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I'm looking to travel from Rome to Baltimore in late April.

By using some popular flight search engines I've found some opportunities with 1-2 connections. But I have the impression there could be better options online (like direct flight to some other American cities then connection to Baltimore).

Generally speaking is it worth taking time to look for different flights manually (quality/cost/time)? Or those searches engines really provide the only feasible opportunities?

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Look at the airport's arrivals board. In the case of BWI you'll see that international arrivals are uncommon, and from Europe are almost nonexistent...unless you want to fly via Iceland. That'll probably be more expensive than any itinerary you've already found. – Michael Hampton Mar 7 at 19:16
    
A quick look for a random April weekday shows tonnes of one-stop options, many quite reasonable. Beyond that, short of chartering your own plane, it all depends on what you mean by "better" – Gagravarr Mar 7 at 19:18
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"Worth" is entirely a matter of opinion. I used to take a bit of enjoyment crafting itineraries with unusual connections, in part because I could garner more frequent flyer miles that way, so it was "worth" it to me to spend ten hours researching a flight instead of watching television or playing a game during that time. But I don't enjoy it as much any more, and it's no longer rewarding to do so in terms of miles, either. And while I've found some good deals by lengthy searching, I've saved in aggregate much more money simply by being lucky with a regular flight search. – choster Mar 7 at 19:35
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"is it worth taking time to look for different flights manually (quality/cost/time)?" - This really depends on how highly you value your time, and how good you are at finding cheap flights. Services where you pay people to do this for you exist for a reason. (See travel.stackexchange.com/questions/16029/…). – davidvc Mar 7 at 21:37
    
It also doesn't hurt to just call airlines and ask. I've noticed that if you're friendly and the rep is knowledgeable, a lot of times they'll hook you up with e.g. promotions that you may not know about, that kind of thing. – Jason C Mar 8 at 1:02
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Well these search engines provide you the flight itineraries (and if you have tried many sites chances are you found the best connections already).

However as you mention a combination of direct flights + ground travel might be advantageous. A good site to check your options is Rome2Rio. Here are their results for a search from Rome to Baltimore. That gives you a cost and time estimate for alternative options, but note that results are not date specific, i.e. for each of those you will have to manually search the connection for your travel dates.

In this case one alternative to connecting flights to Baltimore is flying into Washington Dulles airport and taking a train. The time saved compared to the shortest connecting flights is in the minutes so I guess your advantage would be in terms of price, if so. Note also that you would be purchasing two different tickets (flight + train) so your connection might not be guaranteed (and you have to haul luggage), while with connecting flights on a single ticket in the case of delay the airline is responsible for ultimately getting you to Baltimore.

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I recently discovered FlightFox when searching for something better than a travel search engine. They have "experts" who use their detailed knowledge of flight schedules and discount loopholes to find crazy deals on travel. – Brian R Mar 8 at 16:57
    
@BrianR also see the comment of davidc to the question above and the linked question: travel.stackexchange.com/q/16029/32134 – mts Mar 8 at 17:08

There are airlines whose flights are not in the search engines. I found a number of them while planning trips in the Pacific. Since you have starting and ending airports in mind, the website of the airport itself will tell you what airlines fly from it. You can then check their websites to see if you can find flights that are not in the big search engines.

In my experience, if you can find acceptable flights between A and B, there are not other, better, cheaper, less-stops flights between A and B hiding out there with other airlines. You get out of the big services and into the web site of the little airline in cases where the little airline is the only one who flies that route, and they don't want to be in the services (I think it costs them money.) So if you need to fly from Tahiti to Hiva Oa you'll need the Air Tahiti site. Flying from a US city to a large European city, not so much.

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