You've picked the perfect spot for this year's vacation, and now the trick is getting there without going broke. That's easier said than done, especially if you're flying.
I've told you before that the days you choose to buy and fly can drop prices quite a bit, but you still may be paying more than you should. If you don't use the right service to compare prices, you could miss the cheapest option. With that in mind, here are six essential places you need to check to get the best deal.
1. Up a creek WITH a paddle
For finding deals on flights and hotels, one of the most popular services is Kayak. It pulls information from a range of airlines, so you get a good comparison. You can filter and sort the results by airline, stops, airports, price and flight times to find exactly the flight you want.
In addition to comparisons, Kayak has other great features, like a rental car finder, flight tracker, hotel reviews and alerts that tell you when a ticket you want drops in price. If you need to use Kayak on the go, you can grab the free app for Android and Apple.
2. Deals in the sky with diamonds
Skyscanner is a powerful search site that doesn't just scour airline sites for ticket prices; it scans sites like Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia and many more to find the best deals.
Like other services, it lets you filter the results by price, cabin class, airline and departure and arrival times, but you can also set the travel dates to "Whole Month" or "Whole Year" so you can see ticket prices for an entire week or month.
And if you aren't sure where you want to go on vacation, Skyscanner includes an "Everywhere" search that finds you cheap travel deals around the world based on your nearest airport.
Like Kayak, Skyscanner also includes hotel and car rental searches, so you can plan your entire trip. There is also a Skyscanner app (Android, Apple; free) that focuses solely on comparing airline ticket prices.
3. The best seat in the house
Unless you're flying Southwest, with its open seating policy, booking a flight means you also need to select a seat. Often that choice isn't as much about price as it is about comfort features like legroom, distance to the restroom, etc. How do you know which seat is best?
In addition to helping you find a cheap flight, SeatGuru has cabin maps for more than 700 planes across 100 airlines. Based on those seating maps and more than 45,000 passenger reviews, it helps you find the best seat on any airplane. There's also a free SeatGuru app for Android and Apple.
4. So hip it's nuts
It's good to save on your travel costs, but past a certain point some savings aren't worth the extra hassle. I mean, I'd rather pay $30 more for a flight that doesn't require getting up in the middle of the night or suffering through a five-hour layover.
Hipmunk not only compares flights and lets you sort and filter them in the usual ways, it also includes an "agony" rating. This lets you quickly spot flights that offer the best balance of price, stops and departure time.
The site also helps you find flights that include Wi-Fi, lets you see the best deals on flights to popular destinations and makes it easy to compare and book hotels. You can also set up alerts so you know when a certain flight drops in price. For on-the-go booking, download the free Hipmunk app for Android and Apple.
5. International travelers should apply
If you're going on an international trip, you'll want to check out Momondo. It pulls information from airlines and travel sites around the world, including low-cost regional carriers. Plus it works in 21 languages and handles 80 currencies.
Filtering and sorting airlines is simple, with options for stops, departure and arrival times, airlines, ticket type and airports. You can also sort flights by "cheapest," "quickest" or "best." You'll appreciate its calendar view, which shows you the average ticket prices for upcoming dates.
The Momondo site offers help finding hotels, car rentals, holiday rentals and complete trips for a set budget, and it has a fun "Inspiration" page with great trip ideas. Naturally, there's also a Momondo app (Android, Apple; free) for finding travel deals while you're away from your computer.
6. Last but not least
No list of "search" services would be complete without an entry from Google. It's working hard to make Google Flights a one-stop shop for travelers, and it helps that Google owns the company that provides flight information to many other travel sites, including Kayak.
Google Flights has most of the features other sites have, including the usual sorting and filtering categories, a calendar view with upcoming ticket prices, the ability to see ticket prices for an entire destination region at once and great current deals to popular spots.
It also includes the "save my itinerary" button that lets you know about price drops and an "I'm Feeling Lucky" button that lets you put in travel dates and have Google find the best deals and locations available at that time.
More tips you need to know
Any of these sites and apps will be useful in finding cheap deals, but no one place is going to have everything. For example, none of them include information from Southwest, and some might be missing other airlines.
So don't rely on just one app or service. Try several different apps to see if one includes a carrier or deal the others didn't.
When you find a cheap airline ticket, check the airline's site to see if there's an even better deal. Some deals are available only through the carrier's site.
Remember that most of these apps don't factor baggage and other airline fees into the price. You'll need to work that out for yourself before you buy so you can see the real price you're getting.
When it comes to international travel, you can save big by booking multiple legs of the journey through different airlines. In addition to trying the apps above, research which regional airlines operate in those areas so you don't miss a potentially money-saving option. Considering the strong dollar right now, there may be big advantages to buying airfare on those regional carriers in the local currency once you arrive.
Finally, be willing to settle for "good enough." If you find a deal you're happy with, don't spend 10 hours looking for a better one that might save you only $40. Instead, spend that time making extra money for your trip. Click here to learn how everyday activities can boost your bank account.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.