How to Become an Advanced User of Google Flights
Whether you're looking for routing inspiration for your next award trip or trying to find the cheapest cash deals out there, Google Flights — and its monumental amount of data — is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. We've talked previously about using Google Flights to price compare, sort for flights on the alliance / at the time / in the price range you need, and even using the map feature for a jolt of creativity (try leaving the destination field blank and see what happens!)
These strategies work well for simpler itineraries, but even more complex trips can benefit from some targeted Google Flights searches.
TPG reader Andrew is a very experienced traveler but is struggling with using Google Flights for his next trip. He's incredibly flexible, which is usually a great asset when it comes to award travel, but it can create serious analysis-paralysis at the same time. To help Andrew out, today we'll do a case study on his summer vacation and see how Google Flights can help him.
Andrew is centrally located between a number of airports, and said he's comfortable departing from and returning to any of the following. His departure and arrival airports don't need to be the same either.
- New York (JFK)
- New York-LaGuardia (LGA)
- Newark (EWR)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Baltimore (BWI)
He wants to fly from any of these airports to Glasgow (GLA) or Edinburgh (EDI), and return from Birmingham (BHX), London (LHR), or Cardiff (CWL). He's looking for a three-week trip with flexible dates, as long as July 4th falls somewhere in the middle.
Before we start searching, there's one important question to think about. Many of the best fares between the US and Europe come on ultra-low-cost carriers like WOW and Norwegian. These airlines up-charge for nearly everything, including baggage, food and drink onboard, seat assignments, etc. If you know what you're getting into the experience isn't half bad, but flying low-cost carriers is about managing expectations. I'd encourage Andrew to think about what he's comfortable paying extra for, so there are no nasty surprises on the way.
One great feature of Google Flights is that it lets you search for flights to and from multiple airports all at once. In this case I've input three departure codes: PHL for Philadelphia, BWI for Baltimore, and NYC for all New York Airports (JFK, LGA and EWR). You could add even more in theory, but let's stick to the ones Andrew can drive to easily.
The same can be done for arrival airports. For the first leg of his journey, I'm searching for flights from any of those US airports into both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Multi-City vs. Round-Trip
Google Flights gives you the option to book one-way, round-trip, or multi-city tickets. In Andrew's case, there are some serious pros and cons to searching as a round-trip vs. as a multi-city. Based on the way he described his trip, arriving in Scotland and returning from one of three different airports in the UK, it sounds like he wants a multi-city trip and is comfortable getting between his European destinations on his own. Google Flights makes it easy to search for that, and using arbitrary dates that straddle July 4th, you can see that he can book this trip for $800 or less on full service carriers.
While I did pick random dates for this search, I tried a few other dates which all returned prices in the ~$750 round-trip range as well. The biggest thing you sacrifice with a multi-city trip is the ability to see a full month's calendar of prices all at once. Let's take a look at a round-trip search to compare and see what I'm talking about.
If Andrew were to book this ticket as a round-trip instead, it likely wouldn't matter if he started his trip in London or in Edinburgh. Because he said his dates are flexible, I'm assuming the order of destinations is as well. To fix this, I changed the search to a round-trip from his designated US airports to any of the European destinations: EDI, GLA, BHX, LHR or CWL.
Now when I click on the departure date, a calendar will pop up showing me a wide range of prices. If you click on a departure date, the rest of the calendar will reset to show you the prices for each possible day you could return.
While Andrew could potentially save a few hundred more by traveling at a different time of summer, the cheapest flights i was able to find that satisfied Andrew's requirements were as follows:
With both routings requiring one stop, I would personally pay the extra $42 to avoid flying on shaky WOW Air. You can even see the little baggage sign next to the price indicating that bags are not included in the cost of the ticket. In this case Google Flights found a mixed-carrier itinerary, with the outbound flight on Aer Lingus and the return on AA.
Now, remember the multi-city tickets we were looking at earlier weren't that much more expensive. At ~$750 vs. $680, Andrew might just decide to shell out the cash and book the ticket that fits his itinerary best.
Multiple airport searches should be a common feature of your Google Flights toolkit. If you live in most major cities in the world, you should consider flights from all your surrounding airports to save money.
Multi-city ticketing can be tough. I don't like losing the ability to see the price calendar, but if you travel plans really require you to book this way, Google Flights does make it easy to search for these flights. Just remember that without the calendar to guide you, you should price out flights on a few different days before pulling the trigger and booking one.