You could spend endless time hunting down prices, hitting refresh to watch airfares go up and down until you get a deal. Or you can set up price alerts to do this for you.
Price alerts use algorithms to track specific flights, routes, and dates based on your preferences, then notify you when the price changes. You can make the search very specific (a round-trip flight on Delta from Los Angeles to Miami) or broader if your plans are flexible (one-way to Chicago from the DC area).
When Carrie Bradley, editor of the family travel blog Fly with a baby, has enough time before a trip, she sets up price alerts and plays around with different search setups. To provide more options, she said she tinkers with the number of stops, fare class, and flights to and from different cities (“open jaw“flights).
The result? Let’s hope for a cheaper ticket than she would find on her own. To start tracking, here are four of our favorite sites and apps.
Google Flights is a favorite of experts. It is well known and easy to use, and it helps travelers in filter searches, book flights, view flight carbon emissions and most importantly track cheap flights.
Gunnar Olson, Flight Deals Analyst and Travel Journalist at Thrifty traveler, said that of all the airfare trackers, Google reigns supreme with its calendar search feature and its ability to tell if you’re getting a good deal on a given fare. The only downside? It doesn’t catch all airlines, with major omissions including South West.
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To get started, go to Google Flights, then choose your route and additional details, such as the number of stops, your cabin class, and the number of tickets you need. Then, enable “follow prices” to receive email updates when prices change for your dates. If your travel dates are flexible, you can choose “any dates” for more options.
“Google will also alert you if shifting your day trip can also save you money,” Olson said. “Flexibility is key if you’re looking to save money while traveling, and Google Flights automates that flexibility.”
Skyscanner is Bradley’s first stop to purchase tickets. To set up a price alert, search for your route and specific dates, then click “Get Price Alerts”, which should appear next to the results. Once you have entered your email address, you will receive an email from Skyscanner to confirm your alert.
If you sign up for multiple alerts, Skyscanner will consolidate them into one email so you don’t get overwhelmed. For searches for flights departing in less than 100 days, Skyscanner will send you a daily email. For departures in more than 100 days, you will receive an email once a week as prices tend to be more stable later.
The mobile app Hopper can monitor airfares, as well as hotel and rental car prices, and tell users whether to wait or buy based on its analysis of flight prices and historical data.
Once the app is downloaded, find your flight, then select “Look at this trip” to be notified when prices change. If you think you’re seeing a good deal but aren’t quite sure you want to book yet, you can lock in the rate with a temporary price freeze. Expect to pay fees ranging from $5 to $40 depending on how long you want to hold the fare (you have up to a week).
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The online travel agency Kayak is a search platform for flights, rental cars, hotels, train tickets, vacation packages and activities (such as bus tours and museums).
To create a Kayak price alert for a search, start by searching for the flight you need. Once your results are displayed, you will see the option to follow prices as well as Kayak’s advice on whether to buy now or wait based on their projections. You can also set up a flexible alert by selecting “Flexible Dates” and choosing from options such as “Anytime”, “Weekends Ahead”, or a particular month.
When your price tracker is set, you’ll be notified via email (or push notification if you have the Kayak app) when there are notable price changes.
Although less specific than price trackers, cheap flight alert subscriptions can help you find deals. You can subscribe to newsletters from sites such as Scott’s Cheap Flights, Thrifty traveler, Plane ticketpot and airfarewatchdog to get offers based on your airport or region of origin. You may end up with an offer in your inbox that matches your travel needs.