It’s becoming more and more difficult to find cheap flights nowadays. Soaring inflation doesn’t seem to have an effect on the never-ending demand for travel, leading to very full planes and very high flight prices. Finding the cheapest flight possible isn’t as simple as it used to be.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to know how to use Google Flights – possibly the most popular flight search engine in the world – as effectively as possible. With one simple Google Flights search, you can see virtually all airlines’ flight schedules, the cheapest dates for the trip, insight into price trends, and much more. While the site is very user-friendly and most travelers can manage to search flights in this way, you can take it so much further to find the cheapest airfare out there.
I’ve been using Google Flights for years to find the cheapest flights around the world, and I consider myself a self-taught expert. In fact, at this point, finding crazy flight deals has become a bit of a personal obsession. My greatest success yet was a ticket from Italy to Greece for one Euro (about a dollar) – I hope that gives me a bit of credibility!
Below, I’ll share my top tips and strategies for using Google Flights, which have given me great results over the years. Some of these will be made for the total beginner, while others could be useful for experienced travel searchers. Good luck!
What Exactly is Google Flights?
Let’s start simple – Google Flights is a search engine for virtually all the possible flight options between two destinations. The Google Flights homepage is simple and makes it easy to conduct your search; just enter two cities or airports, as well as travel dates, and your search results instantly display the tickets available from any airline that operates it.
Google Flights organizes the results mainly by price, meaning you’ll usually see the cheapest flight on the top, which is a huge advantage. However, that won’t always be the case – if the system thinks there are disadvantages to a flight, such as a very long layover or a change of airport, it may suggest a “better” flight first. In this sense, Google Flights makes it easy to see the best flights instantly.
Google Flights is not an online travel agency like some of its competitors. While there is sometimes the option to book your flights with Google, they only act as an intermediary to pass on your information. Other search engines, like Kayak and Skyscanner, are able to sell you the ticket themselves – we’ll talk more about why that’s not a great idea below.
You can use Google Flights for one-way, round-trip, and multi-city trips, and you can search for anything from basic economy to business and first-class tickets. Both domestic and international flights to almost anywhere in the world are available. All of these reasons make Google Flights one of the world’s most popular travel sites.
See Related: Skyscanner Alternatives to Book Travel
Using Google Flights to Find the Cheapest Flights
Now, we’ll get into the big tips. Start on the standard Google Flights page and enter your departure city into the search bar, as well as a vacation destination you’ve been dreaming of.
It doesn’t even need to be an airport – enter “Hawaii” if you want; Google Flights is smart. In that case, Google will show you a map with possible airports and prices – click one and select “View Flights.” If you enter a single city or airport, it will send you straight to the search results page with all the flights you could possibly purchase.
Now, you can enter any possible filters that you can’t be flexible on – departure and arrival times, number of stops, specific airlines, and other things like that. However, to find the cheapest flight possible, I strongly recommend being as open and as flexible as possible. You’ll see why in the below tips.
Experiment with One-Way, Round-Trip, and Multi-City
Let’s start with an easy one: most people default to searching for a round-trip flight, which isn’t necessarily wrong. But my first strategy is always to search segment by segment, as one-way flights can tell you a lot about prices and perhaps even get you a better deal.
It’s simple – in the top left, switch from round-trip to one-way. You might immediately be shocked by how cheap the departing flights are or, unfortunately, how expensive they might be. Do the same for the return to get an idea of whether you’re traveling on expensive dates or not, and combine this with the next tip to find the cheapest outbound and inbounds.
Furthermore, buying separate tickets on separate airlines is often the key to finding cheap flights. The cheapest departing flights might be on the most expensive airline to return on. You can find out with several one-way searches.
I’ve also had unbelievable success with multi-city searches, and you’d be amazed at how much money you can save in some cases (and how ridiculous airline pricing strategies are). Take our example of Hawaii from above – search for an arrival to Honolulu and a departure from Maui, and maybe even the inter-island flight in between. I’ve had crazy savings on this exact search that number in the hundreds of dollars.
Use Flexible Dates
Doesn’t it always seem like the cheapest flights are never on the dates that you actually want to travel? That’s because it’s usually true, and flexible dates are essential to getting a good flight deal.
Google Flights makes it very easy to see alternative dates’ prices. For one, you can simply click on the departure date to change it, and the resulting calendar will show you the lowest prices for all days in each month. This is especially useful for using the one-way method, as described above.
Another option, and one that’s better for round-trip searchers, is the date grid, which can be accessed by the button towards the top and on the right. This will bring up an easy-to-read matrix of the total price for departing and returning for the entire week around the dates you’ve searched. A little bit of flexibility on the day you depart or return can go a long way – it’s saved me hundreds.
Search with Nearby Airports
This one is a lifesaver from multiple angles. For one, many large cities have multiple airports that serve them, and not everyone is familiar with each one. Searching all of them at once is mostly automatic on Google Flights.
The easiest thing to do is just enter the city name into the search bar rather than the airport. But even if you don’t do this, Google Flights will suggest flying to somewhere nearby if it knows there’s a better price there. However, my favorite method is to use a city code – LON searches not one, not two, but six airports in the London area. Most big cities have one.
You can take your multiple airports search to the next level by manually entering more cities that wouldn’t automatically go together – this is great for trips where the destination airport is not set, and you have some flexibility in the order. It works just as well if you want to search multiple departure points, too.
To do this, just click the little plus symbol in the search box and type another airport or city. It’s a great strategy if you’re planning a multi-destination trip somewhere like Europe or Hawaii and aren’t picky about the order.
Consider Connecting Flights
Many travelers are quick to check the box for nonstop flights only. It can be inconvenient to navigate your way through connecting airports and even more inconvenient for a delay on the first flight to cause you to miss the second.
However, adding a stop or two can subtract a lot of money from a fare in some cases. This is because direct flights are highly valued by business travelers, who need specific flights and don’t have strict budget constraints, and therefore fares can be higher. It’s not always the case, but it very often is.
Therefore, restrain yourself from limiting your search if at all possible. Stopping at a new airport can be fun and provides a break from flying. You may be able to get into an airport lounge with the right credit card, too.
If there is an unfortunate situation of a delay or cancellation, knowing your rights can make the whole experience less unpleasant. The airline is always required to rebook you, free of charge, or refund you if you prefer. They almost always must put you in a hotel, provide you with meals, and transport you to and from the airport. Plus, you might be eligible for cash compensation if you’re flying to or from Europe!
Price Out Basic Economy Fares & Low-Cost Airlines
The great thing about Google Flights is that you’ll see (basically) all airlines – including ones that charge for everything and ones that sell “basic economy” fares that make prices look better than they really are. These can be great for certain travelers but not great for others.
If you’re simply spending a weekend away and don’t need a full-sized carry-on, these budget fares and airlines can be awesome money savers. However, if your situation is the opposite, basic economy and budget carriers can be a nightmare. You may even end up spending more than you would have on another airline if you add seats, bags, and other extras.
You can easily filter for bags by adding a carry-on to your search – any airlines that charge for one will have a price that already includes it. This is a huge help for decision-making because if the final price of a low-cost airline is comparable to that of a full-service carrier, you can end up with a much more comfortable journey without spending much extra.
Enable Price Tracking
The ability to track flight prices is a huge advantage of using Google Flights. If your trip is more than a few months away, it may not be the best time to book, as prices often start high and later fall. Likewise, it’s good to know if prices are rising fast so that you can book immediately.
To set up a cheap flight alert, simply conduct your search and select the option to “track prices.” If you’re already signed into a Google account, you have nothing more to do – Google Flights will send you an email as soon as a price change occurs on your specified search. You can easily manage your tracked flight prices on your Google account to discard any alerts that you don’t need anymore.
Besides price alerts for specific dates, the function also works for a destination in general. If you’re dreaming of Tahiti and don’t necessarily have a timeframe in mind, you can ask Google Flights to inform you when it finds a good deal to go there in general – an excellent strategy to check off an expensive destination from your bucket list.
Use the Google Flights Map
This feature is applicable to travelers who don’t have any travel plans beyond a departure airport, a budget, and maybe some basic preferences. Google Flights’ Explore map can give you dozens of travel ideas at once, along with their prices, so you can pick one that’s cheap.
On the home page, click the “Explore” button at the top. It will open a large map and move the search preferences to the left. You can select specific dates or each of the months that you are able to travel in, along with the length of your trip – for example, you can search for one-week trips in June, July, and August.
You can also continue to add filters as you would with a normal search, and the map will adjust its results. Each possible destination is represented by a pin with a price – larger pins show cheaper results. The search area can be huge and may include entire continents if you wish.
When you click on a pin, you’ll see a selection of the actual flights on the left, including the airline, number of stops, and flight duration. This is a great way to get destination inspiration. You could find spots across the US you hadn’t considered, or cheap places to fly in Europe that you didn’t even know about.
Always Book Direct
Note that while Google Flights is not an online travel agency, its results usually include fares sold by online travel agencies, and many of the prices you see come from them. If you don’t know what that is, it’s anyone you buy a ticket from that’s not the actual airline – Expedia and Orbitz are two popular ones.
I rarely recommend booking on any place besides airline websites. For one, ticket prices are almost always exactly the same.
An online travel agency will always try to tell you that the same flight booked on their site will be cheaper, but this is rarely the case. Even when it is, the price difference is tiny – meaning a few dollars, usually.
For two, booking directly with the airline allows you to earn frequent flier miles. Everyone knows that the best cheap flights are the free ones, and every time you fly, you should be racking up more of these to fly for free eventually.
Finally, if and when things go wrong on a trip, you do not want to be dealing with the customer service of online travel agencies. They are nearly impossible to reach, often based in other countries, and aren’t ever helpful.
Dealing with them adds an unwelcome layer of red tape; you never know what they can do and what the actual airline needs to do when there’s a delay or cancellation. Bottom line – use Google Flights to find cheap flights and then head to the airline’s website to finish the job.
Check Southwest Airlines Separately
If you’ve noticed, I’ve been careful to say that Google Flights lists virtually all of the possible flight options among the different airlines that serve the route. That’s because there’s one glaring exception: Southwest Airlines.
Southwest flights are not displayed on any travel search engine, so you won’t find them on Google Flights’ competitors either. Southwest doesn’t allow them to access its flight inventory and schedule; they believe that their customers are loyal enough and happy enough to come directly to their site.
Southwest often offers some of the cheapest seats in the sky, so don’t skip this step if Southwest serves your route. There are also benefits to flying with them, like two free checked bags and open seating.
Google Flights covers the vast majority of flights around the world, and while there may be a handful of exceptions like Southwest, the others are surely tiny airlines in obscure places that you probably wouldn’t be flying anyway. The only major exception to keep in mind is Southwest.
View the Price History
If you’re booking to a destination that you haven’t been to, or you generally aren’t sure about what a flight’s price should be, Google Flights can provide unique, unbiased insight. Just below your first few results, you’ll see an option to view the price history, as well as a snapshot of whether the prices you’re seeing are low, average, or high.
That information is already very useful for most travelers. If you open the price history to see even more, you can see a useful price graph displaying that particular route’s prices recently. The trend isn’t perfect at predicting what will happen next, but it can help you make a more informed decision about waiting or buying.
If you see a mostly flat graph with some steep peaks, like in my screenshot above, it can pay to wait – sometimes airlines hike prices on big travel purchase days, only to lower them later. However, if you’re seeing a trend moving higher and higher over time, it’s probably best to book before it gets worse.
Sign Up for a Flight Deal Finder
Finally, one of the top tools you can combine with Google Flights to save money is a deal-finding service that does the hard work for you. Our favorites are Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) and Thrifty Traveler. They spend 24 hours a day on Google Flights in search of the world’s best deals.
The concept is simple: you make an account on their site, enter your home airport (or multiple), and go about your life as normal. Their experts will send you an email the moment they find a price that is well below the usual. You don’t specify any destination or dates – these deal alerts are for any time or place that represents an awesome deal.
Going and Thrifty Traveler will pass on the flight details to you, which you will use to go to the airline’s website to book. You can also use that information to go back to Google Flights and expand on the search, as the prices may be similar for other dates that work better for you.
Premium versions of these memberships get you access to even better deals, including mistake fares and business class tickets. But even if you don’t have the budget for a paid version, there’s no reason not to sign up for the free one.
Pros and Cons of Google Flights
Like any feature on the internet, there are some fantastic things to love about Google Flights and maybe a few drawbacks to remember. I’ve outlined a few of each below in summary.
Pro #1: It does all the internet-wide searching on one page.
With the exception of Southwest, Google Flights truly scans the skies for any possible route you can take between two destinations and puts them on one page with their respective prices. Can you believe there was a time that you would have had to go to each airline’s website for that?
Some of the other travel search engines (more on them below) load your screen with pop-ups and new tabs of things you didn’t ask for. Most travelers appreciate the simplicity of Google Flights – results are no-nonsense, easy to go through, and ideal for decision-making.
Pro #2: You’re in charge of creating the search based on your needs.
While it’s clear that flexibility is key to finding the cheapest flights, it’s sometimes a luxury that travelers don’t have. There are also some compromises that certain people aren’t willing to make on things such as layovers and early morning flight times.
Google Flights doesn’t make you sift through the results yourself to make sure you get what you want. In fact, with just a few clicks, your results are limited to just what you want to see. On top of that, they’ll be organized largely in terms of price, which is very welcome.
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Pro #3: Travelers with flexible dates and destinations can easily identify cheap options.
On the other hand, travelers with a high degree of flexibility have a huge advantage when using Google Flights. Between the date grid, pricing over months at a time, and the explore function, it’s almost too easy to identify the cheapest time to travel.
There’s also the ease of adding an entire city or city code as a destination and the fact that the system will automatically suggest nearby airports that you may not know about. Plus, you can add several places to your search, even if they are totally unrelated – a great way to choose a vacation spot based on price.
Pro #4: Flight cost trends are easy to understand using the price graph and history.
Even if you’re planning a trip to a place you know nothing about, Google Flights can help you make decisions about price. Your search automatically returns insights on whether the prices you found are low, average, or high – you’ll see it under the first few results.
View the full price history for even more insight. You can see the lowest fares Google Flights has seen on this route, as well as the middle ground and the highest.
A graph will visually show you how the price has changed recently. This all can be a serious help in deciding when to swipe your card – and, combined with price alerts, can help you find a really cheap flight.
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Con #1: You might need to be a little tech-savvy to appreciate and utilize all the features fully.
While Google search generally tends to be pretty user-friendly, no website is perfectly navigable for all users. If you’re looking for the main features of booking a traditional flight, it’s straightforward.
Many customizable options can take some practice to get the best use out of them. Multi-city flights, which can save you a ton in many cases, can take some getting used to.
Utilizing the Explore map to find flights to anywhere doesn’t always come easy to the new user. However, with a few practice tries, most people can learn how this all works.
Con #2: Like many travel booking sites, prices may change based on your searches.
If you’re an avid traveler and have booked many flights, you’ve probably noticed that prices sometimes seem to go up after the first time you search for a flight. While many travel websites and agencies deny it, it seems that data tracking and algorithms do impact the prices displayed when you return to a search multiple times.
In other words, once Google Flights sees that you’re searching a certain route, it may pass on a “heads-up” to the airlines, indicating that someone is interested and they may be able to raise the price. This hasn’t been proven, though, and is just something many users suspect.
Con #3: You’ll sometimes find an outdated price.
Once in a while, you’ll find a price that you’re happy with on Google Flights and head over to the airline’s site to book, only to find that the deal is different. On rare occasions, Google Flights displays a price that once existed but has really risen.
This is an issue that all search engines deal with, and there’s not much you can do about it. My best advice is to confirm the price that you see as soon as you decide that it’s a possibility to avoid wasting time.
Con #4: Results sometimes include routes that can only be booked on certain travel sites.
Sometimes, your search will return an amazing price, and you are immediately happy with it. But if you look further at the provider, it may be that that great price is only offered by one or two obscure travel agencies that you do not want to deal with, while the airline charges significantly more – or doesn’t even sell it at all.
There’s a textbook example of this when searching for flights from the US to Europe. You’ll often see SAS Airlines flights at awesome prices only available on other sites and not through SAS. I’m not interested in those, so I often just filter the results to exclude SAS.
See Related: Cheapest Places to Fly Around the World
Google Flights Alternatives
Google Flights is great, but everyone is different, and I’ve met plenty of travel-obsessed people who swear by one of its competitors. Other flight search engine options do the same job but offer a different interface and different user experience – try out some of these to see if one catches your interest.
Just like Google Flights, Momondo displays fares from a huge range of airlines and online travel agencies and can easily help you get the cheapest flights. You can also track prices, save search results, and see flight insights.
I’ve always appreciated that Momondo color codes the calendar for the cheapest dates before you even press the search button – this helps you adjust your search accordingly before it even begins.
Kayak is actually the parent company of Momondo, and while they do the same job, Kayak’s results are laid out a bit differently. Users like the quick look at overall results at the top – prices for the quickest, cheapest, and best flights are displayed at a glance.
The same goes for various filters you can add on the left, and it’s great to see the effect they will have on the price before even trying them. I don’t appreciate how Kayak automatically opens a new tab to search for rental cars, though – I can do that on my own.
I’ve always found Skyscanner’s search results and filtering features to look almost identical to Kayak’s, although I don’t know who’s copying who. Either way, this is another search engine that does a nice job of compiling thousands of results from a huge number of providers and makes it easy to manipulate and filter as needed.
One of the advantages of Skyscanner is that it displays easy-to-read traveler ratings of the online travel agencies it gets prices from – while I rarely recommend booking with one of those, good deals are hard to pass up, and it’s good to know what other people thought of their experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you search everywhere on Google Flights?
Yes, you can! In fact, there are multiple interpretations of this question – but in all cases, the answer is yes. First of all, just about any airport that has flights available to book will show up on Google Flights, so in that sense, Google Flights works for flights anywhere. On the other hand, there’s a fantastic tool called Explore that will show you flights from your departure airport to anywhere without the need to enter a destination.
Can I search multiple airports on Google Flights?
Yes, this is one of the best functions of Google Flights, in my opinion. If you want to compare flights to or from different cities, you just have to click the little plus sign in the departure or destination box and type in the other cities you’re thinking about flying out of.
It will populate options in the drop-down, which you can select accordingly to continue your search. Results will easily show the cheapest airport to fly into or out of.
Is it safe to book flights through Google?
Google is a reliable third party with some of the world’s best data security. While no website is perfectly protected from hacking or other scary internet-age woes, you can rest assured that Google is one of the most equipped to ensure your data is secured. However, most travelers use Google Flights to find their preferred flights and then go to the airline’s website to book them – this is one of the best ways to use this tool.
Should you book flights on the websites Google Flights results offer?
Google Flights often returns many prices offered by online travel agencies – sites like Expedia and Orbitz, for example. It’s almost always better to book directly with the airline rather than on these sites.
If something goes wrong, such as a delay or cancellation, and you need to rebook your trip, dealing with those sites adds a layer of headache and red tape. Plus, booking direct gets you frequent flier miles and status.
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Find Cheap Flights
Use Skyscanner to find flight deals. As my personal favorite flight search engine, Skyscanner scours websites and airlines across the globe, leaving no stone unturned to help you find the best deal possible. And if you really want to take your savings to new heights, pair Skyscanner with Going (Formerly Scott's Cheap Flights). With access to exclusive mistake fares delivered straight to your inbox, you'll be packing your bags and jetting off on your next adventure before you know it.
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