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Nobody likes paying full price for airline tickets, but sometimes we don’t have a choice. Maybe there are no award seats available, or a trip comes up last minute. So how do you find the cheapest airfare without searching every airline individually?
Some folks use 3rd-party websites, like Orbitz or Expedia. Others search for deals using Kayak, Hipmunk, Priceline, or Hotwire. But I’ve been checking out Google Flights to search for the best deals and it’s got some pretty cool features!
What Is Google Flights?
Link: Google Flights
In 2011, Google bought ITA Software, a technology company that produces the airfare search and booking software for many airlines and websites. Some of their clients include:
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
ITA has their own public airfare search site, called ITA Matrix. It’s powerful, but you need to learn a lot of codes and commands to make it do what you want. Travel Codex has a good introduction to Matrix and another post on some of the advanced techniques you can use with it.
I like what Matrix can do, but I don’t have time to learn a new language to search for airfare. Google Flights is basically an easier-to-use version of ITA Matrix!
Basic Flight Search
1. Map Search
Suppose you don’t have a destination in mind, but want to see airfares from your city. Type in your city name and date range, and a map of North America will come up with sample fares to various cities.
You can zoom in on the map to see more detail by clicking the “+” icon.
Or zoom out using the “–” icon to see cities all over the world. You can center the map on any area by dragging the map with your mouse.
Click on a destination to get details. Click “Show Flights” to view your options.
Click “Show Flights” to display a list with the best deals first. And it shows money saving tips!
First, select the outbound flight
. Then, select a return flight. I picked the $310 round-trip on United Airlines and American Airlines.
Once you’ve chosen both flights, you’ll get an option to book the flight. But you can NOT buy the ticket through Google Flights! You have to book directly with the airline or with an online travel agency, like Orbitz or Expedia.
In this case, Google Flights suggests booking directly with United Airlines. When you click through to the United Airlines website, the flight information is already loaded and ready to purchase.
Thenyou can buy the ticket as you normally would.
2. Search for Specific Destinations
If you know where you want to go, you can skip the map search and enter your destination into the search box.
You can then go ahead with the rest of the search and booking. In this example, Google Flights suggests buying the ticket from CheapOair, Orbitz, or Frontier directly.
Clicking through to Orbitz also brings the flight details up automatically. You can then book as you normally would. I like booking flights through Orbitz because you get airline miles and Orbucks (their rewards program currency).
3. Using Filters and Search Tools
My favorite thing about Google Flights is being able to customize your searches. You can filter your search by:
- Number of stops
- Airline or alliance
- Departure and arrival time
- Travel duration
- Connection point
I like saving time by only displaying relevant flights. For example, I searched for only non-stop flights from New York to Seattle, on SkyTeam alliance airlines only, departing between 9:00 am and 11:00 am and returning between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Only 1 flight met my criteria. I saved having to sort through a huge list of flights!
4. Using the Lowest Fare Calendar and Graph
I also like the lowest fare calendar and graph. Click the graph icon on the right side of the filtering options.
You’ll see a calendar of lowest fares and a graph showing the cheapest and most expensive options for the length of trip you’ve chosen. Then you can click specific dates to see flights on that day, or use the arrows at the bottom of the graph to change the length of your trip.
If your travel dates are flexible, this is a great way to save money!
I like that you can expand the graph to easily see which dates have the lowest fares.
If you get stuck
, you can get help through the Google Flight support page.
Drawbacks and Limitations
Google Flights is just a search tool. You can NOT book directly on the site. But the site searches very quickly, so even though you have to book elsewhere, you can still save time.
You can’t search for Southwest flights, because Southwest prefers you search through their website directly. So don’t forget to try your search on Southwest, too.
You can only book flights originating from the US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. Hopefully they’ll expand the site to include all countries soon!
Unlike searching through online travel agencies or 3rd party sites like Kayak and Orbitz, you can only search for flights with Google. You can’t add hotels, rental cars, or activities.
Google Flights is a great tool for finding the cheapest airfares. It’s fast and you can customize your search by using filters to narrow down your options.
Southwest flights are not included. And you can only search flights that originate in the US, Canada, UK, France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands.
I don’t like paying full price for airline tickets (I’d rather use my miles!) but when I do, I’ll check Google Flights to find the best fares.
How do you feel about Google Flights?