What’s the Easiest Way to Search for Flights?
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TPG reader Carolyn sent me a message on Facebook to ask about searching for airline routes:
“I’ll be traveling from Birmingham (Alabama) to Jakarta, and I’m trying to figure out the fastest way to get there. What’s an easy way to search for flights so I can find the best route?”
International itineraries can be complex, especially when you’re flying to or from a smaller airport. Whether you’re trying to find the best price or working around a tight schedule, searching each airline’s website individually would take forever. Even online travel agencies can be clunky and cumbersome. Fortunately, there’s a handy solution.
Google Flights has evolved into a pretty powerful flight search tool during the past few years, and is often the first place I look when planning travel overseas (or even domestically). Powered by ITA Matrix software — which topped our list of online tools for award travelers — it’s incredibly fast and flexible, allowing you to search across a wide range of destinations, dates and airlines almost instantly.
You can sort results not only by price, duration and number of stops, but also by airline alliance, connecting airport and more. After inking a deal with Routehappy earlier this year, Google added Wi-Fi, legroom and other amenities to its flight listings, and even more recently it added more features like direct booking and rail service.
Using Carolyn’s plans as an example, I searched for flights to Jakarta in May 2016. In under a minute, I was able to identify both the fastest and cheapest options to get from BHM to JKT for the entire month, along with itineraries that offered a good compromise on schedule and price. Google also pointed out alternatives like flying out of Charlotte to save about $230.
There are some other cool features, like the ability to search for flights to a general area rather than a precise destination. For example, the image above shows options from Chicago to Europe next July, allowing you to compare prices across the continent. You might notice that (at the time of writing) flights to Belgrade are going for $629 versus $1,000 to London, $1,200 to Paris or $1,400 to Rome. That’s a very good deal if you’re just looking to cross the pond.
As useful as Google Flights is, it’s not perfect. Some airlines (like Southwest) don’t return complete results. Also, you won’t always get a clear picture of add-ons like bag fees, so the price you see on Google might not tell the whole story, especially when dealing with low-cost carriers like RyanAir. Finally, prices might just be flat-out wrong — I’ve found great deals in the past that turned out to be phantom fares when I clicked through to the airline website. There’s not much recourse there but to jump back in and try again.
Nonetheless, Google Flights has made planning much easier. It’s a huge help even for award travel — while you can’t get prices to show up in miles (yet?), you can easily figure out which flights will get you where you want to go, and that can be instrumental in piecing together a complicated award routing.
For more info on finding discounted flights, check out our list, 10 Best Websites to Find Cheap Airfare.