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How to Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Flights

Hiroshima Japan with overlay image of Google logo and word 'Flights' in blue font

Sharp-eyed subscribers to Scott’s Cheap Flights are familiar with one of our favorite flight search engines: Google Flights. Nearly every cheap flight alert we send to subscribers 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.

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.
  • 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 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:

How to select departure and arrival airports cities on Google Flights

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:

Google Flights calendar view

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:

Google Flight search results

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.

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:

How to Book Flights on Google Flights

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 shown is not the cost for each direction, but rather the entire roundtrip price, including taxes.

Once you click your preferred return flight, you’ll be taken to your booking options, like so:

Booking flights on Google Flights

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 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.

To pull that up, click the three lines in the upper right corner and select Explore Map. When you do so, Google Flights will switch to a map view like so (You can zoom in anywhere on the map to pull up more fares):

Google Flights map view

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 use Google Flights flexible dates

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.

These include:

  • 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 filter results in Google Flights
Last Updated:
November 15, 2018
Scott Keyes
Scott Keyes
Co-Founder & CEO

Scott has traveled to 46 countries (and 46 states!), living in California, to Oaxaca, to Oregon. He’s left-handed, drinks five cups of tea daily, and holds a vendetta against the “Happy Birthday” song. On a dare, he once ate 13 hot dogs (and a bowl of Dippin’ Dots) at the ballpark. He grew up in Ohio and founded Scott’s Cheap Flights in a Denver coffee shop. Favorite airport: PDX.

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