Flight Booking

Everything You Need to Know About Using Google Flights

By
Scott Keyes
|
Founder & Chief Flight Expert
October 14, 2021
|
5 min read

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 so you can easily find and book the amazing deals we send to our 2 million+ members.

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. It's easily the most comprehensive search tool out there for airfare, and while it's not 100% perfect, it's pretty close, especially if you know the inside tips for using it to find the cheapest tickets for your trip.

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

There are pros and cons of Google Flights but overall the good outweighs the bad. Here are the advantages of Google Flights:

  • 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.
  • Tools to help you choose: Google Flights will tell you if the fare you're seeing is high, low, or average for the trip, and it shows you the carbon footprint of each flight

What Google Flights is not good 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 show all airlines: 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.

How to use Google Flights: 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 use Google Flights in under 10 minutes

Watch our tutorial video on using Google Flights to find the cheapest flights.

The basics of Google Flights

How to set departure and arrival locations on Google Flights to get the most options

When you get to the homepage, type in where you want to fly from and where you want to travel to, along with your preferred travel dates. Here’s an example:

setting departure and arrival 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 to see the cheapest day to fly

In order to find the cheapest travel 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:

selecting dates on google flights

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:

viewing results on google flights

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:

choosing 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 Google Flights shows includes taxes. If you've searched for a roundtrip itinerary, the price displayed by Google Flights will be the cost for the entire roundtrip.

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 either pass you on to the airline or another OTA to book directly, or if you select "book with google" it will pass your information to the airline.

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

booking 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 ticket, 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 use Google Flights Explore map view

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 the Google Flights map view feature, called Google Explore, 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.

screenshot of search page on google flights

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):

screenshot of map view on google flights

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:

searching flexible dates on google flights

How to filter results in Google Flights to find your perfect flight

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:

filters on google flights

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.

viewing basic economy on google flights

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.

selecting travel class on google flights

How to track flight prices on Google Flights  

You can set fare alerts on Google Flights to that you don't miss a deal. To start, 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.

tracking prices on google flights

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 book multi-city tickets on Google Flights

Booking multi-city or open-jaw tickets on Google Flights is easy. On the home screen look to the far left where it says "round trip" and click the drop down menu. Select "multi-city."

screenshot showing flight options drop down menu on Google Flights.

Now input your dates and travel cities as you usually would. You can add up to five flights.

screenshot of multi-flight search on Google Flights.

Note, though, that it can sometimes be cheaper to piece your trip together with separate one-ways. For example, if you want to fly into Paris and out of Rome, instead of buying a ticket from home to Paris, Paris to Rome, and Rome back home, simply book an open-jaw flight from home to Paris, and then Rome back to your home airport. Then book a separate flight on a regional airline from Paris to Rome. This can save you hundreds.

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 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.

Also, Google's perception of a good deal can be a little skewed as it only looks at the last year of data. So for example, in 2021, Google often said a price was average when it was actually a pretty good deal because it was comparing it to 2020 prices, which were lower than previous year's. So compared to the 2020 price, the price appeared average, but compared to 2019 prices, it may have been a steal.

good deal indicator on google flights

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.

how to tell if your google flight is a good deal

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.

Which airlines are listed on Google Flight? 

The vast majority of airlines are listed on Google Flights, including: 

  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeromexico
  • Aeroflot
  • Air Canada
  • Air Serbia
  • Alaska
  • ANA
  • American
  • British Airways
  • China Southern
  • Copa
  • Delta
  • Ethiopian
  • Etihad
  • Emirates
  • Hawaiian
  • Iberia
  • Icelandair
  • JetBlue
  • KLM
  • LOT
  • Lufthansa
  • Qatar Airways
  • SAS
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss
  • TAP
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United
  • Westjet
  • and many, many more.

Which airlines are not listed on Google Flights? 

Several large Asian carriers, including Thai Airways and Philippine Airlines are notably absent from Google Flights. Additionally, in the US the most glaring omission is Southwest.

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."

main menu on 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).

vertical menu on google flights

You can also adjust your country, currency, and language at the bottom on the page.

adjusting currency on google flights

How to find flights with lower carbon emissions on Google Flights

Google Flights now shows the approximate carbon footprint of most flights. Generally, nonstop flights have lower carbon emissions than itineraries with connections, but even within nonstop routes, emissions rates can vary by aircraft type.

screenshot of Google Flights results page with carbon emissions info.

In addition to giving the emission rate for your flight, Google Flights also tells you what the average rate is for that route, and if your rate is higher or lower. Note that the rate also takes into account your fare class; a higher rate of emissions is generally attributed to business class tickets because the larger seats mean fewer people on the plane, so eat seat has a larger share of responsibility.

screenshot of Google Flights result with popup showing average emissions per flight

Five starter pro tips from Scott on Google Flights

  1. Don't put all your eggs in Google's basket. Google Flights is the best place. to start your search because of all the flexibility it allows, but you should always check to see if prices are substantially lower on other OTAs like Momondo or Kayak.
  2. Always check alternate airports. You can easily do this by inputting up to 7 departure and arrival airport codes into the search box. It may be significantly cheaper to fly out of Chicago instead of Milwaukee, for example, or to land in Paris instead of Bordeaux.
  3. Always use the calendar function to find the cheapest days to fly. Ticket prices can be drastically different even if you change your travel dates by one day.
  4. If you aren't sure if you can take a flight, lock in the price by using the 24-hour rule to your advantage. Book the deal and you can cancel within 24 hours and get a full refund.
  5. Don't bother clearing your cookies or searching incognito. It won't affect the price (and no, there's no secret best day or time to book flights either).

Advanced Google Flights tips

You can check out all of our advanced tips for using Google Flights in detail here. They are: 

  1. If your dates and location are flexible, use the Explore Map to check out prices to destinations around the world from your airport. This gives you the best chance of finding an amazing deal.
  2. Use the filters to narrow in on a flight that meets your criteria. This helps cut through the noise so you can eliminate flights that won't work for you at any price.
  3. If your location and dates are fixed, set up a flight alert to get emailed if the price drops. Be aware though, if the price drops outside of your dates, you won't be alerted (for that, try Scott's Cheap Flights).
  4. Remember, not all airlines list their prices on Google Flights. Southwest, in particular, is not listed so if you're flying within the US (especially to Hawaii) or the Caribbean, be sure to check Southwest to see how their prices compare.
  5. You can use Google's price chart to compare your deal to prices over the last year, but remember the short look-back window can skew the data.

How to use SCF and Google Flights together

Every time we send our members a deal, we include a link to sample search, and 99% of the time, it's on Google Flights.

screenshot of a Scott's Cheap Flights deal with ink to a sample search.

The sample search will be pre-filled out with the departure and arrival airports, plus filters like specific airlines, number of stops, and layover times. This makes it easy for you to narrow in on the flights included in the deal. Often, the deal is available from several cities and hundreds of date combinations, so you can update the departure airport and play around with various dates to see what works for you.

screen shot of sample search with filters applied.

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). 

Does Google Flights use cookies to raise the price on flights I’m searching for? 

There’s a persistent rumor on the internet that airlines and OTA sites use cookies to track your web browsing and jack up the price of a flight they know you’re interested in. However, that’s simply not the case. 

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? Which airlines aren't on Google Flights?

Google Flights pulls prices from more than 300 airlines and online travel agencies, so it's fair to say they give you a wide range of options for cheap tickets. But there are some exceptions.

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. 

What are some alternatives to Google Flights? 

While we think Google Flights is the best option, there are some others that also do a great job. We have guides for using them all.

Want to save money on flights? Join Scott's Cheap Flights and get amazing flight deals—like $202 roundtrip to Japan or $164 roundtrip to Hawaii—delivered right to your inbox.

Last Updated 
October 14, 2021
Everything You Need to Know About Using Google Flights
Scott Keyes
Founder & Chief Flight Expert

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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