One of the realities of being an itinerant person is that one becomes intimately familiar with the world of internet airline ticket purchases. Any type of purchase tends to stress me out, because of the overwrought sense of moral obligation I feel to make a good fiscal, social, and environmental decision. Plane tickets have the added stress of offering the illusory promise of getting a better deal somewhere else, if I just spend a few more hours looking. This is why I’m grateful for the meta-search sites that keep growing and becoming more interesting. A brief review.

  • http://www.orbitz.com is my old standby, and I appreciate the helpful grid layout of the results and the options to expand the dates and locations of a search. I also like how it gives the actual total price, rather than the base ticket price. It is definitely the most elegantly designed site. But Orbitz hasn’t been coming up with the best deals lately.
  • http://supersearch.travelzoo.com was one of the first sites to combine individual airline searches with metasearches on orbitz, priceline, etc. It does the best job of keeping up with new offerings, and I love it for that, though it can be annoying to open a new window or tab for each search, rather than comparing them side by side.
  • http://www.kayak.com is a newer metasearch site that does allow you to compare prices side by side, though it has so many options for filtering, sorting, and altering your search that the results page feels a little confusing at first. My favorite thing about this site is the price trends graph that shows you how prices in your itenerary have changed over the past 90 days. I have never used this site to actually buy a ticket.
  • http://www.cheapoair.com is another site I had never heard of until travelzoo pointed it out to me. It quoted me the lowest prices (including taxes and fees) of any of the search sites, for hard-to-find Christmastime tickets. It, like Kayak, searches individual airlines and several metasites to give you a price comparison in a table format. Its extended search form prefills things for you– so if you select PHX as your departing airport for round-trip, it automatically appears as your destination for the return. However, it does not have a flexible dates option, and it won’t allow you to compare two similar searches side-by-side in different windows. I haven’t bought a ticket from this site, but I will probably try it this time.
  • It’s been awhile since I purchased overseas tickets, but http://www.1800flyeurope.com/ served me well last fall. I like its lists of packages and specials in addition to the regular search feature. And for getting around Europe itself, http://www.ryanair.com/ sometimes offers fares below one euro (before taxes and fees), if you regularly check in to their obnoxiously blinking, primary-colors site. Right now they’re offering hundreds of flights for free, but it must be a gimmick. I don’t have any experience searching for flights to Latin America or Asia, and as for Africa, well, it’s just dang expensive to get there, any way you try it. Maybe cargo boat is cheap.