There are many flight tracking services available. Two of the most popular though are PlaneFinder and FlightReadar24.
Both appeared around ten years ago. Back then, there wasn’t much to choose between the two. Both offered a free and paid option. Both offered more or less the same information. And both have since switched to a subscription based service! Back then, it was a case of which one you liked the look of.
But which is best? Having used FlightRadar24 for the most part – as mentioned above, it was purely an asthetic thing, I recently decided to take another look at PlaneFinder.
Whilst I was still able to download the paid version I had from many years ago through the App Store, it was more than a little basic. So instead, I went for the paid version. This granted me a three month trial period, which was more than enough time to run it side by side with FlightRadar24. The first thing that struck me was how much better it looks these days! Gone are the blocky red planes, and in have come something that closer resembles what you would find on FlightRadar24.
As I was writing this, the Red Arrows started a fly past. Both apps featured the flights however, FlightRadar had a far more accurate model.
Where as if you relied on PlaneFinder, it could be easily missed.
Other than the looks though, what are some of the more major differences? I’ve taken a sample from the web client, the iPhone and iPad apps to try and give a snapshot of what each is like to use.
The first thing that I noticed when opening up plane finder was that the interface was a lot more basic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however. The more I used it, the more I found that the extra features found in FlightRadar24 were a little redundant. At least to me. Others might find them a deal breaker however.
One feature that PlaneFinder does have over FlightRadar24 however is the ability to use airline logos in lieu of flight info. At least on the desktop version. You are able to access this option on the mobile apps however. Unless I’ve missed it on desktop.
As I said, the more basic features aren’t an issue for me personally. However, the point has to go to FlightRadar24 here, because it does have a lot more customisation features.
Both apps offer a range of features. A couple of which are unique. Probably my favourite and most useful feature is one that FlightRadar24 offers. This is the ability to look up which specific aircraft is scheduled to operate a flight up to two days in advance in some cases.
With PlaneFinder, you can only view past flights.
One area where PlaneFinder pulls one back though is what information is displayed for a particular flight.
It should be noted that it is possible to find the same info on FR24 as PlaneFinder. However, it involves a bit more digging as opposed to it being right there.
One feature that PlaneFinder offers over FR24 is the option to add the offical aerodrome charts over a select few airports. But it is just a few – Amsterdam Schiphol, Dubai, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Los Angeles and New York JFK.
Both apps offer an AR view of the world above you.
Tough to call a winner on this one. Both offer different features. But just because FR24 offers one that is more useful to me personally doesn’t mean that PlaneFinder should lose the point. Therefore I’ll call this one a tie!
From using both services for a few weeks, one was FAR superior to the other when it came to the data displayed. More on that in a second though.
Using the desktop apps, FlightRadar24 uses Google Maps as a base.
Where as PlaneFinder uses the less detailed Open Street Map – which is what FR24 used many years ago.
On the mobile apps however, they both use the built in Apple Maps. Therefore there is little, if anything to choose between the two.
The main area where FR24 beats PlaneFinder hands down however is the aircraft coverage. Even in the screenshots above, if you note the Tianjin Airlines flight that has just departed Heathrow, you can see that FR24 has all the data. This is a common theme with PlaneFinder I’ve found. Although having said that, PlaneFinder does have the info for the aircraft approaching Farnborough. Where as FR24 doesnt.
Now, being a consumer, I cant say for sure where a plane is actually flying. But in the exmaple above, an Iberia A330 is flying over The Baltic States. Therefore it is far more likely to be flying from Madrid to Shenzhen than between Bologna and Madrid! This wasn’t an isolated case either.
Again, unless this United flight was taking an extremely scenic route, it is far more likely that FR24 has the more accurate data.
One area where PlaneFinder can claw something back though is that it shows far more military aircraft. A few weeks back, a Qatari C17 flew over. PlaneFinder picked this up no problem. Where as it was nowhere to be seen on FR24.
Despite this, I still have to give the point to FR24. In addition to the route discrepancies, PlaneFinder has virtually no coverage over Northern Africa. Where as FR24 does show at least a few planes.
As you could probably see from a number of my screenshots above, PlaneFinder offers a dark mode option for its iOS apps. This is something that is lacking from FR24.
Both apps offer a 3D plane view – which is included as part of a subscription in FR24, but a paid add on in PlaneFinder.
However, FlightRadar24 does offer a dedicated radar view on its web browser version.
PlaneFinder simply offers map or satellite view.
To be honest, the simple street or satellite view is probably sufficient for most users. Although it is always welcome to have extra features to play with!
Another added feature of PlaneFinder is a very in depth database, which mostly features information on particular flights, aircraft and airlines. There is likely more – but I didnt want to fall down a rabbit hole or I would have been there for hours! Although one disappointing feature was that there were still adverts on the page, despite being logged in.
FlightRadar24 offers similar information, however it isnt anywhere near as in depth.
Therefore the point has to go to PlaneFinder on this occasion.
Both services offer weather layers to overlay on the maps. I’m led to believe this is a fairly new feature on PlaneFinder. Where as it has been on FR24 for quite a while now. As such, there are more options on FR24 compared to PlaneFinder. Although it must be said that to get every feature on FR24, you need to be subscribed to one of the higher packages.
When it comes to asthetics, once more FR24 has it spot on. As mentioned though, I’m led to believe this is PlaneFinders first attempt, so their graphics will likely improve over time.
Therefore, once more the point goes to FlightRadar24
When PlaneFinder and FlightRadar first launched, I recall them both being the same price. And both apps were a one time payment for the premium versions.
However, like most services these days, both have gone to a subcription plan. And one comes out as the clear winner.
For FlightRadar24, you get the basic info for free. For anything more, you’ll be paying between $9.99 and a whopping $499 per year. Monthly plans are also available.
PlaneFinder uses a far simpler system. Either free, or a more reasonable £9.99 per year, for a plan comparable to the FR24 Gold level.
Both apps are avialable pretty much everywhere. Phones, tablets, desktop and the Apple Watch. Previously, FlightRadar24 offered a dedicated MacOS app, however this was discontinued many years ago now.
In addition, PlaneFinder offers an AppleTV app. Although this is the stand alone version of the app, meaning that even if you pay a subscription, you will still have to pay for the TV app. From the looks of it, it still uses the od red aircraft models, which says to me that it has been somewhat forgotten about.
Despite this, Planefinder still offers a dedicated way to track planes on your TV, where FR24 doesn’t. So PlaneFinder gets the point.
So after nearly 1500 words, the conclusion is that both services are as good as each other!
I guess the best way to sum it up is that you get what you pay for. Where PlaneFinder lacks a little in coverage, you’re not paying as much for it as you are for FlightRadar24.
As both services offer a free trial period, download both and see which service suits you the best.