Which airline has the cheapest tickets?

PHOTO: Airplanes are pictured at an airport in an undated stock photo. STOCK/Getty Images
Airplanes are pictured at an airport in an undated stock photo.

Here’s question I get a lot: Which airline has the cheapest tickets? Answer: They all do, at one time or another. There are some examples below, but the most important thing to keep in mind is if you only visit a single airline’s website when booking a flight, you may pay too much. This Q&A will help explain.

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Q: Isn’t Spirit always the cheapest?

A: No. Nor is Allegiant and same is true for Frontier. These airlines may often have the best fares, but not always. Here’s an example found last week for a Friday/Monday trip from New York to Ft. Lauderdale in January:

• JetBlue: $355

• Spirit: $378

Q: Why would big airlines like American, Delta or United ever be as cheap as the smaller discounter carriers?

A: They want your business. All airlines need to fill as many seats as possible and offering the lowest fares is generally a good way to do that! Here’s an example on a competitive route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for a long weekend in January (and again, these fares were found last week):

• Alaska: $97

• United: $97

• Spirit: $107

Note: The above prices are very good, so they may not last (in fact they may have disappeared by the time you read this). Keep this in mind as you shop for tickets; the cheapest deals are few in number and if you take too long to purchase, other shoppers may snap them up.

Q: Is there a simple way to find the cheapest fare, no matter who offers it? A: If your plans are flexible, meaning you can fly on weekdays instead of a more conventional Friday-to-Sunday or Saturday-to-Saturday itinerary, use a deal-finding tool that zeroes in on the best fares in a particular month or season. Even if you don’t want to fly on those days, it’ll give you an idea of what’s out there and what’s cheap. If your travel dates are locked in, go to an airfare comparison search site and you see the best fares for specific days.

Q: How come I don’t see Southwest on my multi-airline shopping site?

A: Southwest is the only U.S. airline that does not share its airfare data with search sites so you actually need to go to an comparison site plus Southwest’s site. Maybe Southwest will have the better deal, maybe it won’t, but by checking out all your airfare options you’ll know for sure which airline is cheapest for your travel needs.

Rick Seaney is the Chief Executive Officer for FareCompare. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.