Nearly three years ago, this site reviewed the then-burgeoning field of airfare aggregators, also known as metasearch sites. These sites let you compare the fares available across multiple airlines and across multiple booking sites, to help you find the lowest fare. Last time, Kayak came out on top. How much has changed in the last three years?

For starters, there are sites which have folded, some new competitors, and sites that changed their model significantly. At the same time, there has been pushback from airlines and suppliers, some of which have resisted the aggregator model. (The lawsuits between American Airlines and Kayak, which initially resulted in American Airlines no longer being listed in Kayak results, was perhaps the most prominent case of pushback. Since October 2008, results are back in the results. More on that below.)

The result: The golden ring of a truly complete search, covering all the options and all the providers, is still a ways away. No single site actually finds every flight option, every fare, or every seller.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences between the aggregators. It’s time to disaggregate the aggregators again.

This year, each site was put through multiple tests. Four kinds of itinerary were tested: A large-city to medium-city domestic US flight with multiple carriers offering direct service; a medium-city to small-city domestic US flight with at least one change of plane required; an international flight with a US origin; and international flights (from Paris to Dubai, and Manchester to Madrid) to test how sites do for non-US flights. For each of these flights, I tested a short-term booking (7 days advance purchase) and a longer-term booking (30 days advance purchase).

This time, I compared Kayak, Sidestep, Mobissimo, TripAdvisor Flights, Momondo, Skyscanner, WeGo (formerly Bezurk), Trax, Farecast,, and Dohop. Sites which were on the list last time but either folded or stopped doing metasearch include FareChase (bought by Yahoo, then abandoned in March 2009), PriceGrabber, and Qixo.

So which aggregator came out on top in 2009? Here’s the summary, with site-by-site reviews thereafter…

  • Overall best bet: TripAdvisor Flights. Low fares, good features, a solid performer overall. It took them a while to join the game, but it’s a strong product with a small but important edge over its closest competitor, Kayak.
  • Lowest price, domestic: If you’re searching for domestic US airfare, most of the aggregators did pretty well, but the lowest fares were consistently on TripAdvisor Flights, Mobissimo, or Momondo (Kayak and Sidestep would have been included in this list, but they often offered the lowest flights at the same base fares, but typically directed you to Orbitz, instead of to the airline or to a no-fee site like Priceline, to buy the ticket. Orbitz still charges a booking fee as of this writing, so single-airline itineraries can typically be purchased for less elsewhere.)
  • Lowest price, international from US: If you’re searching for international flights starting in the US, try Kayak and Trax.
  • Lowest price, international, ex-US: If you’re search for international flights that don’t originate or end in the United States, Mobissimo and Momondo performed best.
  • Class conscious: If you’re looking for a deal on premium cabin fares, is your site.
  • Sorting features: If you want control over options, and like to tweak and limit your results, Kayak gives you the most power.
  • Real total cost: TripAdvisor Flights lets you estimate what your actual costs will be, including luggage checking fees, headphone charges, etc.
  • Avoid: WeGo, which offered impressively-low search results, but none were actually bookable. Also avoid Dohop, whose prices were consistently higher than their competitors.

Individual site reviews

tripadvisor flights logo1 Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
TripAdvisor Flights
Although a clone of its competitors in many respects, TripAdvisor’s new aggregator offers one big difference: The site offers an analysis of how much the flight will actually cost you, once you figure in the baggage fees, the headphone fees, etc. It even considers what your elite status is. That’s a great feature. Second, and more disappointingly, the site (unsurprisingly) favors its sister sites Expedia and Hotwire in its results. But those sites add no booking fee right now, so no big whoop. The site combines the best sorting features of Kayak with the added value of fee analysis. TripAdvisor takes it by a nose.

kayak logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
Kayak is the largest of the metasearch sites, and it offers solid results. But it didn’t consistently offer the cheapest fare, because the universe of sites it searches is sometimes limited by agreements with individual partners. (American Airlines, for example, won’t allow results from its website to be shown alongside AA flights sold through Orbitz.) Orbitz puts demands on its partners, too, and subsequently, Kayak is heavily Orbitz-centric, with no representation of Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline. Actual fare availability was good when I clicked through to sellers’ sites. Kayak’s sorting features are still the best (so good that they’re copied wholesale by TripAdvisor), with the ability to narrow search results by time, airline, or aircraft type (e.g., no props or RJs), to name a few. The site has recently added “flight quality warnings,” such as on-time percentages and tight-connection alerts, but those aren’t a big deal.

sidestep logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
Kayak bought Sidestep a few years ago, but continues to operate the site as a standalone entity. Frankly, I don’t see why. The results are identical, the search tools are nearly the same, and there’s nothing to recommend this site over its parent. Everything stated above is true here as well, but why bother?

farecast logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
Farecast, now owned by Microsoft, is most famous for their fare prediction engine, which suggests whether ticket prices for your route will drop in the future. The predictions are pretty accurate, though they don’t account for times of day, routing, or airline, if you have preferences on those matters. (And you should.) Farecast also offers up an aggregator, albeit a fairly minimalist one with few options and a favoritism for Orbitz results. Come here for the fare predictions, but for live fare comparisons, you’re better off elsewhere.

mobissimo logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
Mobissimo claims to search more sites than anyone else, but not necessarily for a domestic US search. They have good coverage of Asian and European airlines, but their controls and filters are less than others’. Decent results, but I preferred others’ display of information.

fly com logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
From the folks who brought you TravelZoo, offers one gimmick that’s worth noticing: First- and business class fare comparison. That’s it. Otherwise, it’s a clone of other sites. If you’re not looking for premium cabin seats, skip it.

wego logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
WeGo (formerly Bezurk)
Big on teasers, low on success. WeGo touts some amazing fares, but good luck buying them. They also don’t list the lowest flight first: They show a sponsored link at the top. Bad, bad, bad.
Update April 9, 2009: WeGo has eliminated the sponsored results feature.

scyscanner logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
Britain’s SkyScanner offers decent results for UK-based searches, but it’s not as helpful to others. For US and non-UK searches, SkyScanner searches returned far higher fares than the average.

momondo logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
This Danish site is quite good at ferreting out obscure sellers of travel, especially for intra-European itineraries. But be aware that you’ll often get results from suppliers in countries outside the destination or origin. Flying Chicago to Baltimore? Your ticket could be sold by a British company (which could mean a 3% credit card surcharge).

trax logo Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?
Update December 2009: Trax has retrenched, and is no longer touting their fare comparison as their primary product. Their homepage shows a disclaimer as of December 7, 2009. But their search engine is still up and running if you dig for it… This is odd, to say the least. offers a Kayak-lite search that works well for domestic US itineraries. They include Priceline and Cheapoair, which others don’t, but the results weren’t significantly better.

Two other sites of note:
1. An aggregator you can’t use for booking, but which is great for research, remains ITA Software. Their engine powers Orbitz, and backs up Kayak and TripAdvisor results. They’re a great resource. (Click “log in as a guest” to use the search without registering.)

2. No discussion of fare search would be complete without a mention of FareCompare. The site’s alerts give you a heads-up on future sales by notifying you when fares drop, before they go on sale. They offer fare search, too, which is powered by Kayak.

So… what’s your experience with fare aggregators? Hit the comments to share your stories.

pixel Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?

49 Responses to “Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?”

  1. needcaffeine (needcaffeine) Says:

    Reading: “Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best?” ( )

  2. tripadvisor (TripAdvisor) Says:

    @greld And TripAdvisor Flights, too. Named best of the airfare comparison sites by Upgrade: TravelBetter

  3. LazyTourist (Gordon Bengston) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison …: … to narrow search results by time, airlin.. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  4. TravelEditor (Independent Traveler) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Reading: which airfare aggregators are best? Kayak is my fave, but it didn’t come out on top: [link to post]

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  5. Elizabeth Says:

    I generally start with Kayak because of the left sidebar filter options when search results appear.
    And, I always book directly with the airline I’m flying so the fact that they redirect to Orbitz doesn’t bother me.

  6. whichbudget (Martino Matijevic) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    We’d say: none, use instead (we would, wouldn’t we) RT @TravelEditor which airfare aggregators are best? [link to post]

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  7. Patrick Says:

    I think it’s important to take into account some really important UI factors: how does a given site perform across browsers and platforms? won’t work on Safari, for example. Performance on Firefox is better, but the UI still seems sloppy (difficult to read, use). I cannot get it to work on my G1 (or on an iPhone).

    Sloppy front-end development is a significant problem. Usability problems with these aggregators, together with the fact that they are functionally limited to specific browsers and platforms, means that there is a lot of opportunity for someone to clean up by doing a halfway decent job.

  8. Martino Says:

    This is a great post and some interesting observations.

    I think the future of fare aggregators will be down the lines of what Tripadvisor started doing: before you can compare prices, you need to ask the visitor not just where and when they are going, but how many bags have they got, how heavy are the bags, can they print out their boarding pass or are they in an internet cafe, how are they paying, etc.

    However, at one point, it will all become so complicated that price comparison will have to be combined with product comparison. On, we keep getting questions not how much a flight would cost, but do we know if XYZ airline is safe to fly, what are their seats like, etc.

    Our strategy is to add price element to our searches (via http://Beta.Travel) and supplement it with airline/airport/destination reviews (via

    Martino Matijevic
    CEO, WhichBudget

  9. Tony Peters Says:

    Hi Mark,

    As a US citizen who flies a lot at home – I agree that Kayak and TripAdvisor are pretty much the top dogs for US flights.

    However, I also spend about 2-3months in Europe each year on business and I’ve found Skyscanner to be by far the best site for finding European flights.

    To say that Skyscanner is only good for UK based flights is just plain wrong, and it makes me question the quality of your test and of the validity of this article as a whole. I use it to find flights all over Europe, and it almost always finds me the cheapest fares.

    Skyscanner also has an option to see fare prices over a month period – a function which I have not seen on any other flight sites.

    I would recomend you take another look at your testing criteria because there’s some inaccuracies there.

  10. Mark Ashley Says:

    Tony, thanks for your feedback. I’m glad Skyscanner works well for you. As stated above, my primary test routes for ex-US searches were Manchester-Madrid and Paris-Dubai. For the former, Skyscanner came out well ahead of others. For the latter, it came out way behind.

    In the time since I did the original tests, I also ran searches for London-Hannover and Madrid-Barcelona, and the same relationship held up: The UK-origin flights were cheaper on Skyscanner than anywhere else. The flights that weren’t from or to the UK cost more on Skyscanner than on other sites’ search results.

    I realize that this review will leave some folks disagreeing, and that personal experience may trump the results presented here. But these were systematic tests, conducted on the same day within minutes of one another, and I’ve simply reported what I found. I hope that makes sense.

  11. Mark Ashley Says:

    Patrick, that’s remarkable that doesn’t work on Safari.

    I ran all tests on Firefox 3 running on Windows XP. I had not considered that the user experience could vary based on the platform.

  12. rickdog (rick shide) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best? | Upgrade: Travel Better [link to post]

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  13. owenbyrne (owenbyrne) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Tripadvisor flights called “overall best bet” for metasearch: [link to post]

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  14. AllSetinMass (All Set in Mass) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    TripAdvisor Flights voted: Overall best bet [link to post]

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  15. BernBernstein (Bernie Bernstein) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    RT @owenbyrne Tripadvisor flights called “overall best bet” for metasearch: [link to post]

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  16. APAC Frequent Flyer Says:

    I fly once a week (yes, over 45 flights last year) across Asia and use three or four engines to compare flights. 80% of the time, is the best deal. I would recommend that you include it in your next comparison. It also has a very handy flightmap interface that makes it easy to see if you are backtracking on connecting flights.

  17. Cortomaltese (Carlo Alvarez Spagno) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Excelente articulo sobre agregadores y meta-buscadores en USA: [link to post]

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  18. David Says:

    I’m a bit surprised at you saying people should avoid Dohop. I agree that which site you should use really depends on where you’re going and where you’re flying from. Skyscanner is probably the best for UK, Kayak for US, but outside those countries, then Dohop is consistently better than the others. This is especially true if you want to use the low-cost airlines to get the best price, and also if you are going to far off places that are not a part of the networks of the larger legacy carriers.

  19. Mark Ashley Says:


    Agreed, Vayama is a good site — in fact, here’s a link that will give you $15 off most of their fares — but they’re an agency, not an aggregator. I didn’t include Vayama in the comparison for the same reason I didn’t include Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Zuji, Opodo, etc.

  20. Mark Ashley Says:


    I would take your defense of Dohop more seriously if you were not posting your comment from an IP address that resolves to I welcome companies’ responses on this site, but outright shilling is not acceptable.

    To your points, all I can say is that Dohop fared poorly in the tests I conducted, as laid out in the post and comments above. For ex-US fares, the site relied heavily on results from Terminal A, while your competitors found lower fares at other agencies like eBookers or directly from airlines. The fare differences were rarely even close, with most of Dohop’s results $100 to $160 more than competitors. Perhaps there are times that Dohop could find lower fares than the other sites referenced in the article. I just didn’t find them.

    I also think it’s interesting that you are conceding the US and UK markets to your competitors.

  21. madeira holidays Says:

    nicely disaggregated! I hadn’t realised there as many players. it’ll be interesting to see who still around this time next year.

  22. wmadjones (David Jones) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Good read comparing Flight aggregators (Kayak, Sidestep, TripAdvisor Flights, etc.). TripAdvisor Flights wins. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  23. goodtugo (tugo) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    RT @TravelEditor: Which airfare aggregators are best? [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  24. Ross Veitch Says:

    Mark, this is Ross Veitch from I’m a fan of your site and of the ‘disaggregating’ series but am puzzled by your comments about fares on being un-bookable.

    If you performed an “Airfares + Availability” search with depart/return dates we would have only shown you prices for bookable fares. Like all the big meta-searchers we cache results (as do the airlines and OTAs) to reduce costs to partners and increase query speed but our cache accuracy is consistently > 95%. We spend a lot of effort on QA to ensure the fares we show match what’s available to book on our partner sites. It’s neither in our interest nor our partners to waste people’s time with fares they can’t book.
    Note that we also offer an “Airfares Only” search & browse path which lists the best airfares x airline for each city-pair without respect to fare availability. Obviously these fares won’t always be bookable for all dates but our users understand this and find it a very useful feature.

    Up until recently we did have a “Sponsored results” flights program where partners could buy the top search result. In line with best practice these results were all clearly labeled as “Sponsored Results” and shaded differently to make it obvious to users. We’ve since replaced the program with our new “Flight Spotlight” program which allows advertisers to show rich creative’s in the flight results targeted by city-pair and customised based on search parameters. Testing has shown our users much prefer this and our partners love it. Default sort for flight search results is total price ascending.

    Please help us understand what was your specific problem with un-bookable fares for follow-up as it’s a rather depressing thing to be called out for bull*** when we’re actually trying to be pretty white-hat in this industry.

    Thanks for the opportunity to chat back.

    Ross Veitch
    Chief Product Officer,

  25. Mark Ashley Says:


    Thanks for leaving your comments here. A few responses, clarifications, and extensions:

    For starters, yes, I did indeed test the “Airfares + Availability” feature. I didn’t test your “Airfares Only” option, because I recognized that this would not necessarily be returning bookable fares.

    Sponsored results: You say you “recently” removed the “sponsored results” at the top of the results page: When did you make this change? My research was conducted within the past two weeks, so the change has to have been made very, very recently. I will make a notation in the original post that sponsored posts are no longer featured.

    (FYI, so there’s no confusion: Searches for a given city pair and dates were conducted simultaneously across all sites, to make it an apples-to-apples comparison.)

    Base fare vs. All-in total fare: I didn’t mention this in the review, but I would offer you an additional critique. You don’t show all fares with all-in pricing, and that’s irritating. It skews the results in the matrix, by making one fare look much cheaper than the others. Yes, you add two red + signs, but the practice still promotes one fare as an outlier. Ironically, hovering over the price actually shows more price detail, and clicking through actually yields an all-in price, so I question why the matrix result isn’t inclusive of taxes and fees in your original result. To your credit, that fare is not first on the list of detailed fares below the matrix, but I still think that’s misleading and, frankly, defeats the whole point of an airfare metasearch.

    Here’s an example, with pieces of screengrabs, to hopefully illustrate my point:

    Here’s the matrix of search results for a search for fares from Paris to Dubai.

    The Swiss flights have the “++” next to the fare, but they sure look cheap! Then, when you hover your mouse over the fare, you see:

    What the heck happened? The base fare went from 186 to 181 (yay?), and you can see the fare is sold by ebookers. Confusing things even more, if you click on the 186, you see the following:

    Wait, now the fare is sold by Asiatravel — what happened to eBookers? And more confusing still, if you hover over the Asiatravel price, you see a price come up for Lessno! Click the price, and you’re taken to Asiatravel, which quotes in Malaysian currency. Converted to EUR, it’s a total of 487.88.

    Who’s who? This is unnecessarily confusing, and sure doesn’t breed confidence.

    Caching and availability: I recognize that fare queries are a moving target, and I understand that you and your competitors use caching, which has its tradeoffs. You say your caching has a 95% accuracy rate. I assume that the 95% rate would apply to all fares returned. Which is fine, but in my own experience, some of the lowest fares returned were either expired, unavailable, or simply higher than the quoted price. Target sites where the fare was different from the quoted price included, Openjet, and eBookers.

    Perhaps you changed some things since I ran the first tests a couple weeks ago. I just ran some tests again, and fares on your site were indeed bookable. And in this instance, they were tied for the lowest rates with your competitors, Momondo and Mobissimo.

    I welcome your comments, and you should feel free to continue the conversation, here on the site or offline.

  26. Suresh Ramasubramanian Says:

    One website that’s quite popular in India is Ixigo ( .. kayak etc clone, and one of the best I’ve found for fares ex India, or Indian domestic fares.

    And you missed the granddaddy of them all – ITA Software, login as guest (or create a profile) at

  27. Mark Ashley Says:

    Suresh, I’ll be sure to check out Re: ITA Software, I didn’t miss it. It’s right near the bottom of this admittedly very long post, right below Trax. I didn’t give it equal standing with the other sites, though, because you can’t book fares through ITA. It’s a favorite site of mine, though, and I’m glad others feel the same.

  28. Ross Veitch Says:

    Mark, thanks for the detailed follow-up and bug-report! There was an error in the code that populates our fare matrix that caused the multiple issues that you identified. We pushed live a fix for that today.

    Base fare vs. All-in total fare: There’s actually more to this than meets the eye. In an ideal world we would always show all-in total fares as this is clearly more useful for end users. Many of our partners however, particularly the Asia based OTAs who often have the best negotiated fares, are unable to do this in a real-time and/or in a cost effective manner.

    The underlying reason for this crippled shopping functionality is primarily the reality of GDS economics in the Asia-Pacific region but also to some extent a preference on the part of many local OTA’s to manage their fares in private fare databases separate from the GDS systems which makes it very difficult to develop advanced shopping functionality.

    For Wego this means we need to be able to display side by side both basefares and all-in total fares. How to sort these is a non-trivial problem because we don’t always have a common denominator. For a while we tried to estimate the all-in total based on the basefare but there were too many variables to do this reliably. What we now do is display the all-in total results before the basefare only results but we still include both but always clearly flag the basefares as such.

    Sponsored Results: We removed these Mar-31 after some existing obligations to partners expried. I agree with you this doesn’t make for a great user experience.

    Caching and availability: We think we do a pretty good job of systematically identifying price discrepancies and technical issues with partner deeplinks but maintaining these for the 200+ websites we refer users to, all of which change page layout & structure on a surprisingly frequent basis is a never ending job and one we’ll never get it 100% right, 100% of the time. Where there are problems though I assure you our users are not shy about letting us know about it!

    Ross Veitch
    Chief Product Officer,

  29. Suresh Ramasubramanian Says:

    Mark – yes, I missed your mention of ITA Software on my first read, apologies. As for ixigo, take a look, its not bad at all (and as for orbitz type booking agencies, there’s in India, just as popular). Ixigo also provides the booking backend for sites like ..

  30. easytravel (Easy Travel) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    A great ranking of online #travel metasearchines. #Tripadvisor ranks 1st, with #Kayak close 2nd. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  31. CrazyCat Says:

    Really cool blog. I found it on yahoo. I am looking forward to read more posts.

  32. CrazyCat Says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts.
    You have a great Blog!!! I just added you to my Google News Reader.
    Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Keep up the good work.

  33. rickdog (rick shide) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Aggr> Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009: Which airfare comparison sites are the best? [link to post]

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  34. ChrisJLyons (Chris Lyons) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    Best airfare comparison site: TripAdvisor Flights: From article [link to post].

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  35. Andrea MacLean Says:

    Hi Matt – I work with and would be curious to hear what you think about the site. The international deals are especially good. Do you have any thoughts I could share?

  36. links for 2009-05-14 « Participatory TV Says:

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  38. Upgrades and Downgrades — Pilot pay, Kayak searches, TSA names, and hotel taxes | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] but not quite enough: Kayak’s search engine A month ago, I reviewed the airfare aggregators or metasearch sites. I gave TripAdvisor’s new engine the win, largely because of its ability to estimate [...]

  39. greld (LaShanda) Says:

    Twitter Comment

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  40. Upgrades and Downgrades — Airborne, maintenance, special luggage delivery, the rebirth of Skybus (sorta, and more | Upgrade: Travel Better) Says:

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  42. TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor) Says:

    Twitter Comment

    @jpramey We, of course, are partial to TripAdvisor Flights! So is Upgrade Travel Better: [link to post]

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  43. Jeff Says:


    Thanks for the great review. It would be interesting to know the price difference you found for each site. Was it a few dollars, or several dollars? If I am searching for airfare, I will normally find the best deal from one of the sites above and book it.

    I am not worried about saving a few dollars if it is going to take me an additional ten minutes to do it. I would rather have my free time.

    Remember, time is money.

  44. Fare Target Says:

    Interesting to use them, but I noticed Kayak and especially SideStep have much higher prices than the companies (like airlines) that directly sell their services…

    So, my tip is look it up with the aggregator, compare prices, but buy directly from the service provider.

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  47. John Says:

    I would like to recommend – Very simple!

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  49. Sweden travels Says:

    I am not sure about aggregators, but in terms of travel search engines (where you cannot actually book, just search) is my favorite. They have all I usually need in terms of flight search, easy to understand, shows total price that is really actually cheap and newly they also show the number of award miles you can get with a flight.

    I do not like Kayak however, for some reason, I would rather search with Expidia or anyone…

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