Learning that a person in the next seat had paid $200 less than you for the flight that you are both taking--is a painful experience that many of us have had. "How did you do that?" you ask your seat mate. "Easy," he responds with just a slight touch of condescension, "I booked my seat through SuperSensationalBargains.Com" (I'm making up that name).
Is it true that some airfare search engines can get you an airticket for much less than most people are paying? Do some of those internet whiz-kids consistently or always get better fares? The answer is usually--though some folks will argue otherwise--No. If any such website existed, it would be so deluged with business that its computers would be overwhelmed.
The fact is that some internet websites display better fares on some occasions on isolated days, while other websites have better fares on still other days and on other isolated occasions. Smart travelers know that they need to access the fares offered by several websites for the same dates and the same flights, in the hope of finding the best fare of all. By devoting a half hour to the task, by accessing several different sites, you will often find a better fare. One week, you might find that lower fare on ABC Search Engline dot Com, while another week you'll find it on DEF Search Engine.com. Very often, scoring an airfare bonanza simply takes work.
When the internet first became a source of air tickets, three different "OTA's" (Online Travel Agents) quickly emerged to offer a vast array of possible flights and fares for any particular trip. They were--and are--called Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz. Each one not only found you an airfare, but sold it to you. Very quickly, adversaries begain spreading the claim that O.T.A.'s were not always impartial, that they gave preference in their listings to the fares of favored airlines with which they worked. Though the OTA's angrily denied these slanders, a widespread belief took root that there should be a better alternate method of finding good airfares.
And thus, "aggregators" came onto the scene--companies with names like Kayak.com, Momondo.com, Do-Hop.com, SkyScanner.net, CheapOAir.com,
CheapFlights,com. "Aggregators" differed from "OTA's" in that they did not actually sell air tickets; they simply told you what they believed to be the best fares for a particular fight, leaving you free to actually contact the airline to buy the ticket. Because they were impartial, went the reasoning, they could be counted on always to find you the best fare. All throughout the travel world, legions of commentators will claim that you will usually find better airfares by consulting the "Aggregators", although even the experts will admit that occasionally an "OTA" will have an equally good--or better--fare.
In addition to such sources of good airfares as Aggregators and OTA's, there are also widely-praised Ethnic Travel Agents, "Opaque" Travel Agents, and "Bargain Headliners".
The Ethnic Travel Agents--like local firms specializing in trips to Brazil, or to India, or to Japan--sell so many tickets to a particular geographical destination that the airlines specializing in those destinations will obviously gift such agents with better than usual airfares to that location. For years, smart New Yorkers have known that if you go to a Brazilian travel agent on West 46th Street in Manhattan ("Little Brazil"), you will often be able to purchase an airfare to Brazil for considerably less oney.
The "Opaque" Travel Agents--Priceline.com and Hotwire.com--claim they are able to obtain heavily-discounted airfares from the airlines by agreeing to conceal the name of the airline until the last minute. Priceline, in particular, has grown to mighty size by selling low-cost tickets to persons who do not learn the name of the airline or the time of the flight until they have first purchased the ticket.
And finally there are the "Headliners"--companies like AirfareWatchDog.com and TravelZoo.com who periodically list spectacular bargains in airfares (and other travel products in the case of Travel Zoo) to various places. Millions of Americans follow their disclosures in the hope of finding a bargain suitable to their needs. But you often cannot submit the time and place of your desired flight to the "Headliners"; you simply have to periodically scan their offers to learn whether there's a bargain you might like.
It's a confusing field. But to the traveler with patience, there are major rewards to be had.