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I have just spent a whole day chasing some cheap flights. What a minefield. Mind you I consider myself an expert in such matters. It is just that flight search engines are generally pretty poor – and that includes even the best of them. I have used top-flight ones. They try to be good, they try to be great. But they have a long way to go.
Let me cut to the chase by saying that what I want out of a flight search engine is, well:
- No bullshit: Many of them start by saying we search all the flights. What they actually mean is they search most of the expensive airlines. They also throw in a few cheapo carriers to look good. What they do not say and what they do not do is a comprehensive search across all cheap carriers. To do that you have to go hunting and you largely have to do it yourself.
- Search by destination: My next thing is that often I know where I want to go. Where I fly from is very flexible. None of the search engines I have tried understand this. You see if I travel locally then I can stay with friends overnight in order to make an early morning flight. This extends the holiday – so no loss to me. So I don’t want a search engine that says that I have to check each airport in turn. That is a big waste of my time, and I have just spent a whole day searching – so believe me it is a waste of time.
- Flexible Dates: Yes, some are adding flexible dates but generally they are poor at it. Some just add a day either side, others perhaps 3 days. What is flexible depends so much on how much choice of flights there are. If there are around 3 flights per day then yes one day either side might be okay. If you have only one or two flights per week then any concept of flexible date searching needs to understand that. All the websites that I tried today did not do that.
- No Hidden Extras: Some websites kindly provide flight times and extras up front. Others hide these things until you are a looong way down the purchase process. What a real turn-off that is. One for example at the last page suddenly added in fuel surcharge, just before committing credit card information. If I had not noticed it then I could have bought into the wrong deal. I know, websites consider such things as “sales strategies” to boos their profits by providing headline cheap seat prices, but hidden extras are going to stop people buying again – and again.
Let me finish by saying what we have available today as flight search engines are a lot better than they were. However there is a lot of money to be made by the airline or flight search engine who implements the above principles – in full.