Members of Scott’s Cheap Flights know there are a few flight search engines we routinely recommend, and Skyscanner is one of them. Founded in 2001, Skyscanner is one of the most popular and reliable flight search engines.
Like Google Flights and Momondo, it’s not an OTA (online travel agency), so generally, you don’t book through Skyscanner itself; the site scours hundreds of airlines to find the best flights for the cheapest prices, which you then book through the airline or an OTA.
Here, we’ll give you the lowdown on how to use Skyscanner to find cheap flights.
What Skyscanner is good at:
- Flexible dates searching. Skyscanner makes it easy to see when there are better, cheaper flight options available to and from your destination. Their “cheapest month” option for searching allows users to view the fares for the cheapest month from their chosen departure to their destination. This is particularly useful if you have a set location but not dates.
- Flexible departure and destination searching. Unlike other search engines, Skyscanner allows you to search for flights from one country rather than a specific city or airport.
- Searching within your budget. If you’re not picky about your destination and you just want to go anywhere, Skyscanner makes it easy for you to search within your budget. Their search “Everywhere” button is an exceptionally powerful tool if you’re flexible with your destination.
- Searching last-minute dates. Unlike other search engines, Skyscanner is great at looking for budget-friendly last-minute flights.
- Searching smaller OTAs. Skyscanner is often able to find the lowest flight prices because it searches smaller OTAs that other search engines neglect.
- Price alerts for specific dates/routes. If you have set dates and a set destination, you can set up an alert and you will receive email notifications of price fluctuations on that route.
- An easy-to-use app. The Skyscanner app is one of the best among its competitors. It has a clean interface and is easy to use, and you’ll get price alerts right to your phone.
What Skyscanner is bad at:
- Prices sometimes ghost. Like on Google Flights, prices on Skyscanner sometimes disappear; you might find a great price, but when you go to book with the airline, it’s not valid.
- Their monthly calendar does not live update. Prices are based on other users’ previous searches. This means you’ll likely get accurate pricing for dates on popular routes like London to New York but for rarer searches (e.g. Inverness to Hiroshima), if other users haven’t searched this route recently, the calendar will display only partially filled with no price information for dates. You can still search these dates but you’ve lost the advantage of comparing multiple days easily on a calendar.
- It doesn’t always offer the cheapest option. Though Skyscanner can sometime unearth better prices than other sites, it’s not a guarantee, so be sure to compare results against the same search on Momondo.
- Some of the smaller OTAs are questionable. Not all OTAs are created equal; before booking a flight through an OTA you’re unfamiliar with, do a little background search first. Booking with a small OTA might not be worth it for you.
How to search for a flight on Skyscanner
Let’s say you’re trying to book a flight from Chicago to Rome. You’d like to go in late spring, before peak season hits, and you have about two weeks of vacation time.
First, select your dates and your location. To get wider results, make sure you leave the “From” and “To” fields open to any airport in the area. You can select your cabin class and number of travelers here, too. If you want to do some city hopping, select the “Multi-city” option.
Your results are automatically sorted by the “Best” options (a combination of speed and price), but you can also sort by cheapest and fastest. In this case, the cheapest flight takes twice as long as the quickest option, but you’ll save nearly $300.
Setting price alerts
If you don’t plan on booking immediately, you can set up an alert by clicking “Get Price Alerts” above your search results. You’ll be asked to log in and then will receive emails for any fluctuations in price. This is useful if your trip is still a long while away or you’re unfamiliar with normal prices for the route and want to be sure you’re getting a good deal.
Flexible departure location
If you’re extra flexible with your departure city, then you can search from a country rather than a city e.g. United Kingdom rather than London. The process for searching is identical to searching from one city, but with an extra step showing you the cheapest price from each departure city within the country prior to the calendar view. The cheapest departure airport might not always be the one you expect.
How to set flexible dates on Skyscanner
If you’re more flexible with your dates, you can view prices for the whole month.
There are two ways to do this: you can select the full month before you search, or you can see the full month view in your search results.
To search a full month, just choose the “Whole month” option in the drop-down menu when you’re selecting dates. You can select a specific month or choose the “Cheapest month” option if you’re extra flexible with dates.
If you’re already browsing your flight results, you can still see what’s available in a month. In the top left corner of your search results, you’ll see a text link that says “Show whole month.”
Click it and suddenly you have many more options. If you’re only interested in direct flights, click the button at the top left for “Non-stop flights only.” Note, the prices shown in this calendar are per leg, not roundtrip. And, unlike on Google Flights, these prices are not live updating and may show some gaps or blank dates. This does not mean there are no flights on these dates, but a user has not searched them recently so Skyscanner has no data for those dates. (You can still click on these dates and see the price, it just takes a little longer.)
Once you’ve selected your flights, you’ll receive a list of OTAs you can book with, along with a star rating for each one.
If you’re nervous about the OTA you’re booking with, read through some of the reviews. You may opt to spend a little more to book with a more reliable OTA.
How to use the Explore Map and “Search Everywhere” functions
Let’s take a different scenario. You’re feeling a little burned out and in desperate need of a vacation. You’re not overly picky; you’ll go anywhere that’s affordable and interesting. The dates are still mid-May, with some flexibility.
Skyscanner makes it easy to “Search Everywhere.” All you have to do is click on the “To” field on the search screen, and you’ll instantly see a drop-down menu.
This produces a list of country options with sample prices. Once you click on a country, you’ll see prices for specific cities within that country.
The “Map” feature shows the same results as searching “Everywhere,” but it shows prices available any time within the chosen month, not just for your specific dates. You’ll find the “Map” on the main page at the top right corner of the search box.
This opens an interactive map covered in green and red dots; the red dots mean you’ll have one or more connecting flights, while the green dots indicate direct routes. The best deals are highlighted with information boxes.
You can choose non-stop routes only, or adjust the “Price” filter to fit your budget.
Once you zoom out, you’ll see worldwide options, like London from $395.
If you know that you’d prefer a specific region, like Central America, you can focus on that area of the map to see what prices pop up.
Chicago to Mexico City for $243 is a pretty good price, however, once you click on the pop-up, you’ll see that this price is only for the period of May 1st-3rd. You can add and subtract days in the “Stay for” dialogue box, and see how different dates will affect the price.
The key difference between the two methods is that when you “Search Everywhere” you can search specific dates, but with the Map your search is limited to what’s available within a month.
How to filter results on Skyscanner
You can filter Skyscanner results to help you find the best flight for your needs. You’ll find a full list of filters on the left-hand side of the results list.
These filters give you options for choosing direct routes or multi-stop routes, selecting your preferred travel departure times and trip duration, and selecting your favorite airlines. You can also pick which airports you travel to and from.
So if you want a maximum one-stop flight from Chicago to Rome, no more than 20 hours in duration, and if you want the airline to be a member of the Star Alliance, you can filter down to see only the flights that meet that criteria.
How to book a flight with Skyscanner
Similar to Kayak, it is possible to book through Skyscanner with certain OTAs that they have partnerships with, however these fares only appear if they are among the cheapest options.
In most cases, you won’t actually book your flight through Skyscanner; instead, Skyscanner will refer you to an OTA or the airline that offers your chosen flight and you’ll book with them. This means that sometimes, Skyscanner’s listed fee isn’t necessarily the fee you end up with. Let’s use an $818 direct flight from Chicago to Rome as an example.
As shown before, once you click the “Select” button you’re taken to a list of OTAs that are offering this route. This $818 fare is being offered from AirfareExperts.
Skyscanner takes you to the company’s website and checks to see if the rate is still available.
AirfareExperts, despite its low rating, is actually pretty clear about what’s included (i.e. your baggage).
However, if GotoGate were the best option, you’ll find they’re not as upfront with their fees. You’ll actually pay nearly $67 for one checked bag! For a return flight, that brings up the price quite a bit.
Basically, you won’t know what the extra fees are until you go to book your flight (unless you select Premium Economy or higher at the beginning of your search). If it’s Basic Economy, the fees could add hundreds to your final bill—including fees for checked luggage, hand luggage, seat selection, and your meals.
Here are some commonly asked questions about using Skyscanner.
- Can I choose seats on Skyscanner?
Any seat selection will take place through the OTA or airline, subject to their seat selection fees. Once you’ve been transferred to the booking page of the OTA or airline you should see all options for selecting your seat, if there are any.
- What if I need to cancel a flight booked on Skyscanner?
Be sure to check your cancellation policy with the OTA or airline you’ve booked with. Do this before you book your flight. You may not be able to change or cancel your flight without insurance, or unless you upgrade to a flexi-pass scenario. Just because your airline has a particular cancellation/change policy doesn’t mean it’s applicable when you book through a third-party OTA.
- Is the Skyscanner app free?
Yes, absolutely! Although you will need to sign up if you want price alerts and other bonus features.
- How do I know if the OTA is dependable?
Skyscanner has a good rating system for quality OTAs, and they make sure every single one is vetted. However, some do slip through the cracks—Skyscanner recently stopped referring users to Bestjet and Tripsta because of issues within those companies. If you’ve never heard of the OTA before, do some research to see if it’s reputable, and consider if the amount you’ll save is worth any potential risk.