The Consumer Council in Hong Kong recently examined six travel meta-search engines: Skyscanner, Kayak, Cheapflights, Momondo, DuckDuckLook and Google Flights to determine whether the ticket price displayed on the meta-search engine matched with the actual fare paid by consumers.
The survey was conducted in January and February 2019, with similar criteria entered for actual trial search by each website at least 50 times, including 20 times for short-haul flights, 18 for medium-haul flights and 13 for long-haul flights.
Despite search engines’ claims on their lowest air tickets offerings, the “cheapest” airfares shortlisted by these comparison websites could still vary by nearly double for the same flight.
When consumers were diverted from the comparison websites to the ticket-selling websites for the “cheapest” ticket, they could often find it marked at a higher price. In some cases, these tickets were sold out or not even listed on the ticket-selling websites.
None of these comparison websites showed the baggage allowance, change and cancellation terms and conditions, fare class or booking class or air mileage earnings, which is important information considering these factors can contribute to the airfare.
Skyscanner was the most reliable out of the six flight trackers; Google flights performed the worst.
The council warned that some comparison websites may include search results on hacker fares, which combine different single tickets into one return ticket, or intentionally give up the segment of the ticket to further reduce the price.
Skyscanner, Cheapflights and Kayak performed the best. For a return trip between Hong Kong and Naha, Japan, DuckDuckLook’s ticket price was the lowest at HK$3,021, while the same flight found on Kayak, Cheapflights or momondo was simultaneously HK$3,575. Google Flights, however, offered HK$4,444.
There was a polarised view towards DuckDuckLook. There was half a chance it would show the lowest fare, while there was a 25% chance it would offer the highest fare.
The airfare displayed on Google flights was HK$389.69 lower than the actual fare.
DuckDucklook, which offered the lowest ticket price on a round trip from Hong Kong to Singapore, had a difference of HK$70 between its offer and the actual fare.
Momondo performed well overall. Meanwhile, the lowest ticket Google flights offers was 62% more expensive than other search engines.