One of the most frequent traveler questions is, “Should I book my flight now—or could the price still go down?”
Airline ticket prices are dynamic—they’re influenced by the number of seats available on any given flight, the time of year, demand for the location (for instance, whether there is a special event like the Olympics or a World Cup tournament), the price of oil, the number of flights on any given route, and more—making it nearly impossible for the average traveler to predict whether certain airfares will go up or down.
While you can surf the web until you find a price you’re willing to pay (or just book and hope you’re able to rebook your flight later if the fare drops), it may be easier to allow price alerts to do the heavy lifting for you behind the scenes.
Here’s what you need to know about price alerts, how they work, and how to set price alerts so that you can nab the best flight deals when they present themselves.
What are price alerts?
Price alerts are optional alerts that you can set up using flight search tools such as Google Flights, Kayak, Hopper, and Skyscanner. They use algorithms to track your selected flight routes and dates of travel and will notify you via email (or push notifications if you’re using an app) when the price changes. Or if you’re flexible (say you want a cheap flight during spring break but are less concerned about where you go), some websites will keep an eye on various destinations for you (sending good deals at random or for multiple designated locations).
How to set up fare alerts on Google Flights
Google Flights is one of the most popular flight search tools for a reason. It allows travelers to see numerous flight and airfare options, book tickets, and even compare flights’ carbon emissions. You can also filter based on how many stops you’re willing to make, what airline(s) you’d like to fly, and whether bags are included.
To track flights (either a specific one or all flights on a given day), enter your departure and arrival cities as you normally would, as well as the dates you’d like to fly. After you hit search, you’ll notice a toolbar will appear below the information you input (and above the list of departing flights) with the options to track prices for the specific days you chose or for any dates. Clicking either of these will sign you up to receive email updates on price changes for that flight.
It’s worth noting that Google Flights doesn’t catch all the deals—it doesn’t capture any price information from Southwest Airlines, for example (that’s because Southwest prevents third-party websites from showing its fares). You also don’t purchase the tickets directly through Google Flights—the website sends users to the airline’s website or another third-party site that sells flights.
How to set up fare alerts on Skyscanner
Skyscanner, a website that pulls prices for flights, hotels, and car rentals from across the internet, operates similarly to Google Flights. After you’ve added your dates and preferred route (though you can also click “Add nearby airports” to get results for other area airports; Google Flights has this option, too), you’ll be taken to the results page. It has a “Get Price Alerts” button near the top left side of the screen. You’ll have to create an account with Skyscanner to opt into the price alert emails. Typically, if your flight is within 100 days, Skyscanner will email you a daily update. If it’s further out, notifications will come once a week.
While Skyscanner has the option for you to search for flights “Everywhere” (meaning it’ll search for the lowest-priced tickets to every country during that time frame), the functionality doesn’t work with price alerts. If you’d like to keep an eye on multiple destinations, you’ll have to set alerts for all of them. Luckily, Skyscanner will bundle your searches into one email, making it easier to compare prices (and save your inbox from being overloaded).
How to set up fare alerts on Kayak
Kayak does a great job of aggregating a list of the cheapest flights, hotels, and rental cars on a given date or range of dates. For flights specifically, it can also track prices to help you get the best deal.
You’ll first need to create an account with Kayak to get the alerts. Then, after you search for your destination and add the dates, you’ll be able to click “Track prices” on the page that lists all the flight options. The tracking button is in the upper left corner, and above it, you’ll find Kayak’s advice on whether you should buy now or wait (based on its projections of if the fares will drop in the next seven days
Whether or not the price changes, Kayak will send you daily notifications about the ticket price unless you alter the notifications in the settings section of your personal profile (in the top right corner of the web page). It’s also possible to keep tabs on your alerts by going to your Watchlist, also located on your profile page.
What’s particularly nifty about Kayak is that it’s the only one that allows you to set flexible price alerts. So say you want to fly from Los Angeles, California, to Bali, Indonesia, but don’t care when, you can select “Flexible Dates” and then further choose “Anytime” to receive alerts when the price drops below average.
How to set up fare alerts on Hopper
Hopper, a flight price search and booking tool, not only notifies you when a price drops but also lets you know if it predicts that fares could rise.
To set an alert, you’ll have to go to Hopper’s website or download the app. On either platform, you’ll need to select “Flights” and fill out where and when you’d like to go. The next page will show the current flight prices and Hopper’s prediction about whether you should buy now or wait for a better price. If it’s the latter, there will be a “Watch This Trip” button in the middle of the page—it’ll allow you to opt into email updates or push notifications for the flight or flights you’re tracking.
Subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights isn’t technically like setting a price alert for one flight or destination; it’s a newsletter service that sends domestic and international flight deals to your inbox. But it’s a good way to save money on travel if you’re open to exploring a new destination based on a great flight deal.
In each email, the Scott’s Cheap Flights team includes information about what deals they’ve unearthed and how you can score the cheaper rate (they also share how much those flights typically cost).
Scott’s Cheap Flights has three versions of its service:
A free version, called Limited, where you’ll get a selection of international economy-class deals for up to five airports of your choosing, delivered each month A Premium version, which costs $49 per year and includes international and domestic economy-class deals from up to 10 airports. It also provides mistake fares (when an incorrect, lower fare is accidentally listed on an airline website) from your home airport, as well as weekend getaway deals.And an Elite version, which regularly costs $199 per year and includes the same perks as Premium and deals for first-, business-, and premium economy–class tickets from an unlimited number of U.S. airports
From November 21 to 28, 2022, you can save 51 percent on Premium memberships ($24 per year, instead of $49) or $25 off an Elite membership ($174 per year, instead of $199) during the Scott’s Cheap Flights Mega Sale.
Bailey Berg Bailey Berg is the associate travel news editor at AFAR, where she covers breaking news, trends, tips, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. When not interviewing sources or writing articles, she can be found exploring art galleries, visiting craft breweries, hiking with her dogs, and planning her next adventure (at present, she’s been to 75+ countries and hopes to spend time in every one someday).