how you search for flights…and most of them are costing you time and your sanity. The truth is that there are very few ways to score a great travel deal. And it is likely these commonly believed myths (perpetuated by misleading advertising like the ad above) have led you down a rabbit hole of inefficient flight searches.
Unless you are going to wade into the waters of mistake fares, hidden-city ticketing, reward fares, or other “slick deals” (that come with strings attached), published fares are going to be most travelers’ bread and butter. So keep it simple and save yourself a headache.
You don’t need to search 38 sites for published fares.
Just your favorite 1.