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How to use Google Flights to maximize your next travel booking

June 10 2022
19 min read
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Everyone loves a great flight deal — and while TPG offers deal alerts, it's good to know how to search for flight deals yourself so that you can get the best price on the trip you want to take.

Google Flights is one of our favorite tools for finding deals on flights. It's an amazingly powerful flight search engine and very easy to use once you get the hang of it.

For those who aren't quite sure how Google Flights works, we're here to help. We'll show you the ropes so you can find the perfect flight the next time you're booking travel.

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Download the free TPG app, and you can track your progress toward your next trip, and get spending recommendations to help you reach your travel goals.

Basics of using Google Flights

How to perform a basic flight search

First, you'll want to navigate to www.google.com/flights.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

The left sidebar has some additional features for trips, things to do, hotels and vacation rentals, but we’ll just focus on using the tool to book flights for now.

All of the fields and drop-down menus on this page are relatively easy to decipher:

  • Departure airport (where you want to fly from).
  • Destination airport (where you want to fly to).
  • Date(s) of travel.
  • Round trip or one-way.
  • Number of passengers (here’s why you should search for a single ticket, even if you’re traveling in a group).
  • Ticket class: Economy, premium economy, business class or first class.

Related: I flew premium economy for the first time: My coach mindset says it's not worth the extra $

If you know where you’re going and when you want to be there, all you have to do is plug in that information and hit the blue search button. For example, here are all of the options I see when I search flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Los Angeles.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Note that Google automatically displays the best departing flights based on a combination of factors including price, the convenience of routing and time of travel. Of course, this may or may not be the best flight for you.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

This time, I’ve chosen to book a Delta flight on my outbound trip. The cheapest option is to fly the return on a different carrier (American), but Google Flights clearly indicates these will be two tickets, purchased separately.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Google also shows me my fare options, which often include some version of basic economy restricted pricing, refundable options and a more expensive Comfort+ fare.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Below that, I have the option of booking directly with Delta. Clicking this link will take me to the Delta website, with these flights and prices already selected, where I can proceed to enter my passenger details, loyalty number, seat selection and pay for the ticket. All elite and other loyalty benefits are honored on flights booked through Google Flights as if you had started directly on Delta's website.

Related: 9 things to consider when choosing to book via a portal vs. booking directly

Below is an example of Google Flights' handy historical price guide so you can have a good idea of whether the fare you have found is a low, high or standard price for flights on this route. I can see these flights were more than $800 just a week ago, and my $668 fare is considered "typical," so I'm happy enough with that given how expensive airfare is generally right now.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

The bottom of this screenshot also shows the option bar available at the bottom of each Google Flights page.

You can select your preferred language from a dropdown menu and also customize your location and preferred currency for easy conversion. Frustratingly, if you are searching for flights from a different country, the prices will default to the currency of the country you are searching from, even if the flights do not touch that country.

It only takes a second to change this back to your preferred currency though.

Search by specific times of day

Say you want to go away for a weekend trip. You need both flights to be outside of business hours but not leaving too late in the evening, as you don't want to land in the middle of the night. Google Flights has a handy filter I use all the time to make sure the flights are exactly when I want them. No matter how inexpensive that 6 a.m. flight may be, that 3:30 a.m. wake-up call just rarely feels worth it these days.

So, you can set the search results to only show flights departing and arriving at the specific time range you have chosen.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

See how many bags you can bring on board

In the same series of buttons below your Google Flight search, click on the “Bags” button to specify how many pieces of luggage you want to bring on board with you. This selection may greatly limit your search results — or drive up your price options — so be prepared to untoggle it if necessary.

Nonstop, one stop or any route will do?

Similarly, you can filter flights by the number of stops along the way. If you’re an adventurer, you might long for a 50+hour route with multiple long layovers. If you have deadlines, want to minimize the chance of delays or disruption or have a family to rush back to, nonstop is your friend. If you’re headed overseas, the usual sweet spot between price and comfort will be one stop or fewer, depending on if you are traveling from an airline hub city.

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

Search for flights from your preferred airline or alliance

If you don’t fly often, the operating airline may not matter to you as much as the price does.

But if you have begun accumulating miles and status with a specific carrier, it can be addictive to stick with that carrier and program. The exclusive benefits that come with elite status can be exhilarating, and there’s nothing more exciting than booking your first-ever award flight, especially if you know you got an amazing deal.

Related: What are airline alliances, and who’s in them?

Google can help you keep that momentum going with its filtered airline search results. Use the button under the search results to help you filter out unwanted airlines or select specific airline alliances you want to patronize. Or untoggle the “select all airlines” and manually select the carriers you want to choose from.

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

I was loyal to United Airlines and Star Alliance for many years because they historically offer the best routes to and from Taiwan, where my extended family lives.

Whether I’m booking in cash or points, I’m used to looking for United and Star Alliance flights first to maximize my earning potential, and I'm happy to pay a little more for this, so this feature has been particularly helpful for me for many years.

Connecting flights

Especially with international flights, some airports are better to connect in than others. Helsinki Airport (HEL)? Lovely. Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)? Not so easy, even if you are an experienced traveler.

Related: Where are the best European airports to connect in?

If you have a range of options to travel from New York to, say, Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO) with a choice of connecting airports, you can filter the results to only show the airports you want to connect in.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

You can also choose how long you would like your layover to extend. You might want to keep it as short as possible to get to your destination as quickly as possible, or you may prefer a long layover to catch up on sleep in a proper bed or allow for some buffer time in the event of delays.

Related: Best airports for kids during layovers in the United States

Score the best legroom and other seat amenities

Don't you hate boarding a flight to find your knees touching the back of the seat in front of you? Fortunately, Google Flights has a feature that will show you the legroom you can expect on your next flight before you have ever purchased the seat.

Legroom can differ noticeably from carrier to carrier and aircraft type to aircraft type. From the search results below you can see that Spirit's is below industry average at 28 inches, while JetBlue's is above average at 32 inches. If you value legroom, this means the JetBlue option will have four inches more legroom than Spirit.

In coach seating terms, that's a lot.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Along with legroom, Google Flights will also indicate if Wi-Fi is scheduled to be available on your flight (and if it is free or available at a cost), whether the plane has in-seat charging options, and if the flight offers entertainment like live TV or options to stream to your personal device. On a five-hour plus flight across the country, your devices may run out of juice, so again, you may want to choose the product that best suits your needs, rather than selecting a flight based entirely on price or carrier.

Related: What you need to know about the latest inflight Wi-Fi pricing

Know your emissions

With sustainability becoming an increasingly important topic in travel, Google Flights will let you know the approximate carbon emissions for your flight based on the route, aircraft type and classes of seating.

You will see in the search results from Los Angeles to Tokyo below that United, operating a fuel-efficient Boeing 787 on this route, would produce a lower than average 734 kgs of carbon dioxide while the Singapore Airlines option, using a less fuel-efficient (and larger) Boeing 777 aircraft produces a higher than average 1,163 kgs of CO2.

You can even filter your search results to only show lower emissions flight options.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

How to search by cheapest dates

Let’s say I know I want to get from JFK to Los Angeles in September, but I’m not tied to any specific dates. Google Flights can help me find the best possible prices for that trip.

On the same search page, I can see all of the lowest prices for that particular day if I click on the calendar icon. Prices listed in green represent the lowest price available across all current dates, while the blue highlighted dates show which dates I’ve currently selected.

(Screenshot courtey of Google Flights)

Another way to view the cheapest dates is to click on the Date Grid button. This will again show the cheapest dates in green and you can easily line up different outbound and inbound options to see if the cheapest date options work for you.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

You’ll often find, though, that the cheapest flight isn’t necessarily the best or most convenient route. Google will show you those lowest prices, but prioritize better routes before it.

In this example, Google Flights is prioritizing slightly higher fares as the "best flights" search results because they include a full-sized carry-on bag.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

How to set a pricing alert for yourself

After all that diligent work, give yourself a pat on the back. You've likely found the best option for you.

Some people are ready to book immediately, but most of us might need a day or two to solidify our plans with our fellow travelers or with work. Never fear: Google will help you track your flight and even let you know when the price goes up or down.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Immediately above your search results, there’s a little toggle that says “Track prices” (boxed in green in the screenshot above).

Click that — and log into your Google account if you need to — and Google Flights will send updated pricing alerts directly into your inbox. If you have booked a refundable or changeable fare you may want to switch this on even after you've booked. You will be alerted if the price goes up or down so you can have the comfort you're getting the best deal.

Related: How to change or cancel your airfare

How to search multiple airports at once

Sometimes, you’re willing to land or depart a bit farther away than your destination in order to find a better flight deal. Google Flights can help reward that flexibility.

Let’s say you live in New York City, where you have three major airports to choose from. You want to fly to southern California, which is easily accessible from multiple airports as well.

There are two ways to run this search:

  • Type in your city name and let Google offer up suggestions: This works for a number of major metros. As soon as I type in New York, I see all three of the major airports: Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey (EWR), JFK and LaGuardia Airport (LGA). I also see New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Newburgh as an option, about 60 miles north of Manhattan.
  • Manually type in your airport codes or names: This approach doesn’t always work, even for major cities. For southern California, for example, I have to manually type in the names or airport codes of each airport in the area.
(Screenshot from Google Flights)

You can either pull up a separate browser tab and look up local airports by name — or if you’re a pro and you know the codes, you can type them directly into the destination airport search field (i.e. LAX, SNA, BUR, ONT). Then hit the blue check to run the search.

Voila: My cheapest options for the same dates of March 18-25 are now EWR to LAX nonstop for $247 round-trip in United basic economy, or American’s $237 round-trip flight from LGA with two stops in Charlotte and Phoenix. For $10 more, I’ll gladly take the shorter route.

Related: From Santa Monica to Burbank: 15 Los Angeles hotels you can book on points

How to check for carry-on bag policies

I don’t care what anyone says: Low-cost carriers can be fantastic for finding great deals.

But if you’re a heavy packer, you’ll need to plan ahead. Many airlines cut costs by charging extra for bags. You’re used to this with major airlines, but some ultra-budget airlines will even charge you for carry-ons larger than a backpack or a purse.

It can be difficult to keep track of which airlines charge what. But Google Flights can help with that as well.

Basic economy flights will show on the search results page, with the little “no luggage” icon next to the $247 price tag in green.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

When I click through to the final booking page, Google will remind me again that I’m booking a basic economy flight by showing my current price point and its limitations, and displaying economy and first-class booking options next to it.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

Remember: Google Flights doesn’t work with Southwest

One important caveat: You might wonder why you don’t see any Southwest flights on Google Flights.

Well, you might kind of see them, like with this search result for Austin to Las Vegas:

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

But Southwest doesn’t allow other travel partners to search or book flights through the airline — it wants to control its passengers' booking process completely. So if you’re a Southwest fan, don’t forget to check the airline’s website or app for a price comparison before you book with another carrier through Google Flights.

Organize your travel

On the sidebar of Google Flights, there's a "Travel" icon.

It will show the travel you have already booked — you can click on the trip and it neatly shows travel booked through your Google account, such as those reservations emails sent to a Gmail account.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

It will also show "potential trips." This is where you may have been searching Google Flights for a particular destination but have not yet bought the ticket. It will also show suggestions for where you have been googling in general.

Perhaps you have searched for "When is the best time to visit Hawaii?" Google Flights may show you suggestions to help you continue planning that trip.

Finally, this Travel button will suggest trips you might consider taking, based on upcoming trips you have booked or trips you've taken in the past. For example, if you've been to Melbourne, Australia before it may show options to visit Sydney, another popular Australian city.

Related: The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

How to find the best getaway deal

This function is similar to the previous tip — just focused on another aspect of your search.

If you know you want to get away on specific dates — let’s say the second week of October — but don’t have a specific destination in mind, use Google’s open-ended search functionality to find good flight deals within your window of availability.

In the example below, I picked a long weekend in October and set my hometown of Austin as my departure airport. Instead of specifying a destination, I just left it open-ended 9although you can give Google a hint by typing “Europe” or “Caribbean” to narrow your search results to a specific region).

Related: 9 awesome features you didn’t know about Google Flights

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

If I zoom in closer on the map, the system re-calibrates and shows me more destinations and price points within the updated map view:

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

And if I decide to zoom way out for a world view, I’ll see the best-priced destinations of note across the globe:

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

I can also force the algorithm to show me price points for a specific region. For example, the world map above doesn’t show me any deals for Australia, most of South America or Africa. But if I zoom in on Africa, I see more than half a dozen options on the continent, as well as more than a dozen in “surrounding” areas:

Related: Safaris, cities and lots of elephants: How I returned to South Africa this year using points, miles and cash

Bottom line

Google Flights is an incredibly powerful tool the TPG team uses every day to price airfare. It's simple and mostly intuitive to use, especially once you know all the tips and tricks. It can help you quickly find the best flights for your travel.

Additional reporting by Ben Smithson.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
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  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
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