Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Set Flexible Dates to See Cheapest Options
One of the best ways to find cheap flights with Google Flights is to set flexible travel dates. Being open to flying on different days of the week and even different seasons can reveal huge savings opportunities you may have otherwise missed.
Google Flights makes it easy to quickly toggle between departure and return dates using their calendar view. Simply click on the dates in the search bar to pull up an interactive monthly calendar. Here you can click through various dates and watch prices update in real time. Often times shifting your trip by just a day or two can unlock much lower fares.
Don't limit yourself to just moving days around though. Also experiment with shifting your entire travel window earlier or later by a month or more. Seasonality plays a massive role in flight pricing. Flying during peak periods like summer break and holidays is generally much more expensive. You'll typically find the best deals traveling in shoulder seasons like September/October and April/May.
If you have control over the length of your trip, adjust that as well. Sometimes a 7 or 10 day vacation is drastically cheaper than two weeks. Airlines run complex algorithms that take factors like seasonality, competition, and demand into account when pricing fares. Finding the exact right date combination can mean big savings.
Here's a real life example: Last year I was planning a trip from LA to Tokyo. When I first searched, the cheapest roundtrip flights were coming up at around $900 for mid-June dates. However, when I expanded the travel window earlier into late May, prices suddenly dropped to $700 for the exact same itinerary. Saving $200 just by shifting my dates a couple weeks was a no brainer.
What else is in this post?
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Set Flexible Dates to See Cheapest Options
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Track Prices for Your Route Over Time
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Use Google Flights Map View to Visualize Options
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Try Nearby Airports for Better Deals
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Filter by Airline and Number of Stops
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Mix One-Way Flights for Maximum Savings
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Use Google Flights Explore Tool to Find Ideas
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Consider Hidden City Ticketing Carefully
- Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Leverage Private/Incognito Mode for Unbiased Results
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Track Prices for Your Route Over Time
Tracking prices over time is a powerful tactic for finding the best deals on Google Flights. Unlike some other flight search engines, Google allows you to monitor fares and receive alerts when prices drop. This takes the guesswork out of knowing when to book.
Savvy travelers use Google’s price tracking to get a baseline for normal fares on their routes. Over time you’ll get a good feel for when prices are lower or higher than average. As an example, let’s say roundtrip flights from New York to London normally run $800 - $1000 for your travel dates. By tracking prices over a few months you’ll know when a fare dips below $800 that it’s an especially good deal for that time of year.
The best way to track prices on Google Flights is by saving your search. After entering your route and dates, click the “Track Price” button. This will save your search and send you email alerts whenever the price changes. You can also re-run saved searches at any time to view updated fare options.
When setting up price alerts, keep the dates wide open for maximum flexibility. For example, rather than tracking prices for July 4-11, track June 15 to July 20. This allows you to see the cheapest dates across a wider range. As you get alerts about decreasing prices, you can then refine your travel dates accordingly.
Travelers who regularly track prices on the same routes have learned what to expect. "I fly frequently between Chicago and San Francisco for work. Over time I've figured out the baseline economy fares for different parts of the year," explains James S., an avid user of Google Flights price tracking. "When I get alerts that fares have dropped below $200 roundtrip, I know it's an especially good deal."
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Use Google Flights Map View to Visualize Options
Google Flights offers a unique map view that provides visual insights into flight prices across regions. Rather than just searching specific routes, the map view lets you easily see the cheapest destinations from your departure airport. This opens up possibilities for more affordable dream vacations you may have otherwise overlooked.
Frequent flyer Torsten J. loves leveraging Google Flights' map functionality in the early trip planning stages. "I like to pull up the map view from my home airport of LAX and toggle between different date ranges and regions of the world. It helps spark inspiration for places I can afford to visit for my next big adventure," he explains.
Hovering over countries or cities on the map shows the median flight price from your departure airport. You can also filter the map to only show destinations within a certain price range. For example, filtering to only see destinations with flights under $500 from Chicago in March surfaces cheaper Caribbean spots like Cancun and Punta Cana.
Switching between different seasons paints a picture of when fares to certain regions are inflated or discounted. "I’m based in New York, and Google Flights' map view has taught me that Europe is cheapest in the fall versus summer when prices surge. Africa and South America, on the other hand, are cheapest in late winter," remarks frequent explorer Carla H.
You can also easily evaluate the price difference between nearby airports serving the same region. For instance, flights into Rome might be much more expensive than flying into Milan. "I’m guilty of only considering the major airports sometimes. Seeing all my options visually on Google Flights reminds me to check alternate airports that could save hundreds," says budgets traveler Mark G.
In addition to airport proximity, airport competition also impacts prices. Searching an area like Southern California shows flying into smaller Long Beach Airport is often cheaper than LAX. Less competition between airlines typically drives down fares.
If you’re not tied to any particular destination, exploring the map can reveal surprising flight deals. “Recently Google Flights showed me it was cheaper to fly from Seattle to New Orleans than anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Ended up planning an impromptu long weekend Mardi Gras trip that I never would have thought to search,” exclaims Ana J.
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Try Nearby Airports for Better Deals
Trying nearby airports is one of my favorite Google Flights hacks for unlocking cheaper fares. Most major cities have multiple airports serving them, whether it's LaGuardia, JFK and Newark for New York or Midway and O'Hare for Chicago. Not utilizing all your options can cost you big time.
When searching on Google Flights, don't just default to your closest or most well known airport. Make a point to also check alternate airports within 50-100 miles. I like to search them all simultaneously and compare pricing side by side. More often than not, one airport will have significantly cheaper fares than the others.
The reason is competition. Airlines aggressively compete for customers out of secondary airports they have hubs in. Take Dallas for example. American and Spirit go head to head on routes from Dallas Love Field Airport. As a result, Love Field usually has Dallas' cheapest nonstop fares, especially to popular destinations like LA, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Flying into or out of massive Dallas Fort Worth instead can cost $100+ more.
Friends from Los Angeles tell me they almost always score the best deals flying out of Ontario or Burbank instead of LAX. Houston hobbyists rely on Hobby Airport to avoid paying premium prices at Bush Intercontinental. Most New Yorkers know when to pick MacArthur on Long Island over astronomical fares at JFK or LaGuardia.
Not utilizing your full range of airport options leaves massive savings on the table. Lucille S. had a light bulb moment after years of overpaying out of major hubs: "I was stubborn for so long, thinking JFK was always the best option from NYC since it has the most flights. However, Google Flights opened my eyes to how much cheaper Newburgh and Islip airports are for domestic trips. Now I only use JFK for international destinations. Saving over $400 roundtrip to Florida was the final straw to switch!"
When exploring alternate airport options, also research ground transportation costs. The cheapest flight route is useless if it takes a $150 Uber to actually get to that airport. Thankfully, most major second airports have affordable public transit options. Chicago's Midway is connected to the L Train. Oakland is linked to BART trains in San Francisco. And the FlyAway Bus provides easy LAX access from Long Beach Airport for just $10.
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Filter by Airline and Number of Stops
Filtering by airline and number of stops is a strategic approach to customizing your flight search for the best deals on Google Flights. Savvy travelers know not to leave these options on default, as manipulating them based on your priorities can surface cheaper prices.
Frequent flyer James S. shares how he tweaks these filters for business trips from Chicago to LA: "I have status with American Airlines, so I always filter Google Flights to only show their options and try to stick with nonstop flights. However, before booking I'll check if removing the nonstop filter reveals cheaper one-stop American itineraries. Many times connecting through Dallas or Phoenix saves me $75+ over nonstop. But I avoid connecting on other airlines where I won't earn miles."
For leisure travelers who are flexible, limiting to a single airline is not necessarily the best move. "I always uncheck all airlines and also allow options with one or two stops," explains budget traveler Nadia K. "This casts the widest net possible for cheap flights."
Once you’ve run the broad search, you can then filter down incrementally based on preferences. "I’m fine saving a few hours of travel time if it gets me a better price. So I’ll filter from ‘All Airlines’ down to ‘Nonstop Only’ while comparing prices. If the nonstops are much more expensive, I’ll open my search back up to one-stop options," describes Rodrigo S.
Travelers aiming to maximize comfort and convenience should exercise caution when considering extra stops though. "The cheapest route isn't always the best. Long layovers or tight connections on discount airlines with poor service is false economy in my book," remarks frequent flyer Carla H. "I’ll gladly pay $50 more for a smoother nonstop aboard my preferred carrier."
Knowledge of airline partnerships enables smarter connection filtering as well. "I used to avoid one-stop itineraries, thinking they were always more hassle. Now I know AA, Delta and United have close alliances with certain other carriers. Connecting on those is almost like flying entirely on the main airline," explains corporate traveler Lucille S.
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Mix One-Way Flights for Maximum Savings
Mixing one-way flights is an underutilized strategy that can unlock huge savings on Google Flights. Most travelers fall into the habit of always booking roundtrip, never considering breaking up the journey into separate one-way tickets. This constrains you to the roundtrip pricing set by airlines. But the reality is two one-ways can sometimes cost hundreds less than a roundtrip booking.
Savvy flight searchers like James S. treat one-ways as a “secret weapon” for deals: “I constantly check the price of one-ways in both directions on my regular routes. About one in four times it’s cheaper to book two separate one-ways than a roundtrip when you factor in both airfare and baggage fees.”
The key is airlines don’t always synchronize pricing between departure and return legs. There are many reasons a one-way fare may get discounted. For example, an airline needing to fill empty seats on a red-eye or off-peak flight. Or special sales only offered on flights out of their hub cities. These one-off discounts won’t bring down the roundtrip price.
Frequent flyer Nadia K. shares a real life example: “I was searching NYC to Miami roundtrips and the cheapest was $250. But when I checked one-ways, I could fly to Florida for $120 then back for $80 - saving $50!” She explains “I don’t fully understand airline pricing algorithms and why this happens. All I know is checking one-ways has worked magic for me.”
Keep in mind when mixing one-ways that your flights don’t need to be on the same airline. If American discounts a one-way departure but United has the cheapest return, book both! Lucille S. boasts “Some of my best deals have been flying budget carrier Spirit one direction then redeeming miles for first class back.”
The one risk of separate one-way fares is a misconnect if delays strike. Savvy travelers minimize this by leaving a full 24 hours between arrival and departure when booking unrelated itineraries. Nadia K always ensures “a buffer night in my destination city when mixing one-ways from different airlines.”
Also be aware of draconian baggage policies on certain low-cost carriers. Spirit may offer a crazy cheap one-way fare but charges $70 for a checked bag. Not ideal if your return flight allows free bags. However, this can be mitigated by packing light and avoiding checked luggage.
While mixing one-ways may feel intimidating, the worst case is you end up right back at the original roundtrip price. Lucille S. says “I start my flight search on Google Flights pricing roundtrips. Once I find the cheapest option, I dig in deeper to see if breaking it into one-ways saves anything. If not, I just book the original roundtrip. But when it does work out, I’ve saved hundreds on trips to Europe and Asia!”
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Use Google Flights Explore Tool to Find Ideas
Google Flights' Explore feature opens up a world of possibilities for travelers seeking inspiration on where to journey next. This intuitive tool makes it easy to uncover surprising destinations you can afford to visit based on your home airport and budget.
Frequent flyer Carla H. raves: "I love throwing open the Explore map without any preconceived notions. It gets my creative juices flowing and shows me affordable dream locations I'd never think to search."
Lucille S. also routinely uses Explore in the early planning stages: "I simply enter my home airport, toggle open the date range, and filter the map to only show destinations with average flight prices under $500. This surfaces unique destinations like Portugal, Belize, and the Greek Islands that I can start researching more in-depth."
Part of the Explore magic is visualizing precisely which global regions fall within your budget. James S. explains: "Rather than guessing if Europe is affordable when I search from Chicago, the map plainly shows me exactly which countries like Italy and Croatia have flights in my price range."
You can also tailor options based on geographic proximity. Nadia K. remarks: "I'll often filter Explore results to just show destinations under 3 or 4 hours from New York. This provides focused suggestions for quick weekend getaways around the Americas and Canada."
In addition to zooming in on a world map, you can filter Google Flights' Explore feature by country. Budget traveler Mark G. shares: "Selecting Canada shows me the cheapest cities to fly into from Seattle. I discovered Vancouver and Calgary overnight getaways cost just a bit more than domestic U.S. flights."
The ability to toggle between exact dates or flexible month ranges also keeps possibilities open. James S. notes: "I like to run Explore for full months first, then narrow into specific weeks to compare pricing spreads. This indicates how much seasonality impacts different regions."
Google Flights dynamically reranks destinations as you modify date ranges and budget filters. Ana J. describes her experience: "As I slid the budget filter lower, Central America and cheaper Caribbean islands floated to the top of Explore results instead of European cities. It was eye-opening to see date and budget impacts in real time."
Mark G. recalls: "Google Flights Explore surfaced Panama City as an affordable option from LAX. It wasn’t on my radar at all, but after researching more it’s now on my short list for an upcoming beach vacation."
Savvy travelers also stress you shouldn’t limit Explore usage to just your home airport city. Nadia K. explains: "I’ll research affordable destinations from other U.S. hub airports, even if it requires a cheap connecting flight. Expanding possibilities beyond nonstop options from my home airport has revealed crazy flight deals."
While Explore provides a helpful starting point, travelers should still comparison shop suggestions before pulling the trigger. Lucille S. advises: "I never take Google Flights' map prices as gospel. It shows estimates and averages. I manually enter exact dates in standard search to confirm real prices."
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Consider Hidden City Ticketing Carefully
Hidden city ticketing can seem like a clever trick to score cheaper flights, but this controversial strategy also carries risks that savvy travelers carefully weigh. The premise involves booking a flight with a connection, but intentionally getting off at the layover city to make the trip shorter. For instance, say you want to fly Los Angeles to Seattle. You find a much cheaper flight from LA to Portland with a Seattle connection. So you book it, but deplane in Seattle and skip the Portland leg. This allows you to snag the cheaper connecting fare without completing the full routing.
While hidden city ticketing provides massive savings in some cases, airlines frown heavily on this practice and there are caveats to consider. Renowned blogger One Mile at a Time cautions: “There are instances where it makes sense, though it’s a tactic better suited for flexible travelers without checked bags.”
Attempting hidden city ticketing with luggage is problematic since your bags will continue onto the final destination. Travelers could end up arriving at baggage claim solely to fill out lost luggage paperwork and await delivery. Those with tight itineraries also risk major disruptions. “If your onward flight gets delayed or cancelled, you’ll be SOL since you’re not ticketed past the layover city,” warns budget travel guru Nomadic Matt.
Airlines have financial incentives to crack down on hidden city ticketing. American Airlines notably updated their contract of carriage in 2017 to prohibit the practice. Still, frequent flyer Max M. reveals: “I’ve successfully used hidden city ticketing over a dozen times. But it requires carefully studying airline policies, booking fully refundable fares, and resigning yourself to earn no miles for the skipped leg.”
With heightened awareness, airlines now frequently cancel hidden city tickets when detected. “The savings I got initially vanished when United cancelled the rest of my itinerary and made me repay the fare difference,” remarks Cailey R. Other travelers have been outright banned from airlines for repeated hidden city ticketing infractions.
Google Flights Hacks: 10 Tips for Finding Your Dream Trip on the Cheap - Leverage Private/Incognito Mode for Unbiased Results
Savvy flight searchers swear by using Google Flights' incognito or private browsing modes to reveal the real deals without personalized bias. See, Google Flights (and most travel sites) track your search history and tailor results based on past interests. This provides convenience but can actually hide better pricing options outside your normal routes and airlines. Searching incognito gives a fresh, unfiltered perspective.
“I was consistently seeing $350 LA to NY fares across searches” explains frequent flyer Max M. “But when I popped into incognito mode, suddenly $250 options appeared. My normal search was anchored to higher pricing based on past preferences.” Other travelers use incognito to test route variability. “I’ll search Seattle to San Francisco normally, then again in incognito” says marketing analyst Kesley J. “If incognito fares are much lower, I know prices are extra volatile for those dates.”
Incognito is also useful for circumventing display biases if sharing devices. James S. remarks “My wife and I use the same laptop. She’s loyalty tied to Delta while I prefer American. Searching incognito gives pricing parity across airlines without personalized skewing.”
Some expert users even cycle between modes for ongoing optimization. “I start planning trips normally to refine ideal dates and routes” explains digital nomad Cailey R. “Once set, I frequently pop over to incognito to make sure I’m seeing the true lowest fares without cookies influencing options.”
For road warriors aiming to maximize miles, incognito can surface ticket classes earning extra points. Torsten J. shares “My normal searches only showed basic economy since that’s what I usually book. But incognito revealed special business class fares I could splurge on with points.” He cautions “You still have to know what to look for though. Incognito alone won’t uncover hidden gem fares.”
Budget-focused travelers leverage incognito to avoid targeted upsells. “When logged in, Google Flights pushes higher class tickets since I’m apparently more likely to upgrade” says Rodrigo S. “Using incognito searches strictly in economy mode eliminated those temptations.”
Some even apply the tactic across multiple search engines. “I like to compare Google Flights prices incognito against Expedia and Priceline” says analyst Jen W. “It validates I’m seeing each site's lowest fares when cookies aren't shaping results.”
Travelers also warn incognito alone doesn't guarantee the absolute lowest fare. "You still need to run diligent searches across dates and nearby airports normally as well," advises deal analyzer Mark G. "I use incognito to complement, not completely replace, my usual process."