It’s not as slick as apps like Kayak or Hipmunk, but for my money, ITA OnTheFly (free) is probably the best flight search engine app for the iPhone out there. Not only does it cover the basics for pricing out flights, it is also a killer app for finding the cheapest tickets in a flexible range of dates. The interface is simple and easy to use, and search results appear quickly.
The Killer Feature. Let’s say I wanted to go to Honolulu for 5 days sometime in January or February, but I didn’t have an exact date in mind. ITA’s Calendar-search interface lets me drag around that range of 5 days on a calendar and it will show me the cheapest departure/return prices for the 5-day span. I can, of course, change that range to 4 days, 2 days, etc. A line chart at the bottom makes it easy to view the fluctuating prices for a 30-day period—this is a really sweet timesaver.
Basically, OnTheFly’s Calendar search is an efficient way at pricing out plane tickets, especially if you’re on a tight budget, have flexible vacation dates, and are looking for the cheapest dates to fly. And the feature is not offered by the Kayak and Hipmunk apps.
OK, Maybe Not Really a “Hidden” Gem. ITA has actually been around for a while. Professional travel agents still use its QPX software. The company was purchased by Google in 2010 to power its own flight search tools. ITA’s software currently powers sites like Orbitz, Kayak, United Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, etc. Hardcore flyers uses its website along with fancy search codes to suss out “hidden” cheap flights. There’s a whole culture around this stuff. But the app is indeed a hidden gem in the sense it doesn’t get as much press as the Kayak or Hipmunk apps.
Covering the Basics. OnTheFly can be used for the more traditional search of entering specific dates as well. And it has all the filtering tools for what you’d want for that, including filtering by number of stops, cabin class (economy, business, first class), and departing/arriving time of day, etc.
Other Features. A map view traces out all the flights from a search, including flights with multiple stops. This can come in handy if you want to build in a stopover to your vacation, or just want to see what other airports have flights to your destination. The History tab makes it easy redo past searches, and the Itineraries tab is where you can save specific flights.
Negatives. OnTheFly is far from a perfect app. It’s definitely not as pretty as Kayak or Hipmunk. As of this writing, the app hasn’t been updated in about a year. And, you can’t book tickets through the app, so you’ll have to call or go to the airlines websites for purchases.
When it comes to finding the cheapest airline tickets over a flexible range of dates, ITA On the Fly is the best iPhone app I’ve seen. And while its far from being the prettiest or slickest airline-ticket search app, it’s nevertheless fast and efficient and covers all the basics in addition to the killer “Calendar search” feature. Because the app is owned by Google and used for its own flight search tools, the service has considerable computational backbone to keep things speedy.