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The Secret to Finding the Best Deals on Flights

By Peter Vanden Bos
Read time: 5 minutes

These days, travelers have no shortage of options for booking flights online. While there are many tips and tricks out there for finding the cheapest fares, the pros at finding cheap flights have a single go-to site: Google Flights. The search engine is not only extremely simple to use, but it also offers a number of handy features — like telling you when’s the best time to book or offering money back if you find a cheaper flight elsewhere. Ready to book a cheap flight? Here’s everything you need to know about finding the best airfare deals using Google Flights.

The Basics of Google Flights

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First thing’s first: Google Flights differs from other flight booking sites you may be familiar with such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity. Those are considered online travel agencies (OTAs), which sell you the flights themselves. Google Flights, on the other hand, is a search engine that displays dozens of flight options from nearly every airline, pointing you in the direction of the cheapest flights and completing your transaction there. (Note: In some cases, you can complete the transaction without leaving Google, but the site is only securely passing along your info to the airline.)

A key benefit of Google Flights is that it allows travelers to book directly with more than 300 airlines, which can be preferable to booking with a third-party OTA in case plans go awry on the day of travel. In those cases, it’s almost always better to deal directly with the carrier operating your flights than have to go through customer service with a third party. 

How to Search and Book on Google Flights

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One of the most useful features of Google Flights is that it’s incredibly quick and easy to search for cheap flights by using the calendar feature to find the lowest fares. Start by entering your origin and destination, number of passengers, class of service, and type of trip (round-trip, one way, or multi-city). When you click into the departure date field, a calendar will automatically pop up and immediately load fares — dates with the lowest prices are shown in green.

Once you settle on a departure and return date, click “search” and you’ll be led to the results page. Shown at the top are what Google calls the “Best Departing Flights” — flights that are both attractively priced and convenient, for example itineraries with more reasonable layovers. Below those flights, you’ll see “Other Departing Flights,” which show the rest of the results. 

Be sure to take note of the extensive filter options at the top of the page. Travelers can enter their planned number of bags to factor in those extra fees, their preferred number of stops (such as one stop or fewer), or even their preferred airlines or airline alliances (such as SkyTeam or Star Alliance). You can also sort the results by lowest price, departure or arrival time, or total duration.

After selecting flights, you’ll be directed to a page that gives you booking options, and you’ll complete the transaction either with the airline directly or at an online travel agency. Helpfully, Google Flights will also display prices for airlines’ many different economy fares, such as basic economy, standard economy, or extra-legroom economy. The options describe in detail which features are included with each fare. Note that in some cases, the end checkout price may not reflect the same price on Google once you pay with the airline for additional items such as seats and bags.

Helpful Tools You Should Be Using With Google Flights

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Not sure where you want to go? You don’t even need a destination to find deals with Google Flights. On the homepage, you’ll see suggested trips based on price and can click on “explore destinations” to open a map feature that will highlight specific destinations and deals. You also don’t need a specific departure date — for example, you can search for a weeklong trip anytime in the next six months or a two-week trip in October. And instead of searching for flights from your departure city to “anywhere,” you can tailor your search to specific regions like Europe.

Once you’ve settled on a destination, Google Flights also provides a handy price history and analysis on the results page. The search engine will analyze historical pricing data to tell you if prices are currently low, average, or high for your itinerary. It will also provide a recommended window for the cheapest time to book based on similar trips. You can also see a detailed price graph with prices over the past few months. 

If the site is telling you to wait to book, you don’t have to come back and check every day — just toggle on the site’s price tracking feature. Make sure you’re logged into your Google account, and you’ll automatically receive emails when the price drops. You can input specific dates or broader time windows. 

Finally, in 2023, Google Flights introduced a valuable new feature that can take the stress out of flight shopping. The free price guarantee will refund travelers up to $500 per calendar year on up to three flight bookings, should the price drop between the time they booked and the departure date. There are a few caveats, though: It’s only valid for select flights from the U.S. booked in U.S. dollars with a U.S. billing address, and you’ll need to pay through Google Pay in order to be eligible for a refund. The guarantee applies to flights with a dollar sign badge — these are the itineraries the search engine’s algorithm is most confident won’t drop in price. 

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