How To Use Google Flights: My Foolproof System To Fly Cheap
Google Flights has become my go to tool for finding the cheapest flights when we travel.
This post is going to show you exactly how to use Google Flights to get the best deals and walk you step by step through the powerful tools which can filter results to find the route you need at the best price possible.
I’ve used this process so many times it’s become second nature and, after helping my dad in using it to book a post-Covid trip to come out and see us in Australia, I thought it would be a system that others may benefit from too.
How To Use Google Flights Step By Step
We are planning a trip to Japan in November, so in this post, I am going to take you through every step I took to get us the best deal, including
Use Google Flights ‘Explore’ If You Don’t Know Your Destination
One of my favourite features of Google Flights is being able to use the explore function to see the prices of different destinations.
When you log in to Google Flights you’ll see the ‘explore’ tab in the left-hand side menu.
When you click on it, you’ll get a map showing you destinations, with the search defaulted to a ‘1-week trip in the next 6 months’.
You can then play with the filters in the search function in the top left. If you know when you want to take time off but don’t have a destination in mind, just choose ‘specific dates’ and then Google Flights will show you a list of destinations.
There is also the option for flexible dates, in which you can choose from a ‘weekend, 1-week or 2-week break and then a month’.
Once you get some idea of where the cheapest fares are, you can then refine your search further.
Use Search if You Know Your Destination and Dates
If you know your destination then just enter it along with your planned flight dates (these can be changed later) into the ‘flights’ tab and hit search. Make sure you choose the correct number of passengers too (in our case I adjusted it to three passengers).
You will then get to a screen looking like the one below. From here I chose Tokyo as our destination city and then hit the ‘View Flights’ button.
Removing Airlines You Don’t Want To Use (Optional)
WARNING: This may make your options more expensive
My initial results look good, but I have read bad reviews of Philippine Airlines and they are the cheapest so I open the ‘Airlines’ filter at the top and remove them from my results.
Not everyone will need to use this step but it can be used if needed, for example, if you don’t want to fly with a budget carrier or have had a particularly bad experience previously with an airline.
Sorting You Results
By now we’re getting a pretty good list of flights, which are currently sorted by Google Flights’ list of what they consider best. At this point, you could sort by anything from price to emissions depending on what your main goal is.
Refining Flight Time/Stops (Optional)
WARNING: This will probably make your options more expensive
This step might not be needed for the most budget-conscious travellers, as some may be happy with long layovers (especially given you can fit in another destination on a long layover) or difficult routes, but for us with a three-year-old in tow making the journey fairly smooth was a key goal for us.
Here I have set the filters in Google Flights to be ‘1 stop or fewer’ and ‘under 20 hrs’ to refine the results further to what we need.
Getting the Cheapest Fare on Google Flights
Now I have all my other filters locked in, it’s time to find the best fare.
If you are 100% set on certain dates, then it will now be as simple as sorting your results by ‘Price’ in the ‘Sort by’ box in the top right-hand corner.
Finding Better Prices on Different Days
This, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful tools in Google Flights and is the biggest reason I use this site.
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In the example of our Japan trip, we have a bit of flexibility. It’s nine months away and I haven’t yet put in a leave request, so moving around leaving dates by a few days is not going to be an issue.
Google Flights has a number of ways to do this.
Use the Calendar Selector
The first way to do this is simply to click on the date in the top right-hand corner, where you would select a different day for your flight.
What’s brilliant here is that it will show you the prices for different dates and, now we’ve refined the flights for exactly what we need, we know these prices are going to be accurate for us.
You can see in the red box below it looks like there are some cheaper options if I move from a Saturday flight to one on the last three weekdays.
Use the Date Grid or Price Graph
Just below the ‘Calendar selector’, you will find two other important tools, the ‘Date grid’ and ‘Price Graph’.
I nearly always use the ‘Date grid’ even in preference to the ‘Calendar selector’ because I think it’s super easy to read.
On the top of the grid you have departure dates, on the right-hand side there are return dates.
As you can see here, by moving our departure to Wednesday and returning on a Friday we take the fare down a further $300.
You can also do something very similar using the ‘Price graph’ but it is not as easy to read. I normally use ‘this function ‘Price graph’ before filtering and when I don’t have any set plans. I use it to see months to avoid where there are high fares, which you’ll often see during peak holiday times such as Christmas.
Booking Your Flights Through Google Flights
Another reason Google Flights makes booking so simple, is you go straight through to the booking company of your choice from the site.
Choose your departing and return flight and you will come to a screen like the one below, which will give you a range of websites from which you can book the flights.
I find the information at the bottom useful, which gives you an idea of how cheap a fare you’ve actually found versus the average.
Tracking Prices Using Google Flights
If you’re not looking to book the flights right away, Google Flights has another cool feature which you’ll want to use, ‘Track prices’ (read my full guide to using it here).
Above the flight results on the left, you’ll find a little toggle switch, which when you click will trigger an alert on the bottom of the page.
If you are logged into a Google account, you will now get regular updates about changes to flight prices using the parameters you have selected, a great way of finding a cheap fare if you’ve got a bit of time to play with (though flights can go up as well as down).
How To Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Fares – Video
I have recorded a video of all the steps in this guide to help you visualise it more clearly.
Other Google Flight Tips
Here are a few other Google Flight Tips to use.
Keep an eye on this box in the middle of the flight window which will tell you if you’re getting a good deal or not.
Click on it and you’ll get this useful summary, showing a recent history of prices on a graph and what the average prices for this route are.
Select Multiple Airports
Another handy tip for Google Flights is that you can use it to search for flights from multiple airports.
You can see below the ‘+’ sign that allows you to select multiple airports.
In the example below from the UK, someone may live within a reasonable distance of the two main London airports and Birmingham Airport, so can use this function to add all three into the search.
Just be careful you come back to the same one, a mistake I’ve made in the past. When we flew to Seychelles from Gatwick, but accidentally booked tickets back to Heathrow and didn’t realise until arriving at the airport.
Other Ways to Find Cheap Flights
The only other way I’ve been able to find cheap flights consistently is through being on deals mailing lists.
These sites spend hours searching for the best deals and publish them a couple of times a week via email.
This relies a lot on your flexibility of both dates and destinations, but if you have this then you can find some amazing deals.
Jack’s Flight Club
When I was in the UK I was on this mailing list and got some amazing fares from them. I was even signed up to his premium service before I move out to Australia.
It’s free to join the mailing list, so if you’re in the UK there’s no reason not to join and see what comes through, I found it fantastic.
Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)
This is the American version of Jack’s Flight Club (or possibly the other way around!), so similar principles apply.
Sign up for the mailing list and get notified when they find cheap fares.