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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.
While travel is on hold for most at the moment, many of us are looking ahead to the spring, summer and beyond for vacations. Most airlines are offering flexible booking policies so it might be a good idea to grab those deals while you can. Enter Google Flights.
Google Flights has quickly become my go-to way to search for revenue flights. Its layout is clean, functional and easy to use, and it’s a really easy way to search for and compare flights on different carriers, routes, times and dates. Google has even incorporated COVID-19 updates and advisories into flight searches.
If you’re looking to book some fun future travel for 2021 after the year we’ve had, this will make finding the best airfares for you that much easier.
Even if you have used Google Flights before, there are some really neat features you might not know about.
1. Search entire continents
You may be aware you can search for flights to more than just a single airport. For example, if you were looking for flights to New York and were not worried about which of the three New York area airports you flew to, you could search to “NYC” (the city code) rather than just “JFK” (one of the airport codes).
But Google Flights can do so much more than this. If you want to plan a trip and just want the cheapest flight or some inspiration to travel somewhere more unusual, you can search the airport, the city, the state or even the whole country.
Thinking East Coast but would consider West Coast for the right price?
If that doesn’t give you enough ideas, you can expand this to an entire continent, for example, “North America”.
2. Carry-on baggage policies at a glance
One of my pet peeves with ultra low-cost carriers is that where they don’t include carry-on baggage costs, it is difficult to compare prices across different carriers. Unless you can do an entire trip with just a tiny laptop bag or other personal item, then you’ll need to take a full-size carry-on bag on board or pay for checked baggage.
Some airlines charge extra for this. For example, a cheap Spirit flight won’t be so cheap if you have to pay extra to take your carry-on luggage on board, whereas a full-service airline like United or Delta may be more expensive, but you won’t have to pay extra for carry-on baggage.
Unless you’ve memorized the policy for each airline you won’t be able to compare like for like. Google Flights has added a handy icon next to the price of each flight to indicate if it does not include carry-on baggage. A strikethrough means full-size carry-on baggage is not included, so you’ll either need to pay for it, or you can easily see other options that include carry-on baggage.
3. The perfect weekend getaway
One of my favorite things about being in the U.K. is how easy and convenient it is to visit mainland Europe for the weekend (well, in Normal Times). Dinner in Denmark? Why not! You might see tempting advertised prices for return journeys Friday to Sunday, but when you go to book you see the prices are for inconvenient times. If you’re not wanting to take any time off work but still want to maximize your time away you’re probably not going to want to leave at 1 p.m. on Friday and return at 6 a.m. Sunday. But 7 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday might be perfect.
Google Flights allows you to set exact hour ranges you wish to search for:
4. Never get ripped off
If you subscribe to our newsletter and keep an eye on our deals section, we find some excellent flight deals for you. If you’re not sure if a flight you’ve found yourself is a good deal or not, Google Flights can do this for you. The service will tell you if the prices listed for your preferred dates are high, low or typical.
Prices to certain destinations can vary hugely across different months of the year. For example, Dubai (DXB) is very seasonal. During a peak time like Christmas and January, you can expect to see high flight prices, whereas during July and August when the weather is unbearably hot, the prices will much be lower, as there’s much less demand
5. Earn your preferred miles and points
Want to collect miles but not worried about which airline you fly to Asia? You’ll want to choose a Oneworld airline. Don’t remember which airlines they are off the top of your head? Google Flights can do this for you. In the airlines filter, you can choose one or more airlines or an entire alliance.
6. Be flexible and save
If your plans aren’t set in stone and you have some flexibility, there are many ways to save with Google Flights:
- Choose “nearby airports” to include options that don’t include the exact airport or city pair(s) you first searched for. While it may not be as convenient to fly into or out of the exact place you first thought, you could save a packet by considering somewhere slightly less desirable.
- If your dates are flexible, you can click on the date grid, which will quickly show you if there are cheaper options in the days before and after the set you originally searched for.
- If you are faced with an expensive economy ticket, it might be only a small surcharge to fly premium economy, which could be well worth it for the price. Google Flights will prompt you if the next cabin up is not significantly more expensive.
In response to COVID-19, Google is also incorporating airline-specific change policies.
7. Know what to expect on board
Economy seats are the same across all airlines, right?
Factors such as an inch of extra legroom can be the difference between an uncomfortable economy experience and a decent one. Google Flights can show you well before you book a flight specifics like legroom, whether there are power sockets at your seat, Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment.
In business and first-class, there’s also information on whether your seat is angled flat or fully lie-flat. We would recommend also having a browse through our detailed flight reviews here at TPG before selecting your premium seat.
8. So much more than flights
If you’re looking to book flights somewhere, then there’s a high chance you’ll be looking to book other things, too. Google has a hotel-booking platform similar to Google Flights — you can read a full guide here. The service also allows you to search for things to do in a destination, as well as where to eat and what to see.
9. Fare alerts
Prices can fluctuate for your preferred dates depending on when you book. There might be cheap prices as soon as the flights go on sale, and then the prices may rise to their “normal” level. There could be a flash sale that reduces the prices again, and depending on the destination and time of year, last minute, the fares could be very high if the flight is almost full, or very low if there are still lots of empty seats left to fill.
If you turn on the “Track Prices” button on Google Flights, it can show you both the historical price for the flight since it went on sale (so you can get an idea of this particular price is a good price for that flight). But if you aren’t quite ready to book yet, if you turn on the fare alerts Google Flights can also advise you where the prices decrease so you can jump on a bargain.
Google Flights is a fabulous tool that I use all the time. In its simplest form, it presents flight options in an easy to view, compare and book method to help you choose the right option. But the platform can do so much more than this to make sure you are picking the best flight, not just the lowest price.
Featured photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.