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Five Best Cheap Travel Booking Sites

Alan Henry Aug 18, 2017. 10 comments

Getting away for a little vacation shouldn’t have to be expensive. There are tons of great sites to help you plan your next trip, whether it’s for business or pleasure, and compare flights, hotels, and train or bus tickets, all without breaking the bank. Here are five of the best, based on your nominations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for the best travel booking sites that made it easy to find options, book your tickets, search prices and find bargains, and were easy to use. You offered tons of options, but we only have room for the five that rose to the top of the nominations. Here they are, in no particular order:

Google Flights

Google Flights hides a lot of power behind its relatively minimalist design . You have the option to search for round-trip, one-way, or multi-trip tickets, specify your preferred airline network, choose flights that leave around specific times (perfect if you want to save money on a redeye or hate getting up and want an afternoon flight), and even choose how many stops you’re willing to tolerate. Like any good flight search engine, you can specify whether you want your tickets to be economy, business, or first, depending on how much you’re willing to spend, and you can even set a price cap if you’re on a budget. Once you’ve searched though, you can choose any of the listed flights to see the type of plane you’ll fly on, some useful details about it (above average legroom, etc), whether there’ll be Wi-Fi or power on the flight, and more. The service walks you through the process, choosing your preferred flights and departure times, showing you alternatives, and finally handing you off to book your tickets. The site also has a number of featured flights, discounts to specific destinations, and other travel deals on the front page, so if you’re looking for a last-minute getaway or just a budget-friendly trip, there may be one there for you.

Those of you who nominated Google Flights praised it for its interface, its simplicity, and its to-the-point design. You said the service makes it a breeze to search for flights, get an idea of how much a trip might cost you, and then finally, when you’re ready, just book your tickets quickly and have the whole process over and done with. Plus, since Google Flights is available and usable on mobile and desktop platforms, you don’t need to be in front of a computer to buy your tickets. You noted that you appreciated that Google Flights puts the best flights on top, lets you search for multiple airports to see if flying into another one near your destination would be cheaper, and even shows you how much you’ll save if your travel plans are flexible and you can fly later in the day, or even on another day close to your requested one. You can read more in its nomination thread here .


ITA Matrix

ITA Matrix has been around for a long time —and it made the roundup the last time we asked you this question. Since then, it was actually acquired by Google, and its technology used to power Google Flights, mentioned above, but ITA Matrix still operates on its own and is still a go-to resource for tons of travelers looking for power tools to find the best flights, search for and sift through tons of travel options, and get more information about their travel plans and possibilities than most travel search engines offer. ITA Matrix focuses squarely on flights, but offers additional information like cost per mile, the option to use advanced routing codes, allow airport changes, add or restrict stops, change the “sale city” and currency of your ticket, and more. If you have a complex travel question, have exceptionally detailed plans, or just want the most variables and complexity possible for your search, this service has it. Even the calendar and results you get from your searchers is highly interactive, and lets you browse specific flight information, airlines, plane types, cost changes as you change dates, and so on.

ITA Matrix isn’t the fastest, simplest, or most streamlined option (in fact, while you wait for your results to come up, they suggest using Google Flights for faster results) but if you’re a travel pro or you need its wealth of features, there’s no replacing it. Those of you who nominated it echoed that sentiment, praised it for still being available post-Google, and specifically called out the fact that it makes browsing fares within a 30-day period super easy. That means if you want to travel sometime in the next month, you can see average fares for each day of the month and choose your booking dates based on when it’ll be the most affordable as well as the most convenient. Read more in its nomination thread here .


Hipmunk

Hipmunk was one of the first sites to make flight search easy and not a jumble of airport codes, check boxes, and difficult-to-sift-through results. They’ve come a long way too, incorporating hotels , then helping you find hotel deals close to your other travel plans , and even adding fare alerts so you don’t miss a price drop. The site is remarkably easy to use, too, and also pioneered the “agony” filter in addition to prices and departure dates and times—that way you’ll know whether your experience on a specific flight will be torturous or easy-going, whether you’ll likely be on a tough, long-haul flight with long layovers and gate changes, or you’ll cruise on a non-stop without hassle. You can sort by cost, of course, compare flights against one another and see when they leave and how long your travel time will be on a handy graph, see layover times and durations on the same graph, and more. Once you’ve booked your flight, you can also book rental cars or hotel rooms as well, making it that much easier to just get the whole thing over and done with (and save some money at the same time.) Of course, you can sort by landing time, takeoff time, stops, select non-stops, choose your favorite airline, or even sync your own calendar to see which flights work with your schedule and previously scheduled meetings and events.

Those of you who nominated Hipmunk praised all of these features, pointed out that even with other contenders in the mix, Hipmunk remains one of the most easy to use and well-regarded travel booking sites that doesn’t make a ton of money off of fees and other associated costs, and instead passes the airlines’ lowest prices on to you. It’s also super useful for just comparing prices idly if you’re planning a trip, or for finding bundle or vacation package deals if you’re looking to save some money. Plus, Hipmunk’s mascot—that little chipmunk—is just too damned adorable. Read more in its nomination thread here .


Skiplagged

Skiplagged saves you money on flights using a kind of ingenious tactic: Instead of booking you on flights directly to your destination, the service searches for direct flights and flights that are headed on to another destination but making a stop or layover in your destination city. That means, of course, you’re on a flight with a ton of people that’s inevitably headed somewhere else, so you can’t do things like check luggage (because that luggage will go on to the flight’s final destination) but you can score a bargain because you’re only taking half the route. Skiplagged searches direct flights as well, of course, so you can choose what you prefer. The method is so contentious that United Airlines filed a (now dismissed) lawsuit against the company for it. Similarly, if you’re willing to be on a plane for a while, Skiplagged will even show you flights that seem to connect everywhere but your destination, taking up time, but also saving you money. That all aside, it’s a great way to find affordable airfares if your travel times are flexible and you’re the type who doesn’t like to check luggage .

Those of you who nominated Skiplagged pointed to the service as a great way to get flights at a fraction of the price you might get elsewhere, pointing to the fact that airlines often work hard to keep that kind of loophole from the public (so you’re stuck buying direct flights instead of just getting off at connections or layovers), so it’s a good idea to enjoy services like Skiplagged while they last. You can read more in its nomination thread here .


Skyscanner

Skyscanner is another flight search engine that’s simple to use, searches for flights as well as hotels and rental cars, and tries to make sure you get the most affordable prices no matter where you’re flying, domestic or abroad. It’s a bit more simplistic than some of the others in the roundup, but if you want to see what the lowest possible fares are, it’s a great resource to help you search for them. Best of all, the site makes it easy to find ticket combinations that are otherwise difficult to search for or tricky to sort out on your own, and you can see whether a unique combination of airlines and transfers will save you a substantial amount of money (or enough to make it worth the added hassle.)

Those of you who nominated Skyscanner pointed out that you’ve found some great fares for tickets to far away places using the service that you wouldn’t have found anywhere else, and you’ve used it to compare ticket costs against other sites and against airline sites directly to see if you can save some money. Best of all, you pointed out that Skyscanner is completely free to use, doesn’t have fees associated with bookings, and when you find a route pairing or booking method you like, you’re handed off to the airlines, hotels, or rental car companies to make your bookings, instead of booking through them. You can read more in its nomination thread here .


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote to determine the community favorite:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to Wanderu. Wanderu doesn’t search flights at all—it’s primarily used for bus and train booking, and can help you find affordable tickets if you prefer ground transportation to air travel. We’ve highlighted them before when they were new, but they’ve expanded their coverage to train and bus routes around the United States (and some in Canada.) Wanderu supports major bus carriers like Greyhound to the low-cost bus operators like Boltbus and Megabus, as well as train tickets via Amtrak and regional rail lines where you plan to travel. You can read more in their nomination thread here .

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Sean MacEntee.

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