Hunting for airfare that costs less than the down payment on your car? Let someone else do the looking. Fare-alert platforms, which send email notices when ticket prices plunge, are an excellent way to procure the cheapest possible airfare for your itinerary. Signing up for fare alerts saves time and effort. And since most sites employ advanced technology to monitor routes and prices, this option is most likely more effective than doing a search yourself.
Below are some of the biggest and best sites that offer fare alerts, with a brief description of what each site has to offer.
SmarterTravel: At the risk of issuing a shameless plug, we'd like to mention the site you're looking at right now. Yes, we offer fare alerts. Sign up for our city-to-city alerts and we'll let you know when the best prices pop up.
Airfarewatchdog: Our sister site uses a crew of expert flight finders to unearth dirt-cheap fares. The site often turns up "hidden" sales that aren't advertised. And unlike most other fare-alert platforms, Airfarewatchdog lists fares from Southwest.
Kayak: Once you register with Kayak, you can receive price alerts for flights and hotels. Kayak's particularly great if you're searching for cheap fares before you've even decided on a vacation spot; that's because you can sign up to receive fare-drop alerts from your home hub to 25 popular cities in different world regions.
FareCompare: According to FareCompare, the site uses a "proprietary airfare database" (read: a fancy computer system) to track fares and issue alerts when prices drop.
Southwest: Since most fare-alert sites don't show Southwest fares (note, though, that Airfarewatchdog and SmarterTravel do), it helps that the site offers a fare-tracking app, called Ding. The app lets you know when limited-time sales are available for your selected route.
Yapta: Yapta allows users to track fares for exact flights—in addition to tracking fares for specific routes and dates. Yapta will also tell you if the price falls for a ticket you've already purchased. (Sometimes airlines will issue a refund if the price of your ticket drops after you've purchased it; it never hurts to ask.)
TripAdvisor Flights: Create alerts with our sister site TripAdvisor, which has some pretty cool features: It can factor baggage-fee costs into the price of your ticket based on how many pieces of luggage you plan to pack, and it displays user ratings of airlines.
The Big Booking Sites: Your favorite major booking site offers fare alerts as well. You can sign up to receive emails when prices drop for set routes and dates on Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz. If you regularly book with one of these online travel agencies (OTAs), it makes sense to take out the middleman and start your search there.
What's your favorite fare-alert site?
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