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Is there a search engine that considers "mix&match" flight combinations?

My current problem: I need to go from FRA to YLW (Frankfurt/Germany to Kelowna/Canada) on July 29th, and arrive no later than 5pm. The search engines I checked only offer €3000+ flights.

I found a 2-stop combo through LHR and YVR for half that price. I'll probably have to check my baggage out and back in twice, but if the layover times are long enough, who cares?

A real search engine could find that for me (or something that's even better). Or, hell, give me a place to bulk-download the flight schedules from and I'll program it myself (of course I'd also need a way to check seat availability …).

Update: Please read before answering. A search engine which does this should, at minimum, show the flight combination through LHR which I found manually. Note that I need to arrive before 5pm, on the same day.

Also note that this is a generic question; I'm not looking for a specific good flight here -- but the details are useful to illustrate whether an answer is actually valid. :-/

NB: Typo, should have been July 29th.

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Judging from your comments on the answers, you seem to be very keen on that one connection that you found, even if there are cheaper ones. Is there a specific reason for that? –  drat May 6 at 6:12
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You might want to tone down the arrogance a bit. There are many search engines that do precisely that but getting all the data and pricing flights is hard. If you think you could easily do so much better that you can pretend they are not “real search engines” then you probably don't know the industry very well. –  Relaxed May 6 at 8:07
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Your comments are not very helpful, what's your real requirement here? Multiple airline search? All answers cover it. Arrival before 5 pm? Can be specified, at least for several of them. Flights cheaper than EUR 3000? Also seems to be the case for most of them. Layover at LHR? Can also be specified at least with Kayak.com and ITA. Exhaustive database so you can find any arbitrary connection you know about? It doesn't exist. –  Relaxed May 6 at 8:28
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No, "all search engines" do not cover "multiple airline search". They do "airlines which code-share search". –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 15:13
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@MatthiasUrlichs That's simply not true. Have you checked the answers? How did you determine that the various search engine won't produce results like the one you describe? Do you know what codeshare means? What are you really looking for because it seems nobody understand what you mean by “multiple airlines” or “flight combinations”? –  Relaxed May 6 at 18:03
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10 Answers 10

Kayak.com does this in two ways.

First, for connecting flights, it'll search from A to B and you can select 'multiple airlines' in the search results. This combines tickets and airlines to find cheaper combinations.

Secondly, It has a flight type called a 'Hacker Fare' where if it finds one, will display it as such. It consists of combining two one-way flights from different airlines to create a cheaper overall flight. For example, Melbourne to Christchurch return, it may find a Jetstar flight going there, and a deal on an Air New Zealand flight coming back.

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Doesn't work for connecting flights, so not helpful, sorry. –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 2:03
    
@MatthiasUrlichs oh, it does that too, I'll update. –  Mark Mayo May 6 at 2:12
    
The search results I get do show "multiple airlines" hen I turn on the airline selector, but I can't click it and the connection I found is not displayed. :-( –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 2:49
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A long time ago, when I was interested professionally in airline data sources, I remember reading somewhere that at some point Travelocity was the best search engine to find multi-airline tickets (I don't mean the usual partner airline / codeshare arrangements, but actually multiple unrelated airlines). Supposedly they had developed some proprietary technology in-house that allowed them to find, price and issue such tickets. I don't remember how reliable this information was, and the situation has probably changed many times over since I looked at it, but I still check Travelocity for tricky flights.

As for "bulk-download the flight schedules ... and I'll program it myself" - this is an incredibly hard problem, especially once you add fare calculation (thousands of pages of tariff rules) and availability data. If you can really do this, I am sure there are some recruiters at ITA Software (now Google) who'd like to talk to you : )

Also, keep in mind that if you buy two unrelated tickets and the first flight is delayed for any reason causing you to miss the 2nd flight, you're pretty much on your own, whereas if it's a single combined ticket the airline will generally do whatever it takes to get you to your final destination.

UPDATE: Since I mentioned ITA Software above, I've tried their search and it seems to be giving good results for your itinerary. Try it here: http://matrix.itasoftware.com/

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Travelocity is the same as Expedia these days, quite obviously. They don't seem to do that any more. –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 2:39
    
Doesn't seem to do what I want; please read the update to my question. –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 2:48
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Obligatory link for "why flight search is hard", courtesy ITA Software: demarcken.org/carl/papers/ITA-software-travel-complexity/… –  jpatokal May 6 at 5:02
    
@jpatokal That doesn't look very difficult. Since most trips only have 1-3 legs, a probabilistic algorithm could solve it in a few milliseconds (99% of the time). Hell, you could probably bruteforce part of it. –  Navin May 7 at 3:30
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Did you even read the slides? Routing is trivial, it's the fares that are the hard part, especially since they're non-Euclidean (A-C-B is often cheaper than A-B, even though it's a longer distance). This round trip on a fixed itinerary has over 25 million possible fares: demarcken.org/carl/papers/ITA-software-travel-complexity/… –  jpatokal May 7 at 3:36
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Try the Skyscanner. It seems there is a 1-stop flight through YVR for € 918 (at time on writing). And another one through SEA. Please check the dates!

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Since there seems to be a lot of confusion about what you are looking for, it could be useful to have a summary of what has been suggested (thanks and +1 to everybody who answered!). There are several types of tools you can use to find routes combining flights operated by different airlines:

  • Airlines' websites typically sell flights from other airlines (not only codeshare or partners from the same alliance but also flights that can be sold through interline agreements). Obviously there are many limitations but they can find multiple airline combinations.
  • Online Travel Agents (OTA) will combine products from multiple providers and sell them directly to you (typically using a GDS behind the scenes). OTA include Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and in Germany Opodo, Lastminute, TravelScout24, HolidayCheck (apparently no naked flights) or Thomas Cook.
  • Search engines or aggregators search various data sources to find potential connections but redirect you to other websites (either airlines or travel agents) to handle the booking itself. Aggregators include Kayak, Momondo, Skyscanner, Hipmunk, Adioso and Google Flights.
  • Other tools can also be useful. For example, Matrix Airfare Search from ITA lets you look at the details of the fares and use advanced routing codes to refine your search. Unlike all other search engines, it does not provide any link to book the ticket. I don't know much about it but KVS Availability Tool might also be relevant.

The various search engines have slightly different functionality (filtering, specifying complex routes, selecting airlines, exploring various destinations, comparing prices when you are flexible on the date, etc.) Some are more focused on naked flights, other push hotels, car hires, or packages but nearly all can find multiple airlines combinations and many can beat your EUR 3000 price on FRA-YLW. Among the search engines listed above, at least ITA's Matrix, Kayak, Momondo, Hipmunk, Adioso, and Google Flights can also filter by time of arrival.

One thing that very few sites do is combine separate tickets (i.e. list flights that for some reason can't be booked together as one ticket). Generally speaking doing that is a bad idea since when anything unexpected happens (delay, cancellation, luggage problem), you're on your own. Because of that most search engines won't show a “connection” that involve a low-cost airline as these often don't handle connections or sell tickets through third parties at all. Still, at least rome2rio and Kayak seem to do that in some cases (but, because of the drawbacks noted above, they will only display it if nothing reasonably similar as far as price and duration is concerned is available).

For travel agents or aggregators, expanding resources on flights that can't be sold, expose travelers to a lot of problems and might not even be that much cheaper does not make sense. Given that your unspecified connection over LHR was apparently significantly more expensive and cumbersome than the ones found by most websites (including the Condor/Westjet solution mentioned by jpatokal or djhurio), there is no reason why it should figure prominently in anyone's results. Yet, if you drill down their results, rome2rio, Google Flights or Momondo all have FRA-LHR-SEA-YLW or FRA-LHR-YYC-YLW connections around EUR 1800 (at the time of writing) that sound very much like the one you described.

Now, if you are looking for an exhaustive search engine that could find any arbitrary connection then that does not exist as far as I know. Everybody who knows something about the industry seem to agree that it would be much more difficult than you suspect (see this earlier answer and this presentation for a glimpse into the issue). Note that the problem is not so much finding a route (that's a well-known problem) but also getting all the data in the first place and coming up with a price that can be booked. All the tools listed here are designed to find actual bookable tickets, not idly explore flight routes.

If there is a specific reason why you want another connection than the ones found until now, then you need to explain what that reason is. Otherwise, it's difficult to meaningfully search for it. In any case, the problem is not merely that your solution involves multiple airlines because all search engines are fully able to find such connections.

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+1. This should be the accepted answer! –  jpatokal May 8 at 6:44
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I'm a fan of Rome2Rio, which is very good at this sort of thing since it covers most budget airlines. They suggest the following combo:

July 27
Condor DE7070
FRA 2:35 PM
YVR 2:10 PM
10hrs 35min 

Layover next day in Vancouver (YVR) 18hrs 10min 

July 28 
Westjet WS218
YVR 8:20 AM 
YLW 9:11 AM
51min

Price US$1,114 one-way at time of writing.

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rome2rio at least does display multi-airline flights. Unfortunately it still doesn't show the combination that I found. :-( –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 2:55
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Why would it show a two-stop flight for EUR 1500, when it found a one-stop flight for US$1114? Or if you're quoting a return fare, when is the return? –  jpatokal May 6 at 5:01
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http://www.momondo.com/ is pretty good.

I attempted to input your search, modify if I screwed up :)

link to Momondo search (click "Time of day (Outbound) Arrive" and set the right slider to 17:00)

PS: remember to clear your cache before ordering your tickets since many airline companies jack up the price based on your interest and OS choice (Mac users are often met with higher prices).

Edit: additional search options are enabled once you make your initial search, like, show only flight times before 5pm.

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I fixed your link. Current best result for FRA>YLW is 806 Euros (Sembo) for flight on 20140729 arriving before 1700. Momondo is a good site. I usually use it in combination with Google Flight Search and Skyscanner to compare prices. –  bain May 6 at 11:30
    
Thank you, I really need to read up on the exchange formatting. –  Eirinn May 7 at 10:45
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I personally like Hipmunk.

http://www.hipmunk.com/

Shows the results in a Gantt chart so you can easily see flights available from a certain time period or arriving by a certain time period. You can also easily see how many layovers there are, and are sortable by price, agony, and other factors.

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Matrix by ITA Software is excellent for this: http://matrix.itasoftware.com/

It's capable of giving you very complicated fares, and can find some good deals.

You can't book directly from Matrix, it just shows you a fare and a price, but you have to go back through the particular airlines website, or over the phone. This isn't a problem, usually flight search tools just add a surcharge, and you are better off booking direct with the airline.

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Expedia.com definitely provides this functionality. Using your example, the three cheapest flights are multiple airlines:

  • Condor + Alaska
  • Icelandair + WestJet
  • Airberlin + Iberia + Air Canada (though both the first two are actually British under the covers).
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You obviously missed the "arrive before 5pm" part of my question. In any case, Expedia does not show that multi-airline connection through LHR. –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 2:38
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I didn't miss the "arrive before 5pm" part, I just chose not to run your query for you - that's easy enough for you to do. You asked for a flight search engine that combines multiple airlines - Expedia does. You didn't ask for one that provides the specific combination that you found that was cheaper. –  dlanod May 6 at 3:30
    
A search engine that only offers me connections at twice the price isn't exactly useful, now is it? –  Matthias Urlichs May 6 at 4:46
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We don't know that it "only offers me connections at twice the price". We know that one time it offered one person a connection at twice the alleged price. –  hippietrail May 6 at 13:32
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You might try:

http://www.comparavel.com

which compares flights across different airlines.

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