Using Google Flights to find cheap airfare

I travel a lot and live and die by cheap airfare. Over the past few years I’ve tried many different websites in attempts to find the cheapest fares. Google Flights by far is the most effective tool in finding cheap airline flights. The data is the most accurate (I’ve found), it is the fasted and easiest tool to use, and it doesn’t force you into a tunnel (like other providers such as Expedia do).

Using Google Flights

The Interface


Using and navigating Google Flights is pretty easy to get the hang of. In the middle of the page you have the search bar where basically everything you need to mess with it located. At the top of this section you have your trip options (if it is round trip or one way, how many passengers, and the type of fare) and below you have the departure city/airport (you can have multiple) and next to it the arrival city/airport (you can have multiple). You do not have to type in an arrival destination as Google Flights will suggest different ones. You can also specific a region (Europe, South America, etc..). Next to this on the right you have the travel dates, which if you fill in destination city will have prices on the days.

Upon clicking the search button you will have a list of destinations (and prices) and a map with different cities marked and their prices.

An additional flight filter is also displayed at the top of the map that allows you to limit prices, stops, airlines, and times.

When you find a destination/flight you like, a dashboard-like screen is displayed with even more information. You can see what the price would be on similar dates, the price trends, price for other airports near the one you have selected, and even things to do in that area. I find the price graph is the most effective to see I I’m getting a good deal or not.

Clicking on a flight will select it and from there you can either book the flight or send it to yourself or someone else. The booking normally happens thru the airline itself (the booking links off to the airline) but sometimes it is handle thru a 3rd party like Expedia or by Google itself.

Tips

Departure Cities

Use the ability to have multiple departure cities to your advantage. Instead of just using Louisville (SDF), I use Louisville (SDF), Indianapolis (IND), Cincinnati (CVG), and Nashville (BNA). These four airports are all within a 2.5 hour range of Louisville. If I’m having to dig deeper, I’ll include Columbus (CMH), St. Louis (STL), Cleveland (CLE), and the Chicago airports – Midway (MDW) and O’Hare (ORD). These additional five airports cover a 5.5 hour range from Louisville, but add the major Chicago airports as well.

Arrival Cities

Just like departure cities, you can have multiple arrival cities. For instance, if I want to go to Miami, I’ll include Miami (MIA) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL). Now instead of an expensive ticket out of Indianapolis to Miami, I can get a cheap ticket on JetBlue Nashville to Fort Lauderdale and then make the 40 minute journey to Miami. New York City has three major airports in the area , John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), so all three need to be considered.

Know Common Flights and Hubs

This takes some practice, but learning the common flights and hubs will save you money. For instance, I know that Frontier flies from Cincinnati to New York City (LGA) often and cheaply, so that will be one of my first looks. I also know that United and Delta fly out of Indianapolis to New York (JFK) often and cheaply as well. Atlanta (ATL) to New Orleans (MSY) is generally the same price on Delta (between $120 to $141) any day of the week. Alot of this comes from just looking at routes long enough and noticing trends, however you can base this on the airline’s main hubs as well. Flights going into and leaving hubs tend to be cheaper.

Traditional Airlines

American Airlines Hubs
Charlotte
Chicago (ORD)
Dallas (DFW)
Los Angeles
Miami
New York (JFK)
New York (LGA)
Philadelphia
Phoenix (PHX)
Washington (DCA)
United Airlines Hubs
Chicago (ORD)
Denver
Guam
Houston (IAH)
Los Angeles
Newark (EWR)
San Francisco
Washington (IAD)
Delta Hubs
Atlanta
Detroit
Los Angeles
Minneapolis/St. Paul
New York (JFK)
New York (LGA)
Salt Lake City
Seattle/Tacoma

Barebones Airlines

Allegiant Operating Bases
Asheville
Bellingham
Cincinnati
Destin/Fort Walton Beach
Fort Lauderdale
Indianapolis
Knoxville
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
Myrtle Beach
Oakland
Orlando/Sanford
Phoenix/Mesa
Pittsburgh
Punta Gorda
St. Petersburg/Clearwater
Frontier Hubs
Denver
Frontier Focus Cities
Austin
Atlanta
Chicago (ORD)
Cincinnati
Cleveland
Las Vegas
Miami
Orlando
Philadelphia
Raleigh/Durham
Trenton
Spirit Operating Bases
Atlanta
Atlantic City
Baltimore
Chicago (ORD)
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Detroit
Fort Lauderdale
Houston (IAH)
Las Vegas
Orlando

Non Traditional (cheaper than traditional, more expensive than the barebones)

Alaska Hubs
Seattle/Tacoma
Anchorag
Los Angeles
Portland
San Francisco
Alaska Focus Cities
San Diego
San Jose
JetBlue Hub
New York (JFK)
JetBlue Focus Cities
Boston
Fort Lauderdale
Long Beach
Orlando
San Juan
Southwest Hubs
Atlanta
Baltimore
Chicago (MDW)
Dallas (DAL)
Denver
Houston (HOU)
Las Vegas
Oakland
Orlando
Phoenix (PHX)
Southwest Focus Cities
Austin
Fort Lauderdale
Los Angeles
Nashville
Sacramento
San Diego
San Jose
St. Louis
Tampa

Barebones Airlines

Growing more popular in the United States is the barebones model of flying, where the base ticket doesn’t include food, bags, choice of seat, etc.. and you have to pay extra for those. Airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant all do this and thus their tickets tend to be extremely cheap when compared to the larger, major airlines such as United and Delta (however most of the major airlines have added a new economy ticket which is essentiality the same). I have flown from Cincinnati (CVG) to New York City (LGA) roundtrip on Frontier for $29 before (no bags).

The domestic airlines I’d consider barebones foremost are: Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit. I’m not really going to touch international airlines, however a few budget airlines are WOW (I flew WOW to Stockholm for $380), NorwegianeasyJet, and Ryanair.

Just to note, with these airlines you really need to read the fine print and understand what you are getting into. Know that you will be charged for everything (some even for having to print your ticket at the airport) and that the experience will not be as comfortable as a traditional airline (for instance the seats tend to be hard plastic and have no leg room). If your a 5’6 solo traveler like me however, its not really an issue.

The traditional airlines are American, Delta, and United. There is a in between category as well with Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest as well. For Southwest you should check their website as well as the prices tend to be cheaper on it.

Split the Trip

While flying the same airline roundtrip tends to be cheaper and less hassle, its always worth seeing if you can split it and use different airlines or fly from/into different cities. I have a trip coming up from Louisville (SDF) to San Diego (SAN) one way on Frontier for $224.60 and back on Frontier to Cincinnati (CVG) for $166.40 – with bags the total comes to $391 for two people (the includes taxes, both tickets, and bags). Round trip on United without bags and with worse times was $490 total (not including bags). By splitting the trip, I was able to get better flight times and an overall cheaper cost while flying back into an airport only 1.5 hours away (well worth the at least $100 difference)

This method also works when “city hoping” as well. For example, I’ve flown from Cincinnati (CVG) to Paris (CDG) and then Paris (CDG) to Barcelona (BCN), and finally Barcelona to Tenerife (TFN). Roundtrip from Cincinnati (CVG) to Tenerife (TFN) was in the $1000s of dollars, however by city hopping it ended up being $692 and I got to visit Paris for the day. While this method adds more complexity and more areas for things to go wrong (for instance your flights are not guaranteed so if you are delayed your screwed) it can result in alot of money saved. If you are traveling by yourself or one other person and are flexible, this may be the way to go, but I wouldn’t do it with any more people.

Know the Days

On certain days its more expensive to fly and on others its cheaper. Excluding holidays and things like that, its generally cheaper to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday and more expensive to fly on Friday and Sunday. While this is not always the case, it is a good rule to follow.

Newsletters

Sign up for newsletters from all the major airlines. JetBlue and Southwest regularly run sales (Nashville to Fort Lauderdale and back $107 round trip) and Frontier constantly sends promo codes.

Putting It All Together

Now that we know how to use Google Flights and different tips on finding flights, let’s see it all in action. The scenario is I want to go to New York City for a mini vacation (let’s say I have three days of vacation time) in September. I could either try for a five/four day vacation (weekend plus the three days) or stick with the three days, but for this scenario I’ll cover both. My departure city will be Louisville, but I’ll include a few other airports that are within 2.5 hours. My arrival city will by New York City (Google Flights will include all three major airports – JFK, LGA, EWR) when you just use New York City). Let’s also say I want to bring a suitcase with me.

Below are three good tickets I found (includes taxes and a bag)

Monday thru Wednesday

Wednesday thru Sunday

Saturday thru Wednesday