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Which airline is the cheapest? Here is the answer

Depending on where and when you fly, and there is a simple trick to finding the cheapest airline every time you shop.

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Which airline is the cheapest? Simple: All of them.

Wait, let me rephrase that: Every airline is the cheapest, depending on where and when you fly, and there is a simple trick to finding the cheapest airline every time you shop.

Not the ultra-discounters always the cheapest?

Alaska, Frontier, and Spirit have often dirt cheap rates — don’t feel bad for them; they make a lot of money on everything out of pocket costs to the soft drinks and seat selection — but they are not always the cheapest. Take a look at these round-trip prices for flights in the middle of February, which were found earlier this week. (But keep in mind, rates change quickly.)

New York Ft. Lauderdale:

  • JetBlue: $137
  • Spirit: $142

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This may seem surprising, considering Ft. Lauderdale is one of the Spirit is the operational base cities, but that is how the rates worked out in this scenario. Let’s look at another example, with this round-trip fares from Alaska Airlines and Spirit in February.

San Francisco/Oakland to Los Angeles:

  • Alaska, $77
  • Spirit, $93

Here is yet another instace of a larger carrier offering a cheaper roundtrip than Spirit.

From Chicago to Houston:

  • United: $79
  • Spirit: $81

The prices are almost identical, but the edge goes to – surprise, the large carrier. Please note that we do not suggest Spirit has no good offers; it’s often not, and sometimes the rates are significantly cheaper. But that’s the point — Spirit and other super-cheap airlines that are often cheaper but not always cheap.

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Why would the more expensive airlines will ever be as cheap as an ultra-discounter?

To get you to buy a ticket, of course. Airlines know that if they do not comply with or in the vicinity of the very cheapest rates, they end up getting buried deep in the results of shoppers’ searches and no one will be their prices. On the routes that are most important for carriers, they offer competitive prices. It is how airlines win the airfare game; shoppers win by comparing prices.

How can you find the best deal on every flight?

Compare the rates on airfare comparison search site like FareCompare or one of the many others that are out there. If you do not compare – for example, you simply go to your favorite airline’s website – you could still get a deal, but you can also pay more than you have to.

Where does Southwest fit in?

The southwest is the only U.S. airline not to share rate data with a search sites, so any smart shopper should be a two-step equation. First, go to a comparison site and check out the best fares for your route to follow; then, in another window of the browser, then click to the Southwest to see what it offers. Compare the prices and to book your trip.

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Remember, only you can say that is the best trip for you. A cheap way helps, but it can lead to a longer route than you have time for it, or it comes too early/too late for your liking. Take a moment to consider your options, and remember that the best deals are not reserved for only the lowest cost carriers.

Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com an airline ticket comparison shopping website

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