The air travel industry has faced some turbulent times lately, with factors like rising fuel costs and tightening corporate travel policies presenting particular challenges. One tool we’ve found particularly helpful is Google Flights. Here’s how to use Google Flights to find cheap airfares.
How to use Google Flights to save money
While many airlines have turned to padding fares with extra fees, it’s been left to the tech world to help travelers find savings wherever they can. When it comes to that, Google Flights just might be leading the way: The service recently announced two new tools to help travelers find the cheapest airfares available.
Google Flight’s new Travel Trends tool allows you to choose the dates when you will be traveling to see historic flight price trends and the latest hotel deals. For now the tool has data for Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays and New Year’s.
Using 2017 data, the tool will also show you the price trends for the 25 most popular holiday flight routes. This is great for figuring how many days ahead of time is best to buy a plane ticket.
Google Flights also improved its Explore Map feature by expanding its search functionalities. In a blog post Monday, Google said that the changes to Explore Map will help you find better deals. “If you’re flexible on your travel location or dates for an end-of-year getaway, you can search for destinations like “Southern Europe,” then choose either specific or flexible dates. Google Flights searches through thousands of possible destinations, analyzes their historical flight prices and then highlights cities with good deals in green.”
How Google Flights can help you save money by finding low fares
Google Flights was launched in 2011 as an organic supplement to the company’s core online search business, offering an alternative to the myriad airline booking sites. Of course, rivals weren’t happy about the fact that Googling “flights” meant the site would pop up as the first entry on the page. The stripped-down interface, ease of use and branding (hey, it’s Google) quickly made it a top airfare-shopping destination.
Over the 2017 holidays, Google Flights got a facelift, livening the site up a bit and making it even easier to find low airfares.
If you go to the site, you’ll see a blue search bar up top. If you have your location enabled on your computer, it will automatically show you some of the cheapest flights from your city to other destinations.
This is a great way to find a trip to some new, exciting place without having to search for it. And it also aligns with money expert Clark Howard’s travel motto. “It’s really pretty simple: I don’t pick a destination that I have to go to,” he writes. “I wait for a deal somewhere, buy the deal, and then figure out why I want to go there!”
Once you enter a destination and click on the calendar to choose your departure and arrival dates, it pulls up a grid of flights from different carriers. You can sort by price (low to high), duration and departure time.
But what really sets Google Flights apart is the improved functionality it offers in trying to save you money.
Near the top of the page under the title “Flight insights” are four boxes that offer ways to tweak your flights for better deals.
I found by clicking the “Dates” box it showed me that moving up my flight departure by three days could save me $41.
Another key insight is the “Price Graph” feature that shows you a graphical representation of the dates likely to have the cheapest and highest prices. In this mode, you can easily see how moving your flight a day or two forward or back could reap savings. Just hover over any of the bars and it will show you the date and price.
Clicking the “airports” feature allows you to easily see what that same flight would cost if you flew from the nearest alternative airport. It automatically gives you the best price out there, so there’s no need to click on another web page.
With or without baggage fees feature
You can also see prices with or without the carry-on bag fees. In January 2018, Google Flights introduced a feature that shows whether the listed airfare includes bags. If you see a bag icon with a slash through it, that’s the fare sans bags. If you hover over it, a dialog box will appear, which says: “This price doesn’t include overbin access.”
If you click on the Bags filter, it will update prices so that the fares include the carry-on baggage fee. A checked bags option is not yet available, but Google indicates that it is coming soon.
And finally, there’s a “Tips” feature that allows you to explore things to do in your destination city. Once you learn how to use Google Flights a bit more, you can also upgrade to first class from this page or even download the Google Trips app, which can hold your itinerary and allow you to use your smartphone as a boarding pass.
There are several great sites through which to book travel, but Google Flights is one of the most effective we’ve found for saving time and money. If you have some favorite travel sites, please share them in the comments below.