How to find cheaper flights than Kayak

Do you think Kayak shows you the cheapest flights?

Most people do. They think airline aggregators like Kayak show them all their options, including the cheapest ones.

When people hear about Location Asia’s flight booking service, their first question is:

Why should I book a flight with you?

Doesn’t Kayak already show me the cheapest flights?

No. Aggregators like Kayak show you limited flights.

Here’s how and why Kayak doesn’t show you the best flights

1) Airlines are limited.

Specifically, Kayak shows only airlines that publish fares on expensive Global Distribution Systems (GDS), which connect vendors (airlines) to customers (travel agents).

2) The already limited airlines prefer you book the cheapest flights on their official website, and so they publish select flights on Kayak.

From airfarewatchdog:

Airlines these days sell many of their best fares on their own Web sites, with special site-only sales, promo code fares, and other deals.

So airlines are limited. Flights are limited.

3) Plus, you only see the straightforward routes.

They can’t get creative for you, which is a shame if you’re location independent and can work from anywhere.

For example, you want to fly from A to C. Airline X flies route A to B. It also flies route B to C. But if it doesn’t publish straightforward route A to C?

You won’t see it. Which is a shame, because that flight is usually cheapest at little or no cost of convenience.

So if you can’t find it in Kayak, Skyscanner, and other aggregators…

Then how can you find the cheapest flight?

Here’s the thing. Kayak is not totally useless. It’s a good tool to use to get a general overview of who flies where and for how much. But if you want to buy the cheapest tickets, Kayak is just the beginning.

Here’s a step-by-step process to find them:

  1. Use Kayak as a baseline.
  2. Go direct to budget airlines that fly your origin and destination.
  3. Check other routes, especially through hub cities of airlines that fly your origin and destination.

Let’s go to the real world. You are in Cebu (Philippines) and you want to fly to Chiang Mai (Thailand) in June 7. Your dates are flexible. You just want want the cheapest flight (that’s not too crazy on layovers)

Step 1: Set your baseline price using an aggregator. Let’s say Kayak. This is your price to beat.

Use Kayak to find baseline price

Use Kayak to find baseline price

In this case, $261 via Silk Air. It has an overnight layover in Singapore and takes almost 24 hours. Pretty sucky.

When I search flights for my clients, I also use Skyscanner and Momondo just to be sure. But let’s keep it simple.

Step 2: Figure out which budget airlines fly your origin (Cebu in the Philippines) and destination (Chiang Mai in Thailand). Check out the flights on their websites.

Here’s a good list from Wikipedia.

  • Philippines: AirAsia/Zest, Cebu Pacific/Tigerair, PAL Express
  • Thailand: City Airways, Nok Air, Nok Mini, Orient Thai Airlines, Solar Air, Thai AirAsia, Thai Lion Air

It sucks a little because that’s a long list and you have to visit each one individually. There’s not really a shortcut for this. But in my experience, it’s usually worth it.

Just do a quick search on each one. Here’s what you’ll find.

Cebu to Bangkok

$191 Cebu to Bangkok via Cebu Pacific

So Cebu Pacific doesn’t fly to Chiang Mai. No worries. It flies to Bangkok. We can take a different airline from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

$48.72 Bangkok to Chiang Mai via Air Asia

$48.72 Bangkok to Chiang Mai via Air Asia

So the cheapest booking to get from Cebu to Chiang Mai via budget airlines are:

  • $191 Cebu to Manila to Bangkok (BKK) via Cebu Pacific (P8,464)
  • $49 Bangkok (DMK) to Chiang Mai via Air Asia

Total: $240

Our baseline is $261. You save $21 or 8%. Hardly worth it… You even have to transfer from BKK to DMK.


But we’re not done yet. Time to get creative!

Step 3: Using your list of budget airlines above, check other routes, especially through their hub cities.

See this Wikipedia page for airline hubs in Asia.

In this case, you’ll find that Cebu Pacific flies almost all of its flights through Manila. And Air Asia’s hub city is Kuala Lumpur.

Let’s see what happens if we take these routes.

1 — Cebu to Manila via Cebu Pacific (hub city)

Cebu Pacific: Make sure to select the specific flight, and see the REAL price in the upper right corner

Cebu Pacific: Make sure to select the specific flight, and see the REAL price in the upper right corner

Take note that Cebu Pacific likes to hide the fuel surcharge and taxes from you.

2 — Manila to Kuala Lumpur via Air Asia (hub city)

Manila to Kuala Lumpur via Air Asia

Manila to Kuala Lumpur via Air Asia

3 — Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai via Air Asia

Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai via Air Asia

Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai via Air Asia

So that’s a total of just $146.71.

  • $31 Cebu-Manila via Cebu Pacific (P1,355)
  • $79.43 Manila-Kuala Lumpur via Air Asia
  • $36.28 Kuala Lumpur-Chiang Mai via Air Asia

You save $114.29, or 43.78%.

Worth it?

In summary, here’s what Kayak didn’t show you.

  • Cebu Pacific’s flights (budget airline)
  • Air Asia’s flights (budget airline)
  • That you can fly from Manila to Chiang Mai via Kuala Lumpur (Manila-Kuala Lumpur is not a published straightforward Air Asia flight)

Now, you won’t always get almost 50% savings like this one. Don’t get stuck and think you’re doing something wrong when you don’t. Sometimes Kayak does show you the best flights.

When I just started, I felt a little depressed every time I couldn’t find substantially cheaper flights for my clients. Isn’t that what they hire me for?

And I realized, no. My job is not to beat Kayak 50%. It’s to do the work that ensures they don’t miss out on good opportunities to save.

Now you know the process I use to save my clients money. And you didn’t even have to hire me :D

Ok, your turn. Have you found the best booking for a specific route because you fly it so damned much? I’d love for you to share in the comments.