A How-to Guide to Finding Flight Deals in 2023

Lyla

There are plenty of search engines out there to find a cheap flight. Maybe you’ve got a favorite airfare 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 Google 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 prices for your flights … and maybe even get a refund if prices drop after you book thanks to its new Price Guarantee feature. It’s got a bevy of filters you can use to find the best 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 site – something that’s become even more important since the pandemic.

Plus, thanks to a new feature added recently, Google Flights can even help you zero in on the cheapest time to book your flight.

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 this site 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. Let’s start with the most important basic of all: Google’s search engine isn’t like Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Skyscanner, or other popular travel search engines.

 

google flights
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

All those platforms are called online travel agencies or OTAs, from which you actually buy your flight, hotel, cruise, or other travel. Google, on the other hand, operates as 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.

 

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. You might see options to book with other sites, but cutting out the middle man when booking flights is more important than ever – you’d much rather deal with an 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 allows you to search from multiple airports at the same time to find the cheapest airport to depart from (or fly into), 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.
  • Thanks to a new feature added in August 2023, on select searches, Google will now display when prices are typically lowest on the route you’re searching – giving you some critical information on whether it’s better to book now or wait.

 

Cons of Google Flights

That said, even this site 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 that 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 here only to click through and see a higher price tag with the airline.
  • While most airlines are available via Google Flights, a handful do not list their fares there (or other search engines). For example, you won’t find any Southwest Airlines fares listed.

Still, Google Flights is head and shoulders better than the alternatives. At the very least, it should 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 then decide whether those additional savings are worth it.

 

How to Get Started

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 app. You can use it on a smartphone web browser, but we think using the desktop version is best.

 

homepage of google website
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

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 menu settings
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

  • 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 seven departing locations to find cheap flights
    • Destination: You can enter up to seven locations to fly to as well
    • 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 Your Results to Fit Your Travel Needs

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

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

 

filters when searching for flights

 

Understanding & Perfecting Your Filters in Google Flights

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

  • 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
  • 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 Basic Economy fares that allow free carry-on bags (like Delta or American Airlines) will still be included, while other airlines that don’t include free carry-on bags in basic economy like United or JetBlue won’t show up. This will also eliminate most budget carriers like Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, and Sun Country from your results
  • 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
  • Emissions: As Google has rolled out new features to guide travelers toward greener flights, you can choose to show only results with fewer carbon emissions
  • 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. 
  • Duration: Here you can set the maximum length you’re willing to be on a plane
  • Eliminate flights on separate tickets (for example, fly out with one airline and return on another) by clicking “All filters” and scrolling all the way to the bottom

 

minneapolis to chicago flights
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

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

 

Booking Flights Directly with Airlines

This is one of the prime reasons why we love Google’s flight searching capabilities: Rather than booking through another site that will handle your reservation, you can cut out the middleman and book your airfare directly with the airline.

 

booking a flight with delta
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

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

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

 

trip summary for a flight with delta

 

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.

 

calendar view of flights with prices
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

It starts with its 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.

 

better deal on flights alert
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

But Google has 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 will give you a quick pop-up alert to let you know.

 

google flights dates
Screenshot from google.com/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 slightly can save you $20 or more. Other times, those savings can be hundreds of dollars.

 

price graph
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

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

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 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.

 

good deal indicator on flight prices
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

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 lower than the average.

 

high price warning for flights
Screenshot from google.com/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, it 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).

 

Get a Refund if Prices Drop After Booking

One of the platform’s latest (and greatest) features could wash away your worries that prices may drop after you book.

Google calls it “Price guarantee.” After testing it for several months, Google officially unveiled this latest powerful feature in April 2023. And it’s just what it sounds like: If prices on select flights drop after you book, Google will cut you a refund for the difference. Payouts are capped at $500 a year.

 

price guarantee on flights
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

To start, you won’t see the price guarantee option on every single fare you see here: It’s only available on flights departing from the U.S. For now, you’re most likely to see it on flights with Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian, and Spirit. You have to book your flights through the “Book on Google” checkout platform and have Google Pay set up to be eligible for a refund.

While you won’t see the price guarantee option everywhere just yet, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it become a fixture on Google Flights in the future.

Read more on how to get a refund when prices drop!

 

How to Find the Cheapest Getaway with The Explore Feature

Not sure where you want to go? Do 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
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

Here are some tips on how to use the Explore feature:

  • Enter your departure city and a destination as specific (or as broad) as you want to check out. California, the 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, know that this is showing you the lowest airfare for the dates or duration you are seeking.

 

google flights explore map
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

Read our full guide to using Google Flights Explore!

 

How to Set Alerts to Track Price Changes

If you’ve ever stressed about the price of your flight increasing (or dropping), you’re covered here, too.

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.

 

price tracking on flights
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

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

 

tracked price history on many flights
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

The one requirement for getting these alerts is that you need a Gmail account. Once price tracking is on, you’ll get emails whenever the price rises or drops significantly straight to your Gmail inbox. You can also view all your tracked flights from the 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.

Initially, this feature was only available for specific dates. If you were aiming to book a one-way flight on Sept. 12 but prices decreased on the same route for Sept. 13, that change wouldn’t trigger Google’s airfare alerts. But now, these price alerts are even more powerful.

 

google flights price alerts
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

A few years ago, Google added the ability to track flight price changes for any date. Just hit that toggle and you’ll get an email notification anytime there are airfare prices available on your route that are lower than normal within the next three to six months.

This could come in handy if you’re itching to go somewhere in particular but will go whenever you find a good price. Of course, if you’re looking for a specific flight only on a certain day, you’re better off skipping this new option.

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

 

Google’s New “Cheapest Time to Book” Feature

Among the many reasons travelers should be using Google Flights, it’s packed with data-fueled information to help steer you towards the best deals. It keeps getting better and better – and its latest feature will give you even more insights on the best time to book.

On select searches, Google will now display when prices are typically lowest on the route you’re searching – giving you some critical information on whether it’s better to book now or wait.

 

Google Flights price tracking information

 

The color-coded price tracking information has been a part of Google Flights for years now, giving travelers a look at how high the price is compared to the average. But now Google Flights is giving you an average booking window, so you can figure out when it’s best to book your chosen itinerary.

That’s a huge perk for Google Flights users, and it even tells you how much you stand to save by waiting or not! If the savings are negligible, you can even just grab the flights you want for peace of mind, too.

Read More: Want to Know When to Book Your Flights? A New Google Flights Feature Shows You

 

What Airlines are Not Available?

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

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

 

southwest plane
Southwest doesn’t list fares on other platforms, so you’ll have to search directly through its website

 

Most notably, Southwest Airlines is not available through Google Flights. So if you’re looking for a cheap flight within the U.S., you’ll want to search Southwest’s site individually (or even call the airline at 1-800-435-9792) to book those tickets. The same is true if you’re looking for flights to Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean with Southwest.

Southwest isn’t alone. Some other popular Asian carriers including Air China, China Eastern, and Thai Airways aren’t always available via this platform, either.

 

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

 

Top 6 Tips To Get the Most out of Google Flights

Whew, are you getting all this?

There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to using Google Flights. Thankfully, this site 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 some of our top tips to get the absolute most out of Google’s flight search engine.

    1. Filter for stops to get the flights you want: We’d all rather fly nonstop, right? Google 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
Screenshot from google.com/flights

     

    1. Search for the airlines you want: Are you a diehard Delta fan? Only want to fly United or other Star Alliance carriers? Google 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 (seven of each!) 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).

 

searching for flights from multiple cities
Screenshot from google.com/flights

     

  1. Use Google Flights Explore: This is perfect for those times when 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, or region, or just scroll across the map to start scouring for deals. Read more on the Explore feature!
  2. Use Price Alerts: The flexibility to hop on a great deal to fly anywhere at any time for a bargain is great, and Google 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.
  3. Watch Your Carbon Footprint: It might not help you save money, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Google started going green in 2021 by allowing travelers to compare the carbon emissions between each and every flight, which vary depending on the plane type and the route. You’re already saving money using Google Flights to find the cheapest airfare, so why not pick the flight that’s more environmentally friendly, too?

 

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, book directly with the airline, and save hundreds.

 

miami to st croix google flights
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

For example, we recently sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members an unbelievable deal on flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands 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.

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

 

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?

It’s 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 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 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 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, 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 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?

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

Southwest Airlines is the biggest airline missing from Google, as the beloved low-cost carrier doesn’t list its flights here. Allegiant Air was also missing for years, but that has recently changed.

Several larger Asian airlines are also missing from Google’s flight search engine, too, including China Eastern, Air China, and many Thai Airways flights.

 

Why is Southwest not on Google?

Because you typically won’t find Southwest flights anywhere except for Southwest.com itself!

It costs airlines money to list their fares in the global distribution systems that Google uses to power its search engine, so there are some cost savings. Plus, Southwest may simply not want to allow travelers to easily compare prices between its own flights and other airlines, hoping they’ll default to searching and flying only with Southwest.

 

How do you search for flexible dates on Google Flights?

Easy. Google practically does it for you.

Just enter your flight and dates and then click on dates in your search, and Google will pull up a handy two-month calendar. Scroll through and you’ll see the lowest prices available in green. The search tool may also give you a pop-up notification when changing your travel dates by a day or two could result in some serious savings.

 

How do you change your search currency?

Just scroll down to the bottom of any Google Flights page and you’ll see the currency option. Click it and switch to whichever currency you’d like your flight results displayed in!

 

currency change
Screenshot from google.com/flights

 

Bottom Line

Google Flights should be your go-to tool for booking 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.

 

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