Sunday, May 19, 2024

How To Use Google Flights To Find Cheaper Flights

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Although there’s a variety of apps and sites dedicated to helping travelers find cheaper flights, many of us end up gravitating to the tried-and-true Google Flights—and for good reason. Google Flights is a fast, powerful search engine that covers nearly all airlines and many online travel agencies. Its extensive suite of features can quickly help you find a flight that suits your plans and budget.

When it comes to finding cheaper flights, there are plenty of factors to consider. Do you have the ability to be flexible with your dates, the departure airport or the arrival airport? How far in advance should you book? Is Tuesday the best day to book your flight? (No.)

Generally, the more flexible you are with dates, destinations and choice of airlines, the more likely you are to get a flight deal. But even if you have fixed criteria for your trip, Google Flights is an efficient way to identify the cheapest flights for your needs.

Note that Google Flights is only a search engine; it does not sell flights. Instead, the search results will include links to various airlines and travel agencies that can sell you the flight you have selected.

Here’s some tips for using Google Flights to minimize the cost of your next getaway.

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Expand Your Airport Search to More Airports

Adding more departure and arrival airports to your search increases the number of flights and may uncover a cheaper option.

Google Flights has the ability to search multiple nearby airports. This is especially relevant in cities with numerous airports like London or New York City. If you enter a specific airport code such as JFK, only flights from John F. Kennedy airport will appear in your results. Instead, enter “New York” or NYC and the drop down menu will show John F. Kennedy (JFK), Newark (EWR) and LaGuardia (LGA). Select “New York” and all airports in the area (JFK, EWR, LGA) will be selected.

Similarly, entering  “London” brings up all six London area airports as opposed to entering LHR, which will only result in flights in and out of London Heathrow. Just be sure that you are willing to travel to or from some of the alternatives, since they may be quite distant.

If you’re willing to travel to another city entirely to depart from (also known as “positioning”), you can enter multiple departure airports into the search box separated by a comma.

You can also select multiple arrival airports as well. This is a great strategy, particularly for Europe, where getting “over the pond” is the major expense. Once in Europe, there are many low-cost airlines with cheap fares that can get you to your final destination.

Set Your Maximum Price and Tailor Your Flight Criteria

Google Flights offers many options to customize your flight to your requirements. Perhaps you’re loyal to a particular airline or airline alliance. Or maybe you prefer non-stop flights. You can even specify flight duration, departure time or preferred connecting airports. Remember though, the more restrictive you make your search, the less flights it will find and this typically means a higher fare.

Stay within your budget by using the slider bar to limit search results to the maximum price you’re willing to pay.

Keep in mind that by default Google Flights displays fares without the carry-on bag fee if one is charged. You’ll see an icon of a roller bag with a slash through it when baggage costs extra. Many airlines include a carry-on bag for free while only a select few charge for a carry-on.

You can use the bag filter to display fares including carry-on bags and/or checked bags to get a more accurate comparison of flight pricing. Google Flights uses estimated bag pricing information from its partners, so be sure to double check with the airline before you purchase your ticket.

Use Calendar View or Date Grid to Find the Cheapest Dates

Calendar View

Once your origin, destination and dates are entered, you’ll be able to scroll through 12 months of flight prices for your itinerary. Click on the small calendar icon. The fare for each day for the current and following month will be displayed for the length of stay you specified.

This gives you a quick feel for when prices are cheapest for your trip not only during the month, but throughout the year. Prices lower than your search results are highlighted in green for easy identification. Shifting your dates even one day can dramatically change the price.

Use the arrows below the calendar to increase or decrease the length of stay. Use the side arrows to move back and forth through the months.

Date Grid

The date grid is similar to the calendar view but is more compact and easy to read. Highlighted green fares show what combination of dates results in the cheapest fare. Red highlights the highest fares.

Use the arrows at the top to adjust the departure date or on the side for return dates.

Track Flight Prices

You can elect to have Google Flights track your flight and alert you via email to any price changes for your specified dates or for any dates. You’ll need to be signed into your Google account to use this feature.

Take a Look at Price Data

Once you’ve selected your dates and your search results appear, you’ll have the opportunity to access some historical price data. Google Flights offers you insight as to whether the fare you’re seeing is normal, high or cheap. You’ll find that assessment under the flight results.

Click on “View price history” and you’ll see historical price data for your flight dates. This graph shows that the price for this flight dropped 22 days ago and since the price is currently lower than usual, it’s probably a good time to buy it.

The price graph shows price trends over time. This visualization makes it easy to spot anomaly dates that are either cheaper or more expensive than the average, which is helpful if you’re looking for the ever-elusive mistake fare. The sample price graph shows that our dates have a lower than normal fare and that the most expensive fares, unsurprisingly, are around Christmas time.

Be on the Lookout for Google Tips

Google Flights will make suggestions such as changing airports or dates to lower your fare, so watch out for those money-saving tips.

Browse Through All the Search Results

Google Flights automatically sorts flight search results using a combination of factors, such as price, convenience and duration, placing the “best flights” at the top of the list. The cheapest flight isn’t always the top-listed result. Since the factors that Google uses to determine the best flights may not be the same as your priorities, it’s best to scroll through the results to see all the options.

Explore with “Explore”

The “Explore” feature allows you to browse the cheapest fares to various places within the next six months. You can launch this feature by entering your desired departure city then clicking either of the two “Explore” icons on the search page, leaving all other boxes blank.

This feature is ideal for travelers who don’t have a specific destination in mind and are more interested in finding a great opportunity.

Once you’ve launched the “Explore” feature, you’ll immediately see a map with the cheapest round trip economy fares to various destinations from the departure airport you’ve chosen. “Explore” defaults to a one week vacation in economy class within the next six months. If you’re interested in business class or premium economy instead, you can change the class of service. Move the map around and voila, you’ll see what’s possible all over the globe.

In the “Where to?” box, you can specify a specific country e.g. Italy or continent e.g. Asia to narrow your search. Or even easier, zoom into a particular area to get more destination options within the map window.

If you find a destination and price that looks appealing, click on the bubble and flight details and dates will appear in the left bar.

If you have a rough idea of when you’d like to travel or have a particular duration in mind, you can customize your search. Click on “1-week trip in the next 6 months” to specify search parameters such as “weekend trips in February” or “2-week trip in May.” “Explore” also works for specific dates.

The same options used for a regular Google Flight search are available in “Explore.” In addition, you can select an interest within “Explore.” Choose from outdoors, beaches, museums, history, skiing and popular to further refine your search.

Play around with “Explore” to find inspiration for your next trip. You might find a totally unexpected destination.

Google Flights Limitations

Nothing in life is perfect and that applies to Google Flights too. Here’s a couple of its drawbacks.

  1. Google Flights does not provide results from Southwest Airlines. It will indicate that there is a Southwest flight for your route but cannot pull the price. You’ll have to go directly to Southwest’s website to get pricing information.
  2. Google Flights pulls its pricing once every 24 hours. That means that you’ll occasionally spot a low price on Google Flights that is no longer available.

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Bottom Line

Google Flights is a powerful and fast way to quickly identify cheaper fares for your flight itinerary. Even if you don’t have a specific destination in mind, its “Explore” feature can help you find a trip that’s within your budget. Use the techniques above to upgrade your Google Flight search skills and save money.

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