How to Use a Flight Price Tracker to Get the Best Airfare Possible

Why spend a fortune on plane tickets when you don’t have to? Flight price trackers are the key to getting a great deal every time.

Finding the best time to buy a plane ticket often feels like a game you can’t win. You see deals advertised, only to find out that they don’t apply to your route or the timing of your trip. While you could spend hours online each week trying to find the best time to buy your tickets, a better plan would be to let a flight price tracker do all the work for you.

Never used a flight price tracker? Here’s how it works: Once you set alerts for the flights and dates you’re interested in, these trackers notify you when prices drop, allowing you to find the best time to buy plane tickets on the quick trips or bucket-list vacations you’re interested in. Yep, it’s that easy! You just need to know the best ones to use for your specific needs.

Looking for these price drops will be even more important this spring and summer, as domestic airfare is expected to rise 26% to a projected average of $348 in May, according to a report by travel booking app Hopper, which has one of the best travel apps for finding deals. Whether you’re flying on a budget airline or a more traditional carrier, these trackers can make a huge difference to your travel budget, helping you make the most of your money and do all the things you really want to do on your trip.

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How can a flight price tracker help save you money?

These tools use an algorithm to track prices based on routes, dates, airports and preferences, such as the number of stops on your flight. Once you select your options on one of the trackers noted below, you simply click “set price alert” to direct notifications to your email to find cheap family vacations or whatever else you’re looking for. You can even set multiple alerts for different trip times and airlines to see which combinations yield the best bargains.

Sure, many airlines offer discounts on Tuesdays, with flight prices inching up as the week goes on. However, checking on Tuesdays is not a surefire way to capture the best deals, as prices are largely determined by demand from your departure airport. Instead of constantly checking and rechecking flight prices, you’re more likely to snag a deal with a flight price tracker that catches these deals in real time before they are gone.

Are there any downsides to these tools?

Of course, every tool has its downsides. For one, be prepared to get a flood of emails, especially if you’ve set multiple alerts with different flight price trackers. You will have to manually turn off these alerts after you plan your trip or they’ll continue to crowd your inbox.

Moreover, travelers who use credit cards that offer bonus categories for airline purchases when booking flights may miss out on these bonuses when booking through a third party. And if your flight is changed or canceled or you miss your connection, you will typically have to take it up with the airline rather than customer service on these sites and apps.

Last, and perhaps most important, most flight price trackers don’t offer a low-price guarantee for all their flights, meaning it’s worthwhile to set alerts on multiple trackers.

Where can I monitor flight prices?

You can access Google Flights or Kayak either on your computer’s web browser or through apps on your iPhone or Android. And most flight price trackers can be used online or via a free app, including Skyscanner and Momondo. However, you can only access Hopper’s flight price tracker on its app.

How to save money on flights with Google’s Flight Price Tracker

Setting up alerts on these price trackers is relatively easy. While each looks and works a little differently, the process is fairly intuitive. To show just how simple it is, we’ve illustrated the process of setting up an alert on one of the most popular tools, Google Flights, below.

  • Step 1: Go to Google Flights online or on its app.
  • Step 2: Once you’ve entered your city and dates and hit Search, you can select filters at the top with the number of stops, your desired cabin class and how many tickets you need.
  • Step 3: Choose your departure airport and destination.
  • Step 4: To track prices for this route, turn on “Track prices” for your searched dates, or if your dates are flexible, choose “Any dates.” To track prices for a specific flight, choose your flights, then turn on “Track prices.”

When you select “Any dates,” you will get an email when the route’s minimum price drops significantly that month. If there isn’t a large enough price drop, you get a regular email with the best available flight prices.

What are the best apps to track flight price changes?

Here are some of the most popular mobile and desktop apps to monitor flight prices and set price alerts. If you’ve been dreaming of booking a trip to an all-inclusive family resort or a romantic adults-only hotel, check your calendar and start tracking those flights now!

Skyscanner

Skyscanner is a travel search engine that scans the web for worldwide flight offers, allowing users to click through to make their reservations directly with the airline or travel provider. It vets its providers to make sure the price you see is the price they will charge on their site, with no hidden fees. Frequent travelers say they prefer Skyscanner because it returns more European flight options than its rivals.

You can search a route on a specific date or a loose date range, or find the cheapest month to go. It categorizes flights by “best,” “cheapest” and “fastest.”

Skyscanner can also help you choose the right destination for your budget if you’re still deciding where to go. Just select “everywhere” in the “to” field to see a listing of destinations ranked by flight prices. You can even search by weather to make sure you’ll get sunny days on that beach vacation.

Google Flights

There’s a reason Google Flights is one of the most popular tools on the web. It’s easy, the interface is uncluttered and it offers some tools that others don’t. (We’ll get to that in just a moment.) Like Skyscanner, you can search specific dates or click through a calendar or price graph that shows the cheapest days to fly each month. But if you leave the “to” field open, you can explore flight pricing for destinations around the globe on an interactive map. And unlike other flight price trackers, it will even show the features of each plane, such as the amount of legroom, availability of power outlets, Wi-Fi and in-flight video, as well as allow you to track a multi-city itinerary.

Hopper

This mobile app with the pink bunny mascot helps users price-track flights (including those for multi-city trips), set alerts and predict low prices with 95% accuracy. Once you enter your destination, Hopper tells you the lowest price right now, allows you to view flights and tells you whether to book now or wait to get a better deal (with the best deals in green, moderate prices in yellow and high in red). It also highlights the best features of each carrier, such as free flight changes or carry-on luggage.

This works best for trips where you have several weeks or months to plan. However, you can also pay a deposit to “price freeze” a flight for up to 20 days before booking. If the price drops, you’ll pay the lower price. You can also pay extra to make a flight refundable or change it for any reason.

Kayak

Like other flight price trackers, Kayak lets you view the best prices for multiple airlines in one spot and set alerts for price drops online or on its mobile app. It also serves up a price graph that shows the best time to book a flight to your destination and the dates that cost the most. For those seeking elite status or wanting to upgrade, you can search by airline alliance or aircraft type if you prefer a certain seating configuration or flight experience.

One useful tool on Kayak is “Hacker Fares,” which allows you to choose two different airlines for your trip if one is price-gouging for one of the two flights on your roundtrip. It also gives you the option of including checked-bag fees in your results so there are no unexpected costs or additional searches for flights.

And unlike most of Kayak’s competitors, flights from Southwest Airlines are included in its search results. However, you must click through to see prices unless you have a free Kayak business account.

Momondo

Owned by Kayak’s parent company, the Priceline Group, Denmark-based Momondo offers users the ability to search flights all over the world online or on its mobile app. Once you enter your destination, you can use a price calendar to choose dates when fares are low.

Like Kayak, you can book a “Mix & Match” fare to choose outbound and returning flights from different carriers. You can also click a box to compare those prices with other booking sites such as Priceline. Some sites that have reviewed Momondo reported finding more bargains on international flights and more business class deals with this app.

Also worth noting: While some apps will direct you to book directly on an airline site, Momondo takes you to the cheapest online travel agency (OTA) to book.

Skiplagged

Much like other flight price trackers, Skiplagged lets you search for flights by duration, price and value, filtering by stops, layover duration and the city of your layover.

Its biggest selling point, however, is its ability to find cheaper “hidden city” flights or flights with multiple legs where you can exit before your final destination. For example, if a traveler wanted to fly to San Francisco from New York, they could book a cheaper one-stop flight from the Big Apple to Seattle with a layover in San Francisco, then disembark in the Bay Area before the final leg of the flight takes off. While not available for all flights with layovers, the flights with this option will show in the filters, and the last leg of the flight will be crossed out on the listing, with the phrase “Skiplagged Rate” next to the flight.

One word of caution: Avoid checking bags on these hidden-city flights, as they will be checked through to the final city on the original ticket. Also, Skiplagged doesn’t offer options for cheap business or first-class tickets.

Need some travel inspiration now that you know how to get the cheapest flight prices? Check out this list of the best places to travel in 2023.

Sources:

  • Hopper: “Consumer Travel Index – Q1 2023”
  • NerdWallet: “The Pros and Cons of Booking Flights on Kayak”
  • Google: “About Price guarantee on Google Flights”
  • Illumin Magazine: “The Algorithm behind Plane Ticket Prices and How to Get the Best Deal”

Melinda Fulmer
Melinda has been writing about travel and lifestyle for 20-plus years. Her travel, food and wellness stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, AAA and other major media channels, including Reader's Digest.