Cheap airline tickets are hard to come by. While Google Flights Search- the unimaginable engine, retrieves their data from its powerful ITA Matrix database and believe or not, sometimes this online tool can really beat out any human travel agent with its Google flight Multi-city, Google Flight Explorer and other advanced features.
Original Title: How to use Google Flights – some strategies to help you by Tim from Points to be Made.
In recent times Google Flights has become an excellent option for people to look for their cheap flights. While still doesn’t have the same filtering power as ITA Matrix, such as specifying booking classes and fares codes, it still does enough for the vast majority of holiday makers.
My favourite thing about Google Flights is its graphical user interface. Everything is clutter free, the buttons are laid out sensibly and the results are clearly presented. One big advantage is that Google Flights in many cases allows you to book the fare you find (via redirection to the ticketing carrier) whereas Matrix does not. Another advantage is that it brings up the prices much faster and in a much less cumbersome way than Matrix. Anyone who regularly searches multi-city flights may testify!
But there are still many ways to use it, and it is very easy to waste time on loose ends if you do not know what you’re doing. Here I outline a few strategies to make your search more efficient, depending on the reason you’re looking for a flight.
What is ITA Matrix?
With its advanced control codes to include or avoid specific airports and cities, airlines, alliances, and even specific flight numbers, ITA Matrix powers both Google Flights as well as KAYAK, and is the tool travel agents have used for decades to help clients find the best possible fares.
First set the currency you want your results to appear. You do this by clicking the three horizontal lines near the top left under the Google logo, and changing it in the drop-down menu.
2. “Google Explore Map – Google Flight Explorer”
If you don’t know where to go, or just have an idea of where might interest you, start by putting in your local airport in the “From” box, and a set of dates depending on whether you are doing return or one way, then click “Expand Map” in the top left part of the map as shown below.
Your screen should now show the standard Google Maps page overlaid with different cities and prices.
You can drag and zoom the map but it can take up to around 30-60 seconds for prices to show up against the city names so be patient during this stage. You can speed up the loading time by applying filters, as covered in the next few headings.
If you see one or more airports that interest you, just click that city then move onto the next step to narrow the dates down to an individual flight.
You can follow the steps above, but you will need to set a pricing filter to your desired maximum limit. Beware that sometimes the prices displayed for a range of dates can be skewed by the presence of low-cost carriers, so you may need to eliminate them by applying the airline filter too. See section 5.
(If Google is reading this, then I suggest programming in a minimum price filter!)
If you know your potential destination already then start to identify some dates to suit you. The power of the visual price charts come alive when you can rapidly identify the trend in prices.
Take note of the scale of prices on the left. Sometimes the range can be enormous! If you click on “Expand graph” to the bottom right then your screen should look something like this.
You can click on the bar charts to change the date of your flights and then start to select flights on that particular day.
In many instances Google has a commercial relationship with the airlines so if you click the link below, it will take you straight to the airline’s page and auto-fill most or all the search criteria to reproduce the flights you found.
You can then go ahead and proceed with payment directly with the airline (but of course giving Google a small commission)
You can use the airline filter to select certain airlines, an alliance, or any combination of airlines you wish. You may also set price and airline filters simultaneously.
You will only be able to select one alliance at a time, but you can highlight as many airlines as you wish. Therefore if you wanted to look for flights between, say Athens and New York, on Oneworld airlines plus Turkish Airlines andLufthansa, then you would have to tick the individual boxes for British Airways, American Airlines, Iberia, Finnair, […], Turkish and Lufthansa. (Replacing the […] with all the other member airlines of the alliance.)
Here is where the speed of results from Google Flights trumps Matrix. However, you cannot take advantage of the price charts which I admire so much.
Therefore the next best thing to identify your airports first. (Depending on whether you know where you are heading, start with either Step 1 or Step 4).
Use the Google Flight“Multi-city” tab near the top and enter your cities and dates into the box and it should load some prices. You should then ‘scroll’ through potential dates using the left and right arrow highlighted, and through trial and error identify an open jaw combination that is suitable.
What is “open-jaw”?
An open-jaw ticket is an airline return ticket where the destination and/or the origin are not the same in both directions.
Similar to open-jaw bookings in section 6, you now need to start adding extra legs into the search. Click on “Add a flight” under the search boxes to bring up more boxes.
Multi-city flights are capped at 5 searches, but that does not necessarily mean 5 segments! As this one of the most advanced level of searching you can make in Google Flights before applying filters, it can also become rather iterative and mundane.
However, don’t underestimate the amount of time the graphical user interface can save when doing multiple searches…and the fact that in many cases you can book the fare you find!
8.“I want to look for mileage runs, or other ultra-cheap fares”For the pinnacle of flight searches, Google Flight lacks a little bit of power for a deep mileage run planning compared to Matrix, as it does not display fare rules which are crucial to planning and restricts the amount of departure and destination inputs. Therefore you should treat Google Flights as a primary screening tool to then later focus on your findings in Matrix.
What is mileage run?
Mileage run is the idea to book a very cheap flight to travel a long distance solely for the miles earned by the trip. However, some airlines, such as United Airlines and are changing their miles earning rules by awarding miles based on the price of the ticket, rather than the distance flown thus making mileage run less lucrative nowadays.
Start in the “Round Trip” flight searches tab. You can put up to five airports in either the from or to boxes with each code separated by a comma. For example:
LHR, AMS, BRU, FRA, CAI
HKG, SYD, LAX, YVR, SIN
If you use multi-airport codes then that will be counted as if you had written each constituent airport separately. For instance this search parameter…
…is equivalent to this
JFK, LGA, EWR
Like the first 3 steps, start by entering your departure airport(s) and apply a price and airline filter. In this example below I use Oneworld for an airline filter, with “LHR, AMS, BRU, FRA, CAI” as departure airports and “HKG, SYD, LAX, YVR, SIN” as destinations.
The value of the price filter may be a little hard to determine if you are new to searching for mileage runs so a guideline of prices for the most popular regions is as follows: (Prices based on economy class round trip in US Dollars, and somewhere between 4-6 cents per mile – calculated using GCMap. “vv” stands for vice versa.)
Europe to Far East Asia and vv $650
Europe to East Coast USA and vv $400
Europe to West Cost USA and vv $550
Europe to Australasia and vv $1200
Far East Asia to East Coast USA and vv $600
Far East Asia to West Coast USA and vv $550
Far East Asia to Australasia and vv $550
East Coast USA and Australasia and vv $800
West Coast USA and Australasia and vv $600
East Coast USA to West Coast USA and vv $200
Once you have identified candidate mileage running fares, it’s then time to export your result to Matrix (or click here for my tutorial) where you can also try to optimise further using Maximum Permissible Mileage or other routing rules where applicable.
Hopefully, that gives an insight into how to use Google Flights, going from the most basic to the most advanced methods. If you spot any mistakes or have further suggestions for improvement please feel free to leave a comment below.
(Article last updated 8th June 2015)You May Also Like
Life & Travel Hacker | 80+ countries | Journalist for @boardingarea and contributor to @nomadcapitalist