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
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.
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.
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.
New York (JFK)
New York (LGA)
New York (JFK)
New York (LGA)
Salt Lake City
Destin/Fort Walton Beach
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Non Traditional (cheaper than traditional, more expensive than the barebones)
New York (JFK)
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), Norwegian, easyJet, 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.
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