How to set price alerts for cheap flights

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Tracking airline tickets can turn a sane person into a conspiracy theorist. Do airlines track my computer? Am I punished for booking on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday?

The truth is that airfare prices are dynamic. Pricing algorithms are influenced by a long list of factors – flight time, number of seats sold, location demand, etc.

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 family travel blog Flying With A Baby, has enough time before a trip, she sets up price alerts and plays around with different search configurations. 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 ability to know if you’re getting a good deal on a given price. The only downside? It doesn’t catch every airline, with major omissions, including Southwest.

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To get started, head to Google Flights, then choose your itinerary 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 for buying 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 Hopper mobile app 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 you’ve downloaded the app, search for your flight, then select “Watch This Trip” to be notified when prices change. If you think you’re seeing a good deal but aren’t sure you want to book yet, you can purchase a temporary price freeze. Expect to pay a deposit ranging from $5 to $40 depending on how long you want to hold the fare (you have up to a week). If you end up booking the flight, that fee is charged to your trip. If you pass the tickets, you lose the deposit.

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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 sign up for newsletters from sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights, Thrifty Traveler, Airfarespot, and Airfarewatchdog to get deals based on your airport or region. You may end up with an offer in your inbox that matches your travel needs.


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