I’m not old enough to remember a time where you had to book a flight without the use of technology but I am old enough to know that you couldn’t always do it from your mobile. There are plenty of apps out there that allow you to book flights in Australia, so we’ve rounded up the ones you should be using whenever you're looking to start planning a journey.
Of course, there are four major airlines in Australia for flying between the major cities – Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin and Tiger. Each of these carriers have their own apps, where you can both book flights exclusively with them, check-in and look at their current specials. For the sake of this app round up, we’ve just looked at apps that aggregate the best prices for flights (and often, they aggregate prices for other travel needs too - like car hire or hotels!)
Further to that, I also used the exact same route each time, flight VA401 from Adelaide to Sydney on September 8th, to compare the prices and functionality of each app using a standardised flight.
You’re likely familiar with Webjet, the Melbourne-based travel booking website founded in 1998. I’ve written before that Webjet is a staple of my travel booking routine, but I’d rarely actually looked at booking through their mobile app before.
One of the major benefits I found with Webjet app was that, at least for the way I used it, there was no need for me to create an account. Being able to jump in as necessary and just search for a flight without signing up was a welcome change from the rest. From a functionality point of view, Webjet defaults to listing the cheapest flights via departure times but you can of course filter by price, airline, time of departure and amount of stops.
Navigating the app is simple and the layout makes it obvious what the best deal or best price is. You can book flights, hotels, flight and hotel packages, cars and travel insurance from the home page.
The major negative with Webjet is that VA401 was listed as $170 and, when booking was finalised, the total came to $204.90, with Webjets ‘Booking Price Guarantee’ adding $12.95 and a ‘Servicing Fee’ that adds $21.95 on top of the airline’s fee.
To get onto the Skyscanner app, you have to sign up with an email, Facebook or Google. Like most aggregator apps, you can also book hotels and car hire directly from the app.
One of the major advantages in the navigation and layout of the Skyscanner app is that when you select a date it gives you an obvious, colour-coded pricing range for all dates in that month. Green is real cheap, red is expensive. This makes it infinitely easy to choose which days you should pick to book and when the cheapest flights that month, or even that week, are. It’s really helpful if you’re not set on a particular day to flu and even if you are, it gives you a good indication of what you’re likely to pay, well before checkout. If you don’t have a destination in mind, it also offers up a whole range of options from your departure airport in its ‘explore top deals’ tab on the homepage. For instance, I could see the best deals for getting from Sydney to anywhere in Australia or view the best prices internationally, all at the click of a button.
For flight VA401, Skyscanner listed the best price as $159. There were no extra fees tacked onto this price. It does take you out of the Skyscanner app to book through a secondary website, which is bothersome – for instance, I had to book through travelgenio to get the price that was listed.
The app is also powerful because it offers price alerts for the routes you’ve decided upon and will let you know when prices change on that specific route. It’s a handy feature if you’re looking to book a holiday in the future.
Like Skyscanner, Kayak requires sign in from either a Facebook or Google account or your own email address. The app itself is quite minimalist, but uses large boxes to filter information – it’s visually very easy to navigate.
When searching for flights on certain dates, Kayak offers advice directly at the top of the screen on whether to buy now or wait for prices to get better within the next week. It’s an obvious, easy-to-understand utility that is definitely appreciated, especially when searching for domestic flights. Similar to Skyscanner’s app, you can also turn on price alerts for the specific route and date you’re looking at and receive push notifications when prices change.
Kayak lets you sort flights by the cheapest, their recommended and the shortest route (which isn’t such a big deal in Australia). When booking the flight, Kayak redirects to whatever site is offering that price. When looking at flight VA401, Kayak had it listed for $162, but I couldn’t determine why it was $3 more expensive than other websites. Unfortunately, every time I tried to click through, I had to re-enter the flight details into the website I was redirected too. This happened a couple of times on other routes I tried to book too.
You can also book car hire and hotels, in addition to tracking the status of flights. Kayak’s homepage also features an ‘explore the world’ option which shows you a map of the world and how much flights are from your departure airport. For instance, I could see that the cheapest price from Sydney to Hawaii was around $500 between two dates that I chose next year.
Expedia is a massive American travel company that started as a division of Microsoft in 1996 and now has a huge network of network of websites that aim to make booking flights, hotels and cars. Unfortunately, their app lacks a couple of the features that I’ve really come to look for in a travel booking app. You will need to create an account with Expedia to start using it.
The app feels purely built for those that know when and where they want to go and that can be a disadvantage. Instead of offering a huge calendar that shows you the amount you’re going to be paying on certain days of the week or certain times of the month, the Expedia app only gives you fare prices for the day of your choice. Because of this you can’t easily see comparable fares at different times of the week. That won’t be an issue for everyone, but it means Expedia isn’t my go to app when I’m starting to plan a holiday.
However, one of its major advantages over other apps is that it allows you to also book ‘Things To Do’ at your destination. If you’re the kind of person that likes to plan out your trip well in advance, this will be a blessing to you. If you’re a little more sporadic, then Expedia is very similar to the other apps on this list.
From a price point of view, Expedia did offer the cheapest, or equal cheapest price for VA401 and a number of international routes that I looked at and provides a transparent fare breakdown that lets you know exactly where your money is being spent.
Hopper is a travel app that I hadn’t actually used before researching for this article, and it’s an interesting one, because it is built for US travellers and, at first, I didn’t think it would be relevant. However, using it in Australia is possible, just remember that the prices are set to USD by default and you’ll need to change that setting.
From a functionality point of view, it’s as simple as any other app on this list, but because it is based in North America, it always offers up locations in the US and Canada first. Once you’ve picked your destination, it offers up a colour-coded monthly calendar that displays four price ranges. Select a date and it immediately tells you the cheapest price and whether or not you should book now or wait for a price drop. From there, you can add the route and date to a watch list or get straight to booking.
Sadly, Hopper currently only lists Virgin and Qantas flights. I couldn’t get it to show me any Jetstar or Tiger flights for any dates in the next 6 months.
Interestingly, though this didn’t happen on every occasion, when I was looking at flight VA401, the total price came to $115.10, which converts to around $145AUD, about $14 cheaper than any other app. This factored in the Hopper booking fee (a small commission they take from the savings they offer you), but not the foreign transaction fee.
However, those fees are usually around 3-5% extra, which would mean booking through Hopper could have saved me around $10. At the time, there were no cheaper Jetstar or Tiger flights, so I’ve included Hopper on this list because it has potential to save you a few dollars, especially if you’re working on booking flights on a quick turnaround.