Sharp-eyed members of Scott’s Cheap Flights are familiar with one of our favorite flight search engines: Google Flights. Nearly every cheap flight alert we send to members includes a Google Flights sample search.
Google Flights is one of the most powerful flight search engines on the internet, both easy to use and with a multitude of features to make airfare hunting easier.
In 2018, Google Flights unveiled a major design overhaul, adding some features and reconfiguring others. This guide will help you get the most out of Google Flights, and, hopefully, find even more cheap flights.
What Google Flights is good at
Google Flights has a number of specific advantages:
- Lightning fast: Google Flights is faster than any other flight search engine, displaying months worth of fares in fractions of a second.
- Calendar-based fare view: Google Flights has a simple, intuitive calendar view that shows you the cheapest fare over the next 12 months.
- Multiple airport search: Google Flights lets you search for the cheapest fare between up to 7 origin and 7 destination airports, without slowing the search down.
- Map-based search: The Google Flights Explore map lets you see the cheapest place to fly from your airport during your selected dates/date range.
What Google Flights is bad at
Google Flights isn’t perfect. Here’s where it lags a bit behind:
- Doesn't always have the lowest fares: Google Flights works by searching fares sold directly from the airlines and a handful of the top online travel agencies (OTAs), such as Expedia or Orbitz. Many times the best fares are found on smaller online travel agencies that Google Flights doesn’t look at. Google Flights doesn't display results from Southwest Airlines, so you'll also need to check those directly with the airline.
- Doesn't find many mistake fares: Similarly, many Mistake Fares only show up on smaller online travel agency websites. Google Flights won’t be able to find those.
- Displays unavailable deals: Every once in a while, Google Flights will tell you a fare is available at a certain rate, but when you click to proceed with a booking either (a) the fare jumps in price, or (b) there is no way to book online and instructs you instead to call the airline. (Don’t bother calling, it won’t work.) This phenomenon is called "ghosting", and happens occasionally on Google Flights when a fare was recently available but no longer is.
Google Flights tutorial
Google Flights searches fares on nearly every airline’s website, as well as the largest online travel agencies like Orbitz and Priceline.
How to change your currency or language on Google Flights
In the top left-hand corner of Google Flights, look for the "hamburger"—the three horizontal lines to the left of the words "Google Flights."
This opens up a vertical menu on the left-hand side. At the bottom of this, there are options to change the language, currency, or country you use for Google Flights. From here you can also access the Explore map, or view any prices you're tracking (more on that below).
You can also adjust your country, currency, and language at the bottom on the page.
How to set departure and arrival locations on Google Flights
When you get to the homepage, type in where you want to fly from and where you want to fly to, along with your preferred dates. Here’s an example:
Remember that you can put up to seven airports in each box, separated by commas. If you’re looking for a cheap trip to anywhere Europe, for example, you might put as your destination “LHR, CDG, AMS, CPH, BCN, FCO, MXP” to see where the cheapest flight is from Chicago to either London, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Rome, or Milan.
Remember that some cities with multiple airports have city codes. These include NYC (New York City) or WAS (Washington DC), which count for 3 each because NYC = JFK, LGA, EWR and WAS = DCA, IAD, BWI.
How to select dates on Google Flights
In order to find the cheapest dates, click the departure date box. When you do that, prices for 2 months will pop up, with the cheapest dates in green, like so:
Important: Google Flights only takes into account prices in the months you’ve told it to look at. So in the above example, the green dates are the lowest in September and October. However, there could be cheaper dates in future months that Google Flights will only find if you click the right arrow to scroll to later months.
Once you’ve looked at the calendar of lowest fares, click on the date you want for your departure, after which you’ll click on the date you’d like to return.
At this point, Google Flights then gives you a big list of possible flights, like so:
Notice that Google Flights lists a few up top that they consider to be the “Best departing flights” taking into account factors like price and routing. It can still be worth taking a look at the “Other departing flights” to see if any of those work better for your schedule.
All flight times on Google Flights are shown in local time. If you notice a +1 next to the arrival time listed, on a Google Flights itinerary, it means your flight arrives the next day (or 2 days later if it says +2).
How to book flights on Google Flights
Once you’ve decided on a good departure flight, click on it. You’ll then be prompted to choose a corresponding return flight (assuming you’re booking a roundtrip fare) and your screen will look like this:
If you want to go back and change the departure flight, all you do in the above example is click where it says “ORD-VCE Tue, Sep 18” towards the upper left.
Note: The price Google Flights shows includes taxes. If you've searched for a round trip itinerary, the price displayed by Google Flights will be the cost for the entire round trip.
Google Flights isn't an online travel agency (OTA); it's a flight search engine. That means you can't actually book a flight on Google Flights as Google Flights doesn't sell flights to the consumer. Instead, Google Flights will pass you on to the airline's website where you can book directly.
Once you click your preferred return flight, you’ll be taken to your booking options, like so:
Click to book either through KLM or Delta and you’ll be taken to their checkout page where you’ll enter passenger and payment information.
What to do when cheap flights can't be booked through Google Flights ("Ghosting")
On occasion, Google Flights will initially tell you a cheap fare is available, but when you try to book the fare either jumps in price or is unable to be booked altogether.
We refer to this as “ghosting.”
- At some point in the Google Flights search process, the price drastically increases
- When Google Flights gives you booking options, the only available way to get the promised low price is to call the airline
- When Google Flights takes you to the last step and promises you can book a low fare either with the airline or an online travel agency, but when you click to do so, the price jumps on the booking page
In each of these cases, there’s no way to book those specific flights on those specific dates at the original cheap price.
Here are some ways to see if a ghosting fare can still be booked:
- Try other dates in Google Flights
- Take the dates of a ghosting fare and see if it can be booked in Priceline
- Take the dates of a ghosting fare and see if it can be booked in Momondo
None of these routes are guaranteed; sometimes a ghosting fare is unable to be booked anywhere.
How to get a map view on Google Flights
One of the handy, hidden features of Google Flights is the ability to pull up a map and see cheap flights across an entire country or region, though note that to get full use of this feature you need to be on a desktop, not mobile.
To pull up the map, start your search as you usually would, by inputting your departure city and dates, but leave the destination blank. Then click the blue "Search" button.
When you do so, Google Flights will switch to a map view like so (You can zoom in anywhere on the map, like Europe, to see more fares):
You can even enter entire continents like Europe or Asia rather than specific countries.
One important factor to keep in mind is the initial map view only shows you the fares on the specific dates you entered.
If you have flexibility and just want to find the cheapest fare anytime, you can click the dates and switch to the “Flexible dates” option like so:
How to filter results in Google Flights
One of Google Flights’ most powerful features is the ability to set an array of filters to ensure you only get search results you’re interested in.
- Number of stops
- Layover duration
- Which (if any) connecting airports
- Price ceiling
- Flight times
- Which airline(s) and/or airline alliance(s)
- Total length of flight
You can find those filters just underneath the date boxes:
How to identify basic economy fares on Google Flights
Once you have selected your flights, you'll see a page with the final price and links to book with the airlines. At the top, underneath the departure and destination cities, you'll see a suitcase icon on the class of travel: economy or basic economy.
If you click that button, a box will open with an explanation of what's included in each fare. You can then select your preferred class.
How to set fare alerts on Google Flights
Set your departure and destination cities and your dates.
On the results page, look for the "Track prices" button and click it so it toggles on and turns blue. If you're not signed in to Google, you'll be prompted to do so.
Once you've clicked the button to track flights, you'll see a small box at the bottom on the page where you can "View all" to see all the flights you're tracking. You'll get an email whenever the price changes.
One caveat of tracking flights with Google Flights is that you may end up getting a lot of email notifications, as flight prices can change quite a bit day to day. Unfortunately, you cannot set the alert to only notify you if the cost reaches a particular threshold. And you can't set an alert for a general date range or a general region; you have to choose a destination and set specific dates.
How to tell if you've found a good deal on Google Flights
Google Flights recently rolled out a new feature that will help you figure out if the flight you've found is a good deal. It's currently only available on some routes, and we've seen it show up inconsistently for now, but once it's fully rolled out, it'll be a helpful way to figure out, at a glance, whether the price you're seeing is a good deal based on average prices for your specific dates.
The data shows up underneath the flight options on the search results page. Take, for example, the deal we recently shared for $280 roundtrip flights from San Francisco to Mexico City. Google Flights says these tickets are usually $30-70 more expensive at $308-$353 for these dates, so it classifies this as a good deal. In this case, the lowest price is a great nonstop flight, but be aware that sometimes the lowest price might involve multiple layovers or bad routing, so while Google Flights may call it a deal based purely on price, it might not be a flight you want to take.
The color-coded bar tells you if prices are lower than usual (green), average (yellow), or higher than usual (red). It also tells you how much more or less you'll pay than average price.
You can expand the section by hitting the blue "Details" hyperlink. Here you'll get more specifics on the range of average prices for your dates.
Getting a refund on flights booked through Google Flights
Because Google Flights is a search engine and the flights are actually booked directly with the airline, refunds are up to each airline's policy.
In the United States, the Department of Transportation's "24-hour rule" ensures that you can cancel your flight within 24 hours of ticket purchase and get a full refund. The rule applies to any flight departing from the US, so long as the ticket was booked direct with the airline, and it was booked at least 7 days before departure.
Frequently asked questions about Google Flights
How does Google Flights work?
Google Flights is a flight search engine that uses a GDS (global distribution system) to tap into the inventory offered by airlines and OTAs (online travel agencies like Orbitz and Priceline). It then shows those prices to you, the consumer.
Google Flights shows you roundtrip prices including taxes and will tell you about any extra fees for luggage. Once you select a flight, you can choose to book with the airline or with an OTA; you don’t book through Google Flights.
Google Flights doesn’t have an app, but you can use the site from your smartphone or from a desktop (though some functionality doesn’t work as well—or at all—on mobile).
Google Flights makes money by collecting a small commission when you click from Google Flights to the airline or OTA and purchase the ticket. Google Flights has no control over the flight prices. It simply shows you the prices that come from the airlines and OTAs.
Are Google Flights prices accurate?
Google Flights is a reliable, legitimate, and trustworthy site for flight searching. In general, its prices are accurate and reflect the same prices as you’ll find on the airline websites and other OTAs. However, in rare instances, Google Flights prices are wrong, or more accurately, the price info is outdated.
Usually, this is the result of a fare ghosting. This happens when the airline updates their pricing, but the results on Google Flights don’t reflect the change right away. When you click through the airline to purchase, the price suddenly jumps because the old fare is no longer available, even though it’s still visible on Google Flights.
Does Google Flights offer the cheapest prices?
Google Flights gets its prices from the airlines and major OTAs. Some sites, like Momondo, on the other hand, scour hundreds of smaller OTAs, which means they can sometimes unearth cheaper prices.
To find the absolute lowest prices, we recommend starting your search on Google Flights so you can cast a wider net in terms of dates and destinations. Once you’ve selected a specific itinerary, do another search on a site like Momondo or Skyscanner to see if you can find the same flight at a cheaper price.
Are all airlines on Google Flights?
Not all airlines are on Google Flights. One major exception in the US is Southwest Airlines, which does not list its fares on Google Flights. Several large Asian carriers are also absent from the results, including Air China, China Eastern, Thai Airways, and Philippine Airlines.
Other airlines, like Aeromexico, Interjet, Oman Air, and EVA Air, only have some, but not all, of their flights listed on Google Flights.
How do I book or cancel a flight with Google Flights?
Google Flights shows you flight prices from airlines and online travel agencies, but it is not an online travel agency itself. It does not sell flights to the consumer, and you cannot book directly with Google Flights.
Therefore, you don’t do things like select seats, pay for your flight, or get a refund directly via Google Flights (all payments, booking, and customer service is handled via the airline or another OTA). There is also no way to contact or call Google Flights.