There is unfortunately no single magic website that you can go to in 2017 that will consistently allow you book a flight for a price that is significantly lower than what you can find elsewhere.
Also, all the rules of thumb that you read about, including “the cheapest day to fly is Tuesday” and “buy domestic tickets 3 weeks before your departure for the best price”; stuff like that doesn’t necessarily apply to every situation. For example, if there is only one airplane that leaves for some esoteric destination and the next flight doesn’t leave for several days, then you’re going to want to book your ticket as far in advance as possible instead of waiting just a few weeks before.
For my own personal flight searches, I use Google Flights. Here’s the web address: https://www.google.com/flights/ It’s simple, fast, and in my experience provides prices just as good as any other search engine I’ve found. Once you enter your source & destination cities and your travel dates, Google will spit out the best flights in terms of price and convenience. If you want to look at all the other flights, then just scroll further down.
Once you’ve chosen your outbound and return flights, Google provides a link to the airline’s website for you to purchase your ticket. I really like this about Google Flights; you buy your ticket directly from the airline instead of through a third party vendor. I’ve found that if something comes up with your travel plans, it’s much easier to get your issue resolved if you bought your flight from Delta versus Travelocity. One consistent problem I’ve found with booking through a third party travel site is that if you do need to call customer service, the person you speak with is rarely in the United States. You get someone on the other side of the world who can barely speak English and is often clueless. These companies outsource their customer service to save money, and it’s infuriating.
There are still a few select situations where I’ll use other popular search engines like Priceline, Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, and that is when I’m planning a multi-destination trip spanning several different countries. Some of these websites will give you a broader variety of flight combinations than Google, so if you’re planning a journey that has multiple connections or you’re flying in and out of different airports, I recommend using several different sites to make sure you get the best deal.
To help me determine whether or not I should go ahead and buy a plane ticket or wait for a price drop, what I do is I pull up the seat map for a specific flight and see how many empties there are. If the entire plane is open, then you’re probably safe to wait a while to see if prices drop. On the other hand, if there are only 3 seats remaining on the airplane, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to get a cheap ticket regardless of how long you wait.
One word of warning about Google Flights: if you use the mobile site on your phone, make sure you click on “Search” at the top left of your screen before you type in your request. The default setting for the mobile site is “Explore” for some inexplicable reason, so switch it over first so your search results make sense.
If I’m price shopping for a trip well in advance, what I’ll do is perform a search on Google Flights then bookmark the results page. The bookmarked link will retain your entire search, so every few days you can click on the bookmark and see if prices have dropped. By doing this frequently enough, you can usually snag yourself a good deal when fares temporarily dip.
If any of you have any travel sites you prefer for finding great flight deals, please comment below!