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 became more important during the pandemic.
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.
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.
All those platforms are called 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.
Because Google Flights isn’t an OTA like the others, this actually gives Google some serious advantages over any other flight search engine:
That said, Google Flights isn’t perfect. It’s close, but there are a few drawbacks:
Still, Google Flights is head and shoulders better than the alternatives. At the very least, Google Flights 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.
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 on 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.
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.
Here are all of the things you can filter when searching to find a specific flight:
Google Flights even displays the price differences between basic economy fares (which often come without free seat 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.
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.
Unlike an online travel agency or a third-party search engine like Kayak, Expedia, or Priceline, you can book direct 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 through Google Flights to book directly with your airline. It’s that simple.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No other flight search engine gives you more information to save on airfare than Google Flights.
“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.
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).
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.
Here are some tips on how to use Google Flights Explore:
Read our full guide to using Google Flights Explore!
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.
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.
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, Google Flights Price Alerts are even more powerful.
In late 2021, 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.
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.
Most notably, Southwest Airlines is not available through Google Flights. Nor are some popular Asian carriers including Air China, China Eastern, and Thai Airways aren’t always available. So if you’re looking for a cheap flight within the U.S., you’ll want to search Southwest’s site individually to see how its fares look. The same is true if you’re looking for flights to Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean with Southwest.
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 some of our top tips to get the absolute most out of Google Flights.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 was also missing for years, but that has recently changed..
Several larger Asian airlines are also missing from Google Flights, including China Eastern, Air China, and many Thai Airways flights.
Because you 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 Flights uses, 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.
Easy. Google Flights 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.
Just scroll down to the bottom of any Google Flights page and you’ll see the currency option. Click it and set whichever currency you’d like your flight results displayed in!
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.
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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.
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 recently started using Skyscanner and saved ~$25 on a one way flight from IAH to MEX.
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
Due to covid-19 and voucher we recommend avoiding online OTAs like Expedia. Yes you can save $10-20 from time to time but it’s not worth the headache if you run into an issue: https://thriftytraveler.com/book-flights-with-airline-not-otas/
I love Thrifty Travel Premium! I took a bucket list trip to Paris France in March of 2020 for 525$ 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.
That’s exactly what we point out in the 411 on Google Flights section!
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.
Fo you have the cheapest flight to Orlando that’s not spirit I’m trying to get united
Is Google Flight search and thrifty traveler one of the same? and if not, why do I need thrifty traveler premium for $59/yr. when your telling me Google does the same free? very confusing!
Google Flights is a great tool and one we use in addition to some other proprietary tools to find the deals we send to Thrifty Traveler Premium members. You are, of course, welcome to search for yourself for free using Google Flights. But the value of our Premium service is that we search for deals all day, every day, using these and more tools to take the legwork out of finding a great flight deal so all you have to do is book and save!
I just found your site and have used OTS many times. I have a credit with United due to the 2020 Covid travel issues. My question is if I book with Google Flihts or join Thrifty Travel will I be able to use the credit I have. I stand to loose it in 2023.
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