Flight Deals, Part III: Google Flights Is a Bargain Hunter’s Best Friend

We’ve explored how to use Hopper and Kayak to find flight deals, especially when we’re flexible on date, destination, or both.  In some ways, we’ve gone and saved the best for last.  Google Flights is a bargain hunter’s best friend, with features to find flight deals and ensure you’re getting a good deal. 

Apptop vs. Desktop.

This is an easy choice.  Google doesn’t have an app.  But fear not, because Google Flights is integrated with your mobile browser.   Basically, google “google flights” (you could “bing it” at risk to life and limb) and access Google Flights through your browser of choice. 

desktop or mobile?
Desktop or mobile? Your choice.
What I like about Google Flights.

There’s a lot to like.  First, Google Flights shows actual fare prices in calendar format.  Think Hopper’s red, yellow, and green. But instead of colors, you see actual prices. If you’re a fan of colors, low low prices are in green.

For example, plug in Atlanta as your origin and Vancouver as your destination.  Click on the calendar icon in the second field to the right.  Google Flights shows fares starting today. 

Say you would like to spend a week or so in Vancouver during the spring.  Click the right arrow until you see the calendar for March and April 2021 (Google shows two months at a time). 

Maybe departing Friday, April 2, would be great for your schedule.  The price is right at $240 round trip.

Once you select April 2 as the departure date, Google Flights shows the actual fare for each return date.  This feature alone is enough to make Google Flights a bargain hunter’s best friend. It’s easier to show:

So you can see at a glance whether it will cost more to come home on Saturday or Sunday, April 10 or 11, instead of April 12.  Thursday and Saturday are the lowest cost options, at $240 roundtrip.  Sunday costs $22 more, at $262.  Is returning on Sunday worth 20 bucks? That’s your call.

Once you select the return date, Google Flights looks a lot like Kayak.  It defaults to “best departing flights,” but you can easily sort by price, departure time, arrival time, or duration.  Like Kayak, if you want to see the absolute lowest fares regardless of flight duration, click on “price.”  If flight duration is most important, click on “duration.”

Price Insights.

This is where the Google Flights soars to the top as a bargain hunter’s best friend.  Google Flights will show whether your fare is low, typical, or high. 

Say you want to go to Paris in the spring.  Using Google Flights’ calendar view, you see a lower fare ($629) departing Atlanta March 6 and returning March 16. 

But is that a good price? Once you click on the dates, you’ll see a bar telling you that prices are low – $184 cheaper than usual.  Get additional information by clicking on “details.” 

Don’t get too excited just yet.  This initial price insight is based on the lowest fare for those dates.  In this case, the lowest fare requires two stops each way.  And the return flight takes nearly 47 hours.  No way, Jacques!

Once you pick a palatable flight, that’s when you really want to pay attention to the price insights.  The lowest cost fare with one stop and reasonable duration involves flying on Air Canada for $916.  That’s a good bit higher than $629 (so you may want to go back to the calendar view and see if you can do better).  

After you select the Air Canada flights, there’s another price insight.  This insight tells you that $916 is low (middle of “low” range) and is $268 cheaper than usual.

google flights price insight
Google Flights Price Insight

That’s obviously different from the earlier advice that $629 was $184 cheaper than usual!  Why the difference? 

Once you select the actual flights, Google seems better able to compare apples to apples.  That is, Google compares your actual flight (with a reasonable number of stops and a reasonable duration) with other reasonable flights, excluding the cheap 40 hour flight marathons. 

So pay attention to Google Flights’ price insights, but use your common sense.  To me, $900 to Paris in March is not that good. I’d certainly question whether it’s $184 cheaper than usual.

Again, use your common sense. Spend 30 minutes clicking around Google Flights, Kayak, or Hopper, and you’ll have a good sense of what a good price is.

Flexible on destination? CCR it.

Google Flights also helps you find the best deal when you know when you want to travel but are open on the destination.  You can enter your travel dates (say April 1 through April 11) and then, for destination, type a CCR (continent, country, or region).  For example, “Europe,” “Italy,” or “Southern Europe.” 

If you plug in “Europe” for your destination with those dates, a host of cities pops up: London from $895, Paris from $819, Barcelona from $770.  The problem is that these are the absolute cheapest fares; many will involve flight marathons.  The trip to London, for instance, involves 2 stops and a flight time of 37 hours.  Cheeri-no, good chap!

Cheeri-no, good chap!

With Google’s CCR search (my term), there’s no way to filter out the flight marathons. 

Don’t count Kayak out.

This is where Kayak floats to the top.  When doing a CCR search, Kayak let’s you specify the number of stops (any stops, 1 stop or nonstop, or nonstop only).  This is huge.  By specifying 1 stop or nonstop, you can weed out many of the flight marathons. 

One caveat with Kayak: you can’t search by continent.  The CCR search is more CR.  You can’t, for example, enter “Europe” as your destination.  But you can go with “Southern Europe,” “Western Europe,” “Eastern Europe” and the like. 

No big deal.  Just do a few searches.  This is why I like flight shopping while drinking KirkCab and watching Netflix. 

Mix it up.
mix it up
Mix it up!

Google Flights is a bargain hunter’s best friend. But, as we’ve seen, no one travel search engine is consistently superior.  Google Flights lags Kayak when it comes to CCR (continent, country, and region) searches. 

So don’t be married to one search engine. 

Switch back and forth (within reason). And if you find a good deal on one, don’t be afraid to try the others to see if you can find something better.  Just do it quickly, because airfare changes constantly.