If you search the Apple or Google app stores for cheap flights the results are almost endless. Honestly you can keep scrolling forever but you’ll no doubt be familiar with, or will have heard of, most of the popular apps - Skyscanners, Momondo, Hopper, Kayak, Kiwi and Skiplagged are perhaps the most well known and all aim to find you cheap fares.
Then, of course, there’s Google Flights which, although not an App, can easily be added to the home screen for quick access. So is any one of these apps better than the rest for finding cheap flights? Well it just so happens I want to take a trip from my home town in Sydney, Australia to New York this September, so let's see how each of these apps compare.
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To find a baseline price I started with Google Flights. I popped in New York as my destination and chose the dates to travel. Google, like all the apps in this test, has a nice feature where they show you the variation in price for the period you wish to travel. To make my trip worthwhile I set the return journey for about 2 weeks later, which nicely makes my return fare 1499 Australian Dollars on Delta Airlines.
Another nice feature, if I don’t want to book immediately, is that I can create an alert to be notified if this or a similar fare changes in price between now and when I decide to book.
Having found a baseline price lets see how the other apps compare. I plugged in the same destination and dates to all the other six apps - SkyScanners, Kiwi, Kayak, Momondo, Hopper and Skiplagged - and let them work their magic. And here are the results.
SkyScanners found me the exact same flight at the exact same price. Skiplagged found the same flight at 1087 US dollars which when converted to Aussie dollars made it slightly more expensive at 1501 dollars.
The Skipplagged Model
To be fair to Skiplagged, international flights like these are probably not its strong point. Skipplagged came to prominence by cashing in on the concept of ‘hidden cities’. According to their website Hidden Cities is where you get off at the point in your journey where you have a layover rather than the final destination.
The idea being that if you wanted to travel from say Atlanta to Orlando you might find a cheaper trip that has Orlando as the layover rather than the final destination. In the example Skiplagged uses on their website, a flight from Atlanta to Dallas with Orlando as a layover costs 130 US whereas direct from Atlanta to Orlando is 250. This trick probably works best for those of you travelling within the US or Europe, for example, where you have many options, rather than travelling between continents where there are fewer options.
Back to our results, and interestingly Hopper came back with the second best price, offering the same Delta flight as Google and SkyScanners at a low price of 1467 dollars, a saving of 32 bucks. Then there was Momondo and Kayak, who both came back with a different flight altogether. A Virgin Airways flight at 1480 aussie dollars.
The Kiwi Model
However, the cheapest of them all was Kiwi who could get me to New York and home again for 1383 bucks, albeit going the long way round via Singapore, Germany, and Iceland. That sounds a bit of a crazy journey but, to be fair to Kiwi, this is how they operate.
Unlike the other apps, Kiwi calculates fares by splitting the different legs up into its individual flight destinations. This means that each leg of your journey might be with completely different airlines, rather than a single airline or partner airlines. Whilst this allows them to discover really cheap fares, it also means your luggage isn’t checked through to your final destination, so you’ll need to recheck-in at each leg of your journey.
There’s also the risk of missing a connection due to delays but Kiwi say they’ll refund or reimburse you for any missed connections. Personally, I’m not sure the financial savings justifies all the extra hassle, but you may find this concept useful especially if you have enough time to get out of the airport and explore all cities where you layover.
Just out of interest because I’m flexible with my travel dates, I went through each app again to see if they could find an even cheaper flight to New York for any date or duration in September. And the only two that came back with a better deal were, again, Kiwi, which found me a flight for 1273 dollars, and Kayak, which found me a flight on Philippines Airlines for $1478 dollars, 2 bucks less than the original flight.
The Winner - Hopper
So discounting Kiwi as being slightly crazy, the app that came back with the cheapest fare for my trip to New York in September was Hopper. And I’m very pleased about that because whilst testing these apps I found I really liked Hopper.
When searching for flights Hopper uses a simple colour scheme to indicate the cheapest dates when to book and also displays alternative fares that include features such as shortest duration, fares with zero change fee, and fares that offer a full refund. Hopper also includes a loyalty scheme offering 10 bucks off your first booking and 2 percent off any future bookings you make through the app.
Whilst I like Hopper, it isn’t very good at suggesting destinations if you’re looking for inspiration. Skyscanners and many of the other apps include excellent discovery features where you can find cheap fares for a range of destinations all over the world. My favourite for this is Momondo where you can simply navigate a map of the world and it will pop up different fares for locations across the globe.
Finally I wanted to compare the price I found on Hopper with booking directly through the airline.And interestingly Delta Airlines came back more expensive, offering the same flight at $1499 dollars. More than Hopper and the same price as Google Flights and Skyscanners.
So there you are, if you’re wondering which app offers the cheapest airfares my recommendation is Hopper who managed to find a cheaper deal than Google Flights, Skyscanners and even cheaper than the Airline itself could manage.