If you’re anything like me, you want to get the best price possible when booking a flight. I live in a tourist area and if I want to fly up to the New York City area to see my family, I have to shop carefully. Even though I’m only about an hour away by plane, fares to and from my home are often outrageously high because of supply and demand. Often, I end up driving because the flights are just too expensive.
However, I’ve found some tools that make researching flights and keeping an eye on fares much easier. Google Flights is one of them. This tool launched in 2011 and has undergone some updates over the years, but it’s still one of the best and simplest tools out there for finding cheap fares. Here is a closer look at Google Flights and how it can help stretch your travel budget for your next trip through the skyway.
What is Google Flights?
Google Flights is basically a massive flight search engine. In 2011, Google completed its purchase of ITA Software, which had developed search algorithms that create a continuously updated database of flight information across the airline industry. This software is what discount travel booking sites, such as Expedia and Kayak, have been using for years to power their own searches.
With the acquisition of ITA, Google harnessed this valuable information and offered it to those interested in researching and booking flights. This tool is much more user-friendly than what you might find on an airline carrier’s website or even a discount site such as Travelocity or Orbitz.
You can search using traditional information, such as where you’re leaving from, what your destination is, your preferred class of ticket, and whether you’re flying one way or round-trip. But you can also run open-ended searches with no destination or specific dates in mind, even just using a calendar or map. I spent an hour the other day looking up airfares from New Jersey to all kinds of places around the world.
Once you find a flight you’re interested in, you can see the specific details of that flight; choose similar flights; see whether the price is good, average, or high; and find options to book. If you want to keep an eye on flights for a particular search, you can set up a tracker that will send you automated emails with price updates.
In addition, Google Flights offers tons of customizations and options to help sift through the expansive amount of information you can access. Let’s look a little closer at how it works.
How to use Google Flights
To get started with Google Flights, go to Google.com/flights. You can also type in a search for flights into Google, using terms such as “flights from Myrtle Beach to New Orleans.” You’ll get some preliminary results and a link to Google Flights for more information.
Running the search
The Google Flights home page has a lot to work with. You can start by entering your search information and adding up to seven options for where you want to fly out from and where you want to land. You can also choose the ticket class you’re interested in, how many passengers are flying, and whether you want to see one-way or round-trip prices. If you’re not sure where you want to go, choose the airport you wish to depart from, leave the destination field blank, and click “Search.”
Below the main search bar, you’ll find trip suggestions to explore and a map of the country you’re in. At the bottom of the screen, you can change language, currency, and country. A map of your current country will appear next to trip suggestions. You can click on the map to start looking at prices geographically. You can specify dates or enter a range of time, up to six months in the future.
Working with the results
Search results will appear with “Best flights” at the top of the list. These are not necessarily in order of lowest to highest price. Google says its algorithms take price, convenience, number of stops, duration, airport changes, and other factors into consideration when formulating these picks.
Below “Best flights” is a list of “Other flights.” If this order doesn’t work for you, you can choose to sort the results according to the parameters you want. You can also look at flights in a date grid, graph, or see a map of nearby airports.
The search results page is also where you can set up an airfare alert. Click the “Track prices” slider to get emails with updated prices from your search, as well as travel tips.
Choosing a flight
When you find a flight you want to learn more about, click on it in the search results. The next screen will have flight specifics. Here, you can start a price alert, expand the selected flight line for details, and look at all of the fare options to choose which one works best for you. If you’re looking at an economy airline, such as Spirit, you may have only one ticket class option.
Below the flight details and fare options, you’ll find a list of choices for booking a flight. Google doesn’t handle any travel arrangements; it simply connects you to a website where you can purchase the ticket you want. Sometimes you’ll have only one option; other times you’ll have several to choose from. These options can include carrier websites and discount booking sites. When you select a booking option, you should be taken directly to the site where you can buy the ticket with the options you’ve already selected.
Finally, below the “Booking Options” section, you’ll see additional information about your fare. A line graph shows whether the price you’ve selected is below average, middle-of-the-road, or high. You can also take a look at the price history for your selected flight.
How to save even more on airfare
So you’ve found a great price for your next trip using Google Flights. Congratulations! As great as that price might be, you could actually save more money on your fare. At least some of the booking options Google Flights gives you are links that Google may receive revenue from and are not necessarily the only way to get the tickets you want.
If you have any of the best travel credit cards or a card that offers a travel booking service, look up your flight information using those tools. You may find lower prices, options to use points to reduce or completely pay for the fare, or even special offers you can take advantage of.
For example, the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal provides customers with a one-stop-shop for making travel arrangements. There, you can search for flights, compare prices, and have the option to pay with points. You may also have additional benefits you can use to save money, depending on which Chase credit card you have.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $300 annual travel credit that is automatically applied to travel-related charges on your statement. With this card, your Ultimate Rewards points are also worth 50% more when you use them to pay for a booking through the portal. The Chase Sapphire Preferred doesn’t offer the same travel credit, but points used to pay for a portal booking are worth 25% more than if you simply got a statement credit to cover your airfare costs.
FAQs about using Google Flights
How do I find cheap flights on Google?
Run a search! Go to the Google Flights home page and start playing with search criteria, or go to Google.com and input some search terms, such as “flight to Portugal.” Both tools will deliver a list of options that you can sort according to your preferences. You can also set up a fare alert for a specific flight or search, so you’ll be notified when prices change.
How do I track flight prices on Google?
Tracking prices with Google Flights is super easy. Run a search for flights according to whatever criteria you like. When the results come back, look for the “Track prices” slider below your sorting options. Click that to turn on a price alert that will send you an email when prices change.
If you want to track one specific flight, click on that option in the search results and look for the “Track Prices” slider. Click to turn on and get emails with price alerts.
Are Google flights refundable?
Google doesn’t handle the actual booking of your flight. It provides links to airline carriers and travel sites where you can complete the transaction. Refunds depend on the terms and conditions of the carrier or website issuing the ticket.
What's the best day to look for cheap flights?
It really depends on whom you ask. Skyscanner says book on Saturdays for domestic flights and Sundays for international. Farecompare.com says Tuesdays across the board. U.S. News & World Report says Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. CheapAir.com says there is no best day to search. However, there are prime days of the week to fly. Our advice is to use the calendar or price graph tools in Google Flights when you search and set up a price alert, so you can keep an eye on and move quickly when the fares change.
The bottom line
Google Flights is a fantastic tool to use when researching airfare for any kind of trip. However, it’s not the final word in price and you may be able to save even more money by using a travel service provided by the issuer of one of your credit cards. Either way you go, Google Flights can help you get one step closer to flying high.