How to Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Airline Tickets

Sifting through airfare options online can be challenging, especially if you’re looking for the most affordable ticket price. Here’s how Google Flights can help make finding the right airfare for your dream destination a cinch.

How to Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Airline Tickets

Google Flights is one of the best places to look online for airfare.

Photo by Dennizn/Shutterstock

Google Flights is what you’d expect from the most popular search engine on the internet—it’s an incredibly fast and comprehensive search engine that’s just for flights. Unlike online travel agencies, Google Flights is not a booking service, so you eventually have to leave the site to purchase your travel. But it’s really good at what it does—helping you to find the best possible airfare for your particular travel preferences and budget. Its tools and features are particularly useful for finding cheap fares without making you feel like you have to trick the internet into giving you a travel deal. Here’s an overview on some of the best features and ways to book a flight using Google Flights.

What features should I use to get the best deal?

Calendar tool

We’ve found Google Flights’s calendar tool to be better than that of any other flight search engine’s, such as Kayak or Skyscanner. It’s easy to find the lowest fares if you are at all flexible on travel dates—that’s true if you have a day or two to spare on either end or if you want to travel at some point in the near future.

After you enter your departure city and destination, click on the calendar icon to the right. If you haven’t put specific dates in, it automatically prefills them; default results show flight prices for options on four-day trips that are populated two months at a time (be aware that flight search is only available for departures in the next six months).

Adjust the preferred length of stay in the bottom of the calendar and the prices immediately reflect the change. If you click on any specific date for departure, the price on each subsequent day represents the cost of a trip that returns then. You can also filter out things like layovers (under “stops”), and can also press “reset” to start with a fresh departure and return date. However you ultimately modify your search, Google Flights will update the results to show you exact prices.

Explore tool

Is saving money a travel priority? Google Flights makes it easy to plan a trip on a budget. Put in your origin city, say Charleston, on the main page and scroll down a bit. You’ll see “Suggested trips from Charleston” on the left and a map on the right. If you click on the map, it will take you to a new page where to specify a “weekend,” “one-week,” or “two-week” stay in a specific month or in the next six-month period. The map adjusts the visible airfares based on the parameters you set, so to find deals in your price range or with the airfare class you want, use the sliding price scale and the drop-down menus above it.

If you have a specific country, continent, or region (such as the Caribbean) in mind, but don’t exactly know where is best or more cost effective, search is available for larger areas like “Europe,” “South America,” or the “United States,” and get multiple options.

Pro tip: Look for the toggle on the map that says “Update results when the map moves” if you want to simply click and drag to another region on the map and check how fares adjust. You never know—maybe a cheaper flight will be across an ocean!

Google Flights’ tools can help you avoid unexpected baggage fees.

Google Flights’ tools can help you avoid unexpected baggage fees.

Photo by Travel Man/Shutterstock

Price graph, flight tracker, and baggage

The price graph is another tool that helps compare flight cost. The tool appears once you’ve searched between two destinations (say, Charleston to New York City). Clicking on “price graph” displays a bar graph that shows a wealth of information, including a visualization of the cost of a trip over a period of time—say, what a five-night trip between Charleston and NYC might cost if you left the day after the date you initially input into the search, or five nights after. You can also easily add to the duration of the stay by clicking the “+” button on the price graph, and see what it might cost for airfare with a six-night stay instead, for example.

If you’re not ready to purchase a ticket, use the flight tracker to track a route or specific flight and get email alerts when the price changes significantly.

Google Flights has also added a filter for baggage. Select the preferred number and type of bags (carry-on or checked) and prices will update with what each airline specifically charges, or it will provide an easy link to check on the carrier’s website. For basic fares that don’t include carry-on bags, an icon showing a suitcase with a line through it appears next to the fare. This is a handy feature because you won’t get fooled into thinking you snagged a deal, only to spend money later to bring clothes with you.

Does location matter?

Google Flights makes it easy to search multiple airports to find the cheapest flight. If you start typing New York, it will automatically suggest that you include all nearby airports. Manually add airports with the “+” button—up to seven in a single search. (For an easy way to check how far “nearby” really means, select the Nearby Airport button next to the Price Graph and a map view will appear.)

Founder of website God Save the Points, Gilbert Ott, says you can often find deals if you are even more flexible in terms of departure city. For example, say there’s a business-class ticket you want from London to San Francisco for about $2,200 round-trip. “But if you start in Frankfurt,” Ott says, you could “get the same flights you would’ve been on from London for $1,500.” This requires that you find a cheap trip to Frankfurt and have extra travel time, but it could also be a great way to spend a few days in another city first.

What about points and miles?

Because Google Flights is a search engine and you purchase the ticket from a third party or the airline itself, you apply your points and miles the way you normally would.

Should I still compare prices against other sites?

Google Flights does a great job compiling and sorting fares, but Jack Sheldon, founder of Jack’s Flight Club in the United Kingdom, still suggests “cross-checking [Google Flights] with popular online travel agent aggregators like Momondo and Skyscanner to make sure you’re grabbing the cheapest fare.” His company created a plug-in for Chrome that does this for you. Once you’ve chosen a flight in Google, it opens tabs to the sites you’ve selected (Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak) and prefills the information so you can compare fares without going through the hassle of manually entering the details.

>>Next: Everything You Need to Know About TSA Pre-Check

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