Hi there! It’s Carly from 52 Cities, back again to share the ins and outs of one of the most indispensable tools I use for travel planning and booking: Google Flights.
If you’re not currently using Google Flights to go through flight choices when plotting out a trip, you’re going to want to keep reading. No other flight tool makes it as quick and easy to compare multiple options, helping you save both time and money. Take a look at this step-by-step guide to finding flights with Google flights. Below, you’ll see how to incorporate this flight search engine into your travel-planning routine.
What is Google Flights?
Unlike many other popular websites that aggregate flight data, such as Expedia or Orbitz, Google Flights is a flight search tool—not an online travel agency (OTA). This means it’s not reselling an airline’s flights to consumers; instead, it’s just giving you pricing info and presenting you with a list of options you can use to book.
While that extra step may sound like a hassle, it can actually be a good thing. OTAs sometimes charge more than you’d pay if you were booking directly through an airline (see the price differential between Lufthansa/United and the other options in the screenshot above?). Google Flights displays the lowest prices to book, no matter if they’re through an OTA or through an airline itself, which lets you easily compare them.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Flights with Google Flights
Now that we’ve covered what Google Flights is, let’s dig into how to use it.
Step 1: Enter your basic flight criteria
To get your search started, you’ll want to enter all the basics: origin, destination, dates, class of service, number of passengers and whether you’ll be embarking on a round-trip, one-way or multi-city itinerary.
Hit the search button, and results will begin to populate. It may take a minute or so for the engine to finish searching, so don’t panic if what you’re looking for doesn’t show up right away.
Travel tip: Flying to Europe with multiple destinations? Consider a multi-city itinerary where you fly into one major airport like Paris and out of another airport like Barcelona back to your originating destination. The flights are often the same cost and will save you money for having to return to your original airport.
Step 2: Select your first leg
Once the search is complete, you’ll be able to view different itinerary options for the first leg of your trip (or the only leg, if you’re booking a one-way ticket). Note that a price displayed in green indicates it’s the cheapest option. Also note that when booking a round-trip or multi-city itinerary, that price is a projection for the entire itinerary—not just for the first leg.
Still, aren’t sure how to choose your flights, or have specific criteria your itinerary needs to meet? Below where you entered your destination and dates, you’ll see a number of different filters you can use to narrow down the options.
Once you’ve done that and are ready to make your first selection, simply click on the flight option and you’ll be taken to a page to select your next leg.
Step 3: Select your next flight(s)
The process for selecting your next leg (or legs, if you’re working on a multi-city itinerary) is pretty similar; just click on the option you prefer from the list that’s displayed.
This time, the option with the green price will be the cheapest way to complete your trip based on the other leg (or legs) that you’ve already selected. This will usually match the prices you saw for the legs you selected during the previous steps.
Sometimes, though, when you get to the page to choose a second leg or beyond, that number will jump up from what you saw. It can make you feel a little misled, but it’s all part of the process; Google isn’t always 100% synced up since airline availability and pricing is constantly changing, and sometimes it displays an outdated price from the get-go.
If you decide you want to change your first leg (or any previous leg, for that matter) before selecting the next leg, just click on your first leg (displayed in blue—in the below screenshot, it’s just above “returning flights”).
Step 4: Make your fare class selection
This step will likely only apply if you’re flying economy, and most of the time, it’ll be for domestic U.S. flights. But if you’ve selected a Basic Economy fare (i.e. one that’s more restrictive), Google will double-check with you to make sure that’s the one you want to go with. It’ll also layout exactly what restrictions you’ll face, and how much extra you’ll need to spend if you decide instead to move into normal Economy seating.
Travel tip: Want to know if you’re heading into a Basic Economy situation before you make your first selection? Look for the icon showing a carry-on bag with a slash through it. If that’s there, it’s a Basic Economy price!
Sometimes, Google will also run a couple of other fare options by you in the same format, even if you selected “Economy” at the beginning.
Step 5: Review Your Itinerary
You’re almost ready to buy your flights! First, though, you’ll have an opportunity to review your selections, and as we looked at earlier, Google will display a list of booking options for you. Sometimes there will only be one, while sometimes there will be multiple. Other times, it may tell you that you need to book each leg separately, sometimes with different airlines. Finally, it may tell you that you need to call to book your trip.
Below your options, you’ll see a bar indicating how current prices stack up against what’s typical for your fare class. That information can help you decide whether you need to book ASAP, whether you should look into other options, etc.
Step 6: Book it
As I mentioned, you sometimes may need to call to book your itinerary, but most of the time, making a purchase is as simple as clicking the blue “select” button and checking out on an airline’s website. The button should take you directly to the airline’s site and automatically fill your cart with whatever you’ve selected so that all you have to do is enter your payment information. And voila!
What makes Google flights so magical?
If you’re still not sold yet on why you should use Google Flights over another website, there are a few other features that might seal the deal. Let’s go over a few of those features—and exactly how they can help you.
Airline / Alliance Filters
One of my favorite things about Google Flights is that it lets you filter flight results not just by the airline, but by airline alliance, too. Why might you need to filter by an alliance? Let’s say you’re working to reach elite status with an airline or rack up a certain airline’s frequent flier miles. Oftentimes, if you’re flying a different airline in the same alliance, you can credit your flight toward any airline that’s part of the alliance and in doing so, earn both miles and elite qualifying credit.
For example, say you’re a Delta frequent flier but your itinerary is very expensive through Delta. You can filter for other SkyTeam airlines, such as Air France, to see if they’re any cheaper. If they are, you can enter your Delta frequent flier number when you make your Air France reservation and still receive Delta SkyMiles and Medallion Qualifying Miles and Dollars.
I also love using the airline filter for filtering out low-cost routes I’m not interested in. 99% of the time, I personally don’t want to fly Spirit or Frontier, for example, and Google makes it super easy to make sure those airlines don’t show up in my search returns.
Stops / Connecting Airport Filters
I also love how with Google, you can not only choose your maximum number of stops, but also where and how long those stops are. This feature can be useful in avoiding certain areas of the country that are prone to delays or bad weather, or in trying to meet up with someone mid-way through your itinerary. For example, I used the connecting airport filter last year when trying to meet up with a friend of mine to fly to Sydney together. He was coming from Columbus and his itinerary was taking him through Los Angeles. I was coming from Portland, so I used the filter to look only for itineraries that would take me through Los Angeles so we could sync up.
It can also be great to be able to specify how long you want your layover to be. Whether you’re trying to get to your destination as quickly as possible or block off a long layover so that you can take a call or do something outside the airport, this feature is crucial!
Price Filter and Comparisons
While Google will display prices in your search returns, it makes it easier than that to get the best deal. First of all, you can apply a price filter to cap the amount you’re willing to spend. Just click on “Price” next to the other filters and use the sliding scale to refine your results.
Want to comparison shop? If you’re doing a round-trip or multi-city itinerary, when you go to select an additional leg after your first leg, you’ll see a calendar view pop up that will show you how much your final itinerary will cost based on the date of your subsequent flight.
Clicking “Price graph” (located below the various filters) will yield similar data, just laid out differently in a format that you can experiment with.
Google Flights also makes it easy to search multiple airports at once. This works wonders if, for example, your origin or destination is close to multiple airports; take New York City (which has LaGuardia, Newark, and JFK) or Washington, D.C. (which has Dulles, Reagan National, and Baltimore/Washington International).
To do it, simply type additional airport codes after you enter the first one where it says, “Where else?”
Google Flights is a wonderful tool for helping book flights for your trip. It’s an effective way to research, plan, and book for your trips!