Everyone knows that to find cheap airline tickets, you need to shop the various airfare websites, of which there seem to be more and more every month. However, to compare airfares and come up with the best deals is still not an easy task. If anything, the plethora of air fare comparison websites has made it more complicated to figure out the best airfares out there for a given itinerary. Having spent many hours searching for the cheapest air tickets, I wanted to share some airfare comparison shopping tips that have worked well for me, streamlining the process of narrowing down the choices for cheap airline tickets.

How to find the best deals on airfare

First of all, it can be really useful to start to compare airfares a few days before you have to buy. Airfares can fluctuate significantly by the day, and by giving yourself this extra time, you can get a better idea of what are the best airfares for your destination and schedule. Next, in addition to the usual airfare shopping websites (Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and others), there are some newer options that allow you to compare airfares among these sites as well as others. Two of the main websites in this category are Kayak.com and Fly.com. While neither Kayak.com nor Fly.com sell airline tickets themselves, what they do is to do an air fare comparison among many different websites, including the above, to give you a range of options from the different air ticket sellers. These sites will even scan the websites of the airlines themselves, as sometimes, although not too often, the cheapest flight tickets are sold by the airlines themselves.

Kayak.com and Fly.com are airfare portals that have very similar and user-friendly interfaces, which is another reason to go through them first before checking the discount airfare websites to which they will redirect you. In addition to entering your origin, destination and dates of travel, these websites also present you with easy-to-use slider bars that you can use to change your arrival and departure times, maximum travel time and maximum layover time. As you play with the slider bars, the itineraries and fares presented to you get updated on the fly, thus eliminating the need to do a separate airline search for every combination of criteria you enter.

It is important to check both Kayak.com and Fly.com (as well as any other airfare comparison websites you use) as neither of them consistently presents the best airfare or itinerary options for a given destination. Indeed, the cheapest flight tickets may be found on one website on one day, and on another website the following day. Once you find cheap airline tickets through one of these sites, you can click on that option to be taken to the airfare seller's site to make the purchase. But before your buy your ticket, it can be worth going to that seller directly through a separate browser session, i.e., without clicking through Kayak or Fly. The reason is that you might find a still cheaper airfare that way. However, this can cut both ways – for instance, I once found cheap air line tickets through Kayak that took me directly to the airline's website to buy the ticket, but I was not presented with that option when I accessed the airline's website directly.

Do not forget your friendly travel agent

Although many of us now exclusively use the web to compare airline tickets, it is worth checking out the "old-fashioned" option of going through a flesh-and-blood travel agent. Travel agents often have access to special fares that are not posted online. It is especially worth contacting a travel agent who specializes in a geographic area. For instance, there are travel agents who will cater to travelers from a specific country (often the agents and their clients expatriates from the same community, now settled abroad), and they can sometimes have great airfare deals for those destinations that are not available online. I will often contact a travel agent after having checked airfares online – that way I can sometimes get an airfare deal that is better than what I could find online. Even when the travel agent's fare is not the lowest, at least I have a good sense now that I am not overpaying by going online.

Finding the cheapest flight tickets can be quite a challenge these days with all the options we have, but the above airfare comparison shopping tips should help you navigate the confusion around airfare shopping. Good luck!