Google Flights Tutorial

HOW TO FIND CHEAP FLIGHTS WITH GOOGLE FLIGHTS

PROS:

Google Flights (Goof) is the fastest of the several major search engines. It will sometimes reveal “deals” that are not available elsewhere and has a useful calendar for pinpointing dates with the best prices. Goof allows you to deselect airlines you find unacceptable. It also allows you to search by alliance, search from multiple departure points and destinations, and store past searches for future reference (useful for spotting trends or kicking yourself when the price doubles).

CONS:

Goof is limited compared to ITA Matrix, (which is, truly, an “expert” tool), it is not possible to search by class of fare, (though you can search for First, Business and Premium Economy). It may not offer flight deals that are available on specific websites, it does not have some of the tools available on Kayak, and it does not link through to many of the lesser known online travel agencies (OTAs). It may also suggest a price that is available if you “call a travel agent”…good luck with that.

Bottom Line:

Google Flights is an excellent screening tool for those seeking low cost flights and is most helpful to get a fast “read” on what is available — though it may well turn up the best deal in the process.

This tutorial is designed for those who are unfamiliar with Google Flights. While it is an extremely simple interface there are some tricks to putting it to work for you.


Example Search

Let’s say you live in Sweden and want to fly to the west coast of the US. Let’s also assume you are flexible and can travel between mid-January and May 25th, 2017. Further, let’s assume you want a really good deal on an airline with a good safety record and decent service — alliance is not important to you.

The first thing you can do is eliminate airlines you don’t like. Simply use the pull down tab and deselect them

Next, select a set of dates. Keep in mind that what matters most in this preliminary search is the length of stay. So simply enter Jan 18th to January 25th which is a full week and happens to be a “sweet spot” for fares. You are going to call up all the prices for the weeks following those dates in a minute.

Next, select a simple round trip search. As you probably know, every airport has a three letter code. Stockholm's Arlanda airport, for example, is ARN. But there are a couple of other airports that are equally convenient so another option is to enter the city code for Stockholm (STO) which will automatically include the three airports serving that area: BRM, ARN and NYO. Goof accepts city codes but “counts” all the airports they contain towards the five airports that you are allowed to enter in each departure and arrival field. So NYC, for example, counts as three: JFK, EWR and LGA. Since we are departing from Sweden and it is easy to get to Copenhagen and Gotenburg we are going to enter: STO,CPH,GOT — you need the commas. On the US west coast we are going to enter SFO,LAX,OAK,BUR — airports that are all in California and fairly close together and include two lesser known airports (less popular airports may produce better prices due to the lower fees they charge airlines). You can type the codes in lowercase and Goof will turn them into caps for you.

Here’s a link that has been loaded with the above information. Keep in mind that this is being written in June, 2016 — airline prices change frequently so the prices and availability could be completely different today.

At this writing, Norwegian offers a direct $318 round-trip ticket to the lesser traveled airport of Oakland direct from Stockholm’s Arlanda. This flight is bookable on the carrier’s website or on Expedia at $490. Interestingly, below that you’ll see more conventional offerings: Virgin, British Airways or KLM will fly you to LAX with one stop for about 100$ more!

Now let’s look at availability.

First, change your input so the only airports are ARN and OAK. Goof cannot show a calendar if you have more than one airport or city code in each field.

Then select “calendar” and you should see something like this:

You can then move through the weeks or months to find the price you like.

Norwegian is not in an alliance so it is an interesting exercise to see what happens if you run the same search after selecting one of the three alliances where you may want to accumulate miles. At this writing, it looks as if the next best deal is on Skyteam at $466 departing from GOT, arriving at SFO and connecting at AMS on the outbound and CDG on the return. The other alliances offer similar prices. The number of connections may be a problem — but that’s up to you.

Here’s what you should be seeing:

At this point you have gathered some basic information: You can fly at a low cost on Norwegian or you can spend more and fly on a combination of airlines within an alliance and collect miles you may want.

The next step is to investigate other options for the alliance of your choice. Do this by selecting the "multi-city option and entering the exact dates and airports that were on the itinerary you found using the simple, round trip search.

Make sure your dates are the departure dates for the specific airport — there may be a day difference between your flights. At this point you can begin tweaking the variables — for example, try replacing AMS with TXL,DUS after removing the alliance so the routing is: GOT TXL/DUS SFO CDG GOT. This “forces” Goof to look for an airline that flies via TXL or DUS — which, in this case, is Air Berlin, a member of the One World Alliance.

Your route will become a bit more complicated because you will fly via LHR since the other One World airlines that Goof selects are BA and AA. The price currently shows as $576. But this process allows you to see that there are other options available on a variety of carriers — try plugging in other airports: LIS, BCN or YYZ,YUL or YOW may produce lower prices but more complicated routes — then walk each date forward by one day and see how that effects the prices.

If you have followed this tutorial to this point the next thing you may want to do is save the search. You’ll need a Google account and you will need to take the search all the way through to the point where Google lists the OTAs where you book the flight. Immediately below the OTAs is a “Save” button. You can review your saved itineraries — and watch the prices change over time — by recalling your searches in the left hand sidebar.

And there you have an introduction to an extremely fast search tool. Good hunting!

Tip: Frequent flyers keep a spreadsheet of airport codes until they memorize them!

Tip: Store strings of airport codes on a spreadsheet if you think you’ll use them frequently — then simply copy and paste them into the departure/arrival fields.