How to Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Flights in 2021 | Thrifty Traveler
Google Flights

How to Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Flights Like a Pro

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There are plenty of search engines out there to find a cheap flight. Maybe you’ve got a favorite tool like Skyscanner, Hopper, or an online travel agency like Priceline or Expedia. But one option is better than all the rest: Google Flights.

Yes, that’s right, the search engine behemoth is also king when it comes to finding cheap flights. It’s incredibly powerful, with tons of features that will help you zero in on the best price. And it’s got a bevy of filters you can use to narrow down to the flights you really want … and avoid the ones you don’t. Plus, you can use this tool to search almost all carriers and book directly with an airline rather than through a third party – something that’s more important than ever right now.

We’ll show you some of the best tips and tricks to book your next cheap flight at the lowest price. When you’re done, you’ll never use another flight search engine again.

 

 

 

The 411 on Google Flights

There’s a reason why we recommend Google Flights above all others. It’s the tool we personally use to find cheap domestic and international flights.

But let’s back up a bit and explain the basics. And most the most important basic of all? Google Flights isn’t like Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Skyscanner, or other popular travel search engines.

Those platforms are online travel agencies or OTAs, from which you actually buy your flight, hotel, cruise, or other travel. Google Flights, on the other hand, is a global distribution platform where airlines directly publish their airfare. And you’ll also find some fares on some major OTAs like Expedia or Priceline, too. It’s really a one-stop-shop for flights.

 

google flights search results

 

Pros of Google Flights

Because Google Flights isn’t an OTA like the others, this actually gives Google some serious advantages over any other flight search engine:

  • You can almost always book directly with the airline. Cutting out the middle man when booking flights is more important than ever – you’d much rather deal with airline agent than shoddy customer service from a small online travel agency.
  • No flight search engine does a better job showing months’ worth of flights to help you find the cheapest flights possible, period. It will even alert you if shifting your travel dates by just a day or two could save you.
  • Google Flights allows you to search from multiple airports at the same time to find the cheapest airport to depart from – and that’s key when it comes to saving on international travel.
  • As you’ll see, you have unparalleled features and functions to filter your search results to find the flights you want – and avoid the flights you don’t want.

 

Cons of Google Flights

That said, Google Flights isn’t perfect. It’s close, but there are a few drawbacks:

  • Because Google Flights relies mostly on listing airfare directly from the airlines, you can sometimes find cheaper fares through OTAs who cut deals with carriers to list deeply discounted flights.
  • Google is constantly updating the inventory of available flights, but we occasionally see some issues with outdated pricing. That means you might see a price on Google Flights only to click through and find a higher price tag.
  • While most airlines are available via Google Flights, a handful do not list their fares there (or other search engines).

Still, Google Flights is head and shoulders better than the alternatives. At the very least, Google Flights be your first stop to find cheap flights. From there, you can always check to see whether you can find a better deal on the flights you find through OTAs like Momondo or Skyscanner – and decide whether those additional savings are worth it.

 

How to Get Started with Google Flights

This is the easy part. Start your flight search by visiting Google Flights at https://www.google.com/flights.

While there is no shortage of other Google apps, there is no Google Flights app. You can use it by a smartphone web browser, but we think using the desktop version is best.

The homepage is user-friendly and provides immediate updates based on selections you may make in regards to your departure location, travel destination, dates, and more.

 

google flights homepage

     

  • The Menu in the top left corner (three dashes), gives you shortcuts to Search Flights, Google Flights Explore, and Tracked Prices (where you can track price changes for a flight – more on this later). You can also access your trip information for upcoming travel with Google Trips, and even search for hotels. Finally, this is also where you can change your country, language, and currency – a valuable feature depending on where you’re searching from.

 

google flights menu settings

 

  • Flight Search is where you can enter information to start your flight search in the middle of the homepage. You can provide any of the following:
    • Departure Airport: You can choose up to five departing locations to find cheap flights
    • Destination: You can choose up to five locations to fly to
    • Dates of Travel
    • Type of Trip: Round trip, One way, or Multi-City
    • Numbers of Passengers: Adults, children, infants in seats, and infants in laps
    • Airline Class: Economy, Premium Economy, Business Class & First Class. Note that there is not a “Basic Economy” filter to remove those pesky fares from your results. But you can use this trick to remove most Basic Economy fares from your search.

 

Filter Google Flights Results to Fit Your Travel Needs

Sometimes, not just any flight will do. We’ve all got wants and needs, after all.

Looking to take a first-class flight for your honeymoon? Only want to depart after a certain time? Only want to fly a specific airline? Don’t worry, Google Flights has taken these things into consideration.

 

google flights filters

 

Here are all of the things you can filter when searching to find a specific flight:

  • Bags: This feature is a way to filter out many budget carriers and other basic economy fares. Add a carry-on bag to make sure your Basic Economy fares that allow free carry-on bags (like Delta or American Airlines) will still be included.
  • Stops: You can select how many stops you’re willing to make during your trip – or simply make sure your results are only nonstop flights.
  • Airlines: Whether you have airline loyalty or are looking to finally take a flight on a five-star airline, you can use the Airline filter to only see flights for specific airlines or airline alliances like SkyTeam, Star Alliance, and Oneworld.
  • Price: On a budget? You can easily set the maximum price you’re willing to pay for a flight.
  • Times: Need to depart in the morning? Or know you must arrive by a certain time? Use this filter to identify flights that fit the departure and arrival times that work for you.
  • Connecting Airports: Force Google to only display certain results based on which airports you connect through. You can also filter out flights with extra-long layovers. 
  • More: Here you can set the maximum length you’re willing to be on a plane, and also decide whether you want to see trips that are booked with separate tickets (for example, fly out with one airline and return on another).

Google Flights even displays the price differences between basic economy fares (which often come without free assignment and, in the case of United, without a carry-on bag), economy fares, extra legroom economy seats like Delta Comfort Plus, and sometimes even first class fares.

 

minneapolis to chicago google flights

 

And unlike an online travel agency or third-party search engine like Kayak, Expedia, or Priceline, you can book direct with the airline through Google Flights. At the final page, you’ll be directed to book on the airline’s website – along with other sites that may have fares available.

 

google flights book with delta

 

Just click “Select,” and Google will take you straight to the deal you just found through Google Flights to book directly with your airline. It’s that simple.

 

google flights trip summary

 

How to Find the Cheapest Days to Travel

Finding the cheapest flights is all about flexibility. And part of Google Flights’ power is how easy it makes it to find the cheapest days to travel.

It starts with Google Flights’ calendar view, which breaks down the cost of the flights you’re looking at over a two-month span. Dates in green immediately tell you that they’re your best bet to fly for cheap.

 

google flights calendar view

 

But Google has recently upped its game even more to help you find the cheapest dates to fly. If changing your travel dates by just a date or two would save you big bucks, Google Flights will give you a quick pop-up alert to let you know.

 

better deal on google flights

 

Click the date grid, and Google will pull up a handy, color-coded chart showing you the cheapest dates to fly based on departure and return dates. Sometimes, shifting your dates by a day or two can save you $20 or more. And sometimes those savings are in the hundreds of dollars.

 

google flights dates

 

You can also display this in a price graph, which allows you to tailor your search based upon how many days you want your stay to be.

 

google flights price graph

 

No other flight search engine gives you more information to save on airfare than Google Flights.

 

What’s a Good Flight Deal? Google Flights Will Tell You

“Is this a good deal? Am I getting ripped off?”

That’s the constant question for almost every traveler on the hunt for a cheap flight. Unless you spend all day, every day looking for airfare, it’s tough to know whether the flight you’ve found is actually saving you money. Google Flights has the answer.

One of our absolute favorite features of this search engine is that Google actually crunches the numbers to let you know how the flight price you’ve found compares to the average. Think about it: Google has millions upon millions of individual fares in its database.

Just scroll down after selecting a flight and you’ll see a handy chart showing how your price stacks up to the norm. In this case, this flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) is substantially cheaper than the average.

 

good deal indicator on google flights

 

Of course, that’s not always the case. In addition to tipping you off when changing your dates can save you a small (or large) fortune, Google Flights will also show you when flights are abnormally expensive. Clearly, you should never pay this much for a flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Hong Kong (HKG).

 

google flights high price warning

 

How to Find the Cheapest Getaway with Google Flights Explore

Not sure where you want to go? Know you want to travel somewhere in June but need ideas? Google Flights Explore is a great way to find the cheapest options when you don’t care where you’re heading.

 

google flights explore

 

Here are some tips on how to use Google Flights Explore:

  • Enter your departure city and a destination as specific (or as broad) as you want to check out. California, United States, Europe, South America – they’ll all work.
  • Select the dates you’d like to travel or select flexible date guidelines. Play around with travel dates, as pricing can greatly fluctuate – and keep it broad if you can. If you’ve got specific dates, you can search as far out as you want. If your travel schedule is more broad, you can only search for flights in the next six months.
  • Move the map around to see new destinations and prices.
  • Once you find a destination that you’d like to explore further, click the name of the city, then “View Flights” and it will populate the search information with flight options and additional details.
  • If you see a fare in the color green throughout Google Flights, know that this is showing you the lowest airfare for the dates or duration you are seeking.

 

google flights explore map

 

Read our full guide to using Google Flights Explore!

 

Set Alerts to Track Price Changes on Google Flights

If you’ve ever stressed about the price of your flight increasing (or dropping), Google Flights has you covered.

You can monitor changes to airfare with Google Flights Price Alerts. This is the perfect tool if you’ve got to fly on specific dates, but want to make sure you get the best deal possible.

Start by searching for the flights you want. You can narrow it down as far as you want, drilling down to just one preferred airline. Or leave it wide open and look for the cheapest fare possible. You can get alerts only for fares that include a checked bag, if you’d like, or only nonstop flight results.

Once you’ve filtered down your preferences, just turn on price tracking with the toggle button below the search bar.

 

google flights price tracking

 

The one requirement for getting these alerts is that you need a Gmail account. Once price tracking is on, you’ll get emails from Google Flights whenever the price rises or drops significantly straight to your Gmail inbox. You can also view all your tracked flights from the Google Flights menu bar. Just click “Tracked flight prices” and you can pull up the history of all the flights you’re currently tracking within your account.

 

google flights tracked price

 

Read the full guide to tracking flight prices with Google Flights.

 

What Airlines are Not on Google Flights?

The power of Google Flights is that almost every airline is at your fingertips as you search for cheap flights.

But not all airlines are on Google Flights. A handful of airlines choose not to list their flights through Google – or other search engines, for that matter.

 

airlines not on google flights
Southwest doesn’t list fares on Google Flights, so you’ll have to search directly through its website

 

Most notably, Southwest Airlines is not available through Google Flights. Nor is budget carrier Allegiant, or popular Asian carriers including Air China, China Eastern, and Thai Airways. So if you’re looking for a cheap flight within the U.S., you’ll want to search both airlines’ sites individually to see how their fares compare. The same is true if you’re looking for flights to Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean with Southwest.

 

air china plane google flights
You also won’t find many fares on Air China – if any – through Google Flights

 

Top 5 Tips To Get the Most out of Google Flights

Whew, you getting all this?

There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to using Google Flights. Thankfully, Google Flights is pretty intuitive: Use it a few times to find a cheap deal, and you’ll find yourself quickly getting the hang of it.

But some features stand out more than others. So here are five of our top tips to get the absolute most out of Google Flights.

    1. Filter for stops to get the flights you want: We’d all rather fly nonstop, right? Google Flights makes it easy to search for only nonstop flights. Just keep in mind that you can often save some money on one-stop flights on other airlines – especially if you’re traveling internationally.

 

google flights stops filter

 

    1. Search for the airlines you want: Are you a diehard Delta fan? Only want to fly United or other Star Alliance carriers? Google Flights has an easy-to-use way to narrow down your results to certain airlines – airline alliances.
    2. Search multiple cities to find better deals: Google’s city search and the ability to search multiple departure and destination cities at once is unparalleled. It’s especially useful if you’re looking for international flights and aren’t sure whether it will be cheaper to fly into Rome (FCO) or maybe head straight for Venice (VCE) or Milan (MXP). Or maybe you’re leaving for Asia from the West Coast and want the best deal, whether that means departing from San Francisco (SFO), San Diego (SAN), Los Angeles (LAX), or Seattle (SEA).

 

google flights multiple cities

     

  1. Use Google Flights Explore: This is perfect for those times where you just need a cheap getaway to anywhere. Some other flight search engines have similar features, but none are as powerful. Just start with your departing airport, and type in a country, region, or just scroll across the map to start scouring for deals. Read more on Google Flights Explore!
  2. Use Price Alerts: The flexibility to hop on a great deal to fly anywhere at anytime for a bargain is great, and Google Flights will help you find those flights. But the ability to track pricing and get price alerts when the price changes on the specific dates you need to fly is another reason we adore this search platform. No other flight search engine does it better. Read more on setting and using Google Flights price alerts.

 

Google Flights + Thrifty Traveler Premium = <3

You can find the cheapest flights all on your own. But it’s also the best way to book the absolute best deal on a cheap flight alert we send you via Thrifty Traveler Premium.

We’ll send you a Premium alert when there’s a cheap flight deal (at least $250+ off) from your hometown. This email alert will include information on the airlines, months available, tips for exploring the destination, and more. Follow the booking instructions in the flight deal alert to search that cheap flight deal from your home airport on Google Flights, book directly with the airline, and save hundreds.

For example, we recently sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members an unbelievable deal on flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2021 for as low as $69 round trip. Just open the email, click the link, and you’ll see some unbelievably low fares. We do all the hard work for you.

 

miami to st croix google flights

 

Thrifty Tip: Don’t have Premium yet? Learn more about how Thrifty Traveler Premium works.

 

Google Flights Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is Google Flights?

Google Flights is a flight metasearch engine that uses a global distribution system to tap into the flight inventory offered by almost every airline in the world. It is not an OTA (online travel agency) like Priceline or Orbitz.

 

How does Google Flights work?

Google Flights is a metasearch engine tool that pulls up flight schedules, itineraries, and seats in order to show you flight prices on hundreds of thousands of tickets – including taxes. Google Flights also pulls in information on additional fees to avoid basic economy as well as baggage fees.

Once you find the flight you want, you can book directly with the airline – or through an online travel agency. Just like Google itself, Google Flights is purely a search tool: you’re not actually booking flights through Google.

 

How reliable is Google Flights?

Extremely reliable.

Google Flights gets its data directly from each airline (or online travel agency) database. Most times you find an error, it’s because of an error on the airline’s end – not Google’s. That said, because flight prices are changing constantly, sometimes Google Flights will erroneously display an out-of-date price that has since changed due to cached data. This typically gets fixed within minutes, if not seconds.

Because you generally wind up booking with the airline, there’s no need to worry about getting the flight you just paid for.

 

How do I cancel a ticket booked through Google Flights?

Because you’re not actually booking through Google Flights, there’s no need to go through Google if you need to change or cancel your tickets.

Instead, you’ll have to go through however you booked: your airline or the online travel agency you used. Google Flights can’t help you.

Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Transportation has a “24-hour rule” that requires airlines to give you a full refund if you cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking. This rule applies to all flights that touch U.S. soil on any airline (foreign or domestic). And while the rule only requires full refunds for flights booked directly with the airline, some of the bigger online travel agencies have the same policy.

 

Are all airlines available on Google Flights?

Almost every major (and many minor) airline is available through Google Flights, but there are some notable exceptions.

Southwest Airlines is the biggest airline missing from Google Flights, as the beloved low-cost carrier doesn’t list its flights here. Allegiant Air is another major exception among the U.S. airlines.

Several larger Asian airlines are also missing from Google Flights, including China Eastern, Air China, and many Thai Airways flights.

 

Bottom Line

Google Flights should be your go-to tool to book your next trip. We dig through thousands of flights every day, and it is without a doubt the most robust tool to find amazingly cheap fares.

It’s leaps and bounds better than any other flight searching tool, with more features that will help you find the best deal every single time.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

13 Responses

  • I just found a great deal that was only cheapest through Expedia. I Emma’s very surprised. I got from Omaha to Maui for $492. Minneapolis would have been $700 or $800. All other sites were that high or higher as well!

  • i’ve often found cheaper flights on expedia than google flights. google flights is a good starting point, but it’s best to check a couple of flights after that

  • I love Thrifty Travel Premium! I took a bucket list trip to Paris France in March of 2020 for 525$ et from Seattle! I am learning how to use Google flights. I have had too many complications using sites such as Priceline and Expedia. Keep up the good work Thrifty because I have the travel bug. ❤️

  • Google Flights is great for planning but doesnt always find the cheapest ticket. Find your preferred flight there, but then check out Skyscanner, Kayak, Hopper etc to find the cheapest ticket for that same flight. Outside the USA you are much more likely to find your cheaper ticket with an online travel agent than with the airline directly.

  • Google Flights is the best, but rather than searching for your whole trip, search one way fares. A search a few minutes ago found a R/T from ATL to SFO for $257, departing Dec 12 and returning Dec 15, which really is a good deal. However, a 1 way search leaving on Dec 12 was $65 and another 1 way search found a returning flight on Dec 15 for $73…a total of $138, which is a great deal. Need to be flexible about stops and length, but you can save a bunch of money.

    • If you are willing to fly different airlines and add connections this can be true. We focus on nonstop or one connection on the same airline. Keeping it simple does have it’s advantages and disadvantages. Generally, one-ways are only cheap on domestic flights, not international ones.

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