I thought I was a travel failure. I was trying to meet my girlfriend and her friend in NYC from June 17-June 22, and I thought for sure I’d be able to find a non-stop roundtrip ticket from SF-NYC for under $400. They had already booked their tickets from Florida, so the dates weren’t flexible (which is how I usually get great deals on air travel), but I’d been trying for a week with no luck.
I don’t mind long layovers, but I’d like to make at least minimum wage hourly in savings for it to be worth it.
Here are all the tools in my travel toolbox that failed for over a week at finding me a non-stop RT ticket for under $400, before I finally had a breakthrough:
- Google Flights: This is usually the first stop on my hunt, as the calendar feature shows you which dates are the cheapest to fly on.
Since my dates aren’t flexible for this flight search, Google Flights didn’t help me out much. I could leave a day earlier and save ~$60, but that would require a huge day-long layover on Sun Country Airlines.
Here are the best flights Google could find me:
- My next stop, Skyscanner, quickly searches dozens of other travel and airline sites, and shows you the best results for your search parameters. Here’s what it offered me:
Still no luck, with about the same results as Google Flights.
- Next tool is Kayak, which also searches a variety of other websites. A little cheaper, but it wanted me to travel down to San Jose for my outbound flight, which would not be worth it this time. I do like the simple yet versatile interface on Kayak, but its user-friendliness when choosing your flight isn’t as good as a couple other sites:
- Momondo is another aggregator of fares from other sites, and includes Spirit Airlines flights. Even though I’ve heard bad things about Spirit, I would like to give them a try. For this search it’s not substantially cheaper though, plus I’d have to get over to Oakland for my departure. Not worth it. Momondo has another unique and pleasant interface, but still not the prices I was hoping for:
- Southwest.com sometimes has great deals on flights that don’t show up anywhere else, but many times they cost way more than others due to the two free checked bags they give you. This time they were way over my budget, with one-way departure fares starting at $380:
- Skiplagged.com: My final and favorite tool, this site finds all the cheapest standard flights, in addition to the best skiplagged, or hidden-city flights (explained here). I have yet to try a skiplagged flight, and I understand the risks and down sides, but if a flight from SF to Montreal happens to have a 10-hour layover in NYC, I may just decide to get some fresh air in NYC. And NYC is alluring, so it may be tough to return for my connecting flight to Montreal.
Sure enough, a skiplagged flight was the closest to my goal so far, but it’s still a risk for savings that aren’t huge this time. And the return flight is on Sun Country with a layover:
You may ask why I didn’t just use points or miles to get a free flight. As is usually the case, getting good value out of points requires either flexible travel dates or luck, neither of which I had in this search. My best option was a RT Delta flight for 37,500 SkyMiles, with a layover, which is almost double the points price of the cheapest flights.
After a week of searching I had some luck…Skiplagged.com came through for me! I refreshed my search early Saturday morning and found two separate one-way, non-stop flights to/from NYC for under $400 total. Prices dropped around $70! Here’s what I found and booked:
I was honestly very surprised to see the prices drop like that on the weekend, only a couple of weeks from the flight dates. Kayak and Momondo had some flights around the same price, but weren’t as easy as Skiplagged to select the departure times I wanted. Google Flights and Skyscanner both still had prices starting in the 400s.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or about what tools you use to find the best deals for your flights!