The short answer. A regular search on an OTA will return up to 250 results. On a return flight, or multi-city search this includes all possible combinations of each leg. Without using filters you are missing out on better results and in about 50% of the time, cheaper fares.
When searching different flight engines you may notice that you get different routes, timing, prices, and other mind-boggling discrepancies. You can’t find the right flight for you, and don’t understand why its all so difficult. Here’s whats really going on in the background of a “simple” flight search.
Behind the scenes of a flight search
If you are used to searching on Skyscanner or Google Flights – so-called meta search engines – you are used to getting tons of results and combinations and finding the right flight immediately. Then it’s frustrating when booking sites don’t have the same speed, or all the results you’d like to see. This is because a meta search engine scans data from 100’s of providers (OTAs), whereas a booking engine is just one of these OTAs.
OTAs are only able to fetch up to 250 results at a time from the GDS (Global Distribution Systems – the ones who have access to airline inventory). These 250 results are the “recommended” results from GDS providers like Sabre and Amadeus. And don’t usually know exactly which flight you are looking for.
So, Skyscanner and Google Flights, great for overview and can show you 1000s of combinations, but you aren’t actually able to book with them directly. They are simply aggregators.
Getting more results
When you want to book the flight, you’d have to head over to a booking engine. Either use Skyscanner who links directly to one, or… when you know which flight you want, use filters in the booking site to pull them out. For example, you found that the right flight for you, is with some specific airlines. You simply narrow your search using filters, to get only fights that match your criteria. The booking site will send a new query, and their GDS will send 250 more results using only these criteria. This will (should) provide you with a lot more flights that you didn’t see in your initial search.
If the flight you wanted still isn’t showing up, it could be that the combination is not able to be sold together. Some airlines play well with others, some don’t. While a meta search engine can show lots of combinations, a GDS will only show you combinations that you can actually buy together. So combos of airlines that play well together.
This is where it helps to have a 24/7 travel agent on hand, the systems they use can sometimes combine fares in different ways than is possible elsewhere. At AHOY, our self-service search shows mixed combinations of roundtrips, like two one-ways, to help facilitate. We also have 24/7 in-app chat support if you need a helping hand from someone who has access to travel agent systems. If you find a result on skyscanner or google flights, you can always screenshot it and send to our concierge chat. Agents will try and find you the same or similar option.