Google Flights is a recent addition to the ranks of established travel search sites like Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity. It launched in the fall of 2011, shortly after Google acquired ITA Software, a company that created software for airfare pricing and search. Google Flights doesn’t sell air travel directly, rather, it links users to airlines directly for booking flights.
Where Google Flights differs from the competition is the way users can conduct searches. You’re not restricted to single dates, departure points or destinations. Google Flights lets the user filter and adjust to their heart’s content – using text, charts and maps.
Some search engines make it hard to look for flexible itineraries without going through the complete search process several times. Google Flights is particularly useful for exploring travel options. You can search by date, departure airport, destination airport, length of trip, price and more.
When you first navigate to Google Flights, you’ll find a very simple interface. Google will have already detected your location and entered it in the departure window. You can easily change it. Even though you haven’t entered a destination, you’ll see a map with your location (a blue pin) and a number of cities with airfares beside them. With one quick look, you can get an idea of where you can go and for how much.
Entering a destination will show the route on the map. Dates are chosen by default and at this point you can change them. Clicking on the departure airport pin brings up a menu of nearby airports. You can add additional airports by ticking the box beside them or just entering the airport code in the departure box.
Google Flights lets you enter more than one departure airport in the search window. If you’re travelling from a city close to the US border like Toronto, you can add Buffalo as a departure point as well (or Windsor/Detroit, Vancouver/Seattle, etc.). This makes it easy to compare flying out of different airports. You can do the same with destinations, if you’re undecided as to where you want to go. Enter a couple of destinations and instantly compare prices.
Google Flights makes it easy to play around with different dates, length of trip and budgets. Looking for a 7-day return flight from Toronto to either Cancun or Los Angeles for under $600? You can do that. Results are constantly updated and you can filter your results.
You can drag and drop both departure airport markers (blue) and destination airports (green) to any other airport to see prices for different locations. Cancun too much? Drag your destination pin to another location to see if it’s cheaper.
Results are displayed in several different ways. In this example, we’ve decided to fly round-trip from Calgary to Halifax. You can see that other destination fares are still shown at this point, but Halifax is highlighted with the lowest fare (in US$) and whether it’s a direct flight or one with stops. Clicking on the red show flights button reveals all the fare options for your dates. You can filter the results by:
- Number of stops
- Price (in US$50 increments)
- Departure time
- Arrival time
- Connection city
Once you’re happy, you select your outbound and return flights. Google Flights gives you the fare, information about upgrades, and baggage costs. You can choose up to 3 adult tickets and then click to be taken to the airline’s website to make your purchase.
If you’re looking for the best deals, Google Flights can generate charts that show the dates for the lowest price on a flight.
Clicking on the charts icon opens the lowest fares tool. The chart shows the prices of your itinerary over a 4-week period (two weeks before your selected departure and two weeks after). Adjust the length of your trip then move the dates forward and backward. If you mouse over a bar, you can see the how changing the departure date affects the cost of your flights. Select the bar that best matches your needs and click to select flights options for that day.
Playing around with Google Flights is the best way to learn it. It’s not perfect – for example, you can’t search multi-city flights. But for most searches, it is a very simple and powerful search tool that will help you find low fares fast.