How to score a reasonably timed, baggage fee-friendly, cheap airline ticket? Well, there's thorough travel research—sometimes hours' worth—to score that perfect deal, or you could use a search tool like Google Flights.
Launched by the tech giant in 2011, Google Flights is a tool that searches the fares for dozens of carriers, airlines, dates and price ranges all at once. Plug in the departure and destination details and in a matter of minutes the tool responds with the best, and cheapest, flights. Since its launch, travelers have learned hacks, tips and tricks about using this tool to its utmost potential.
Here are those tidbits to bookmark for the next time the booking responsibility lands in your lap for an upcoming adventure.
Use All Five Airports
When booking flights to a specific destination with specific dates in mind, if possible select all five airports that the tool allows. While some smaller regional airports may not seem like they'd be cheaper to fly out of, Google Flights scans all flights leaving all five airports. If the airport is close enough to drive to and not raise the assumed cost of the flight, include that airport. It may save money, it may not: It never hurts to try finding the cheapest local airport to fly out of.
Living in Georgia means that most people think Atlanta is always the cheapest international airport to fly out of. When my fiancé and I were planning a trip to Dublin in 2015 leaving from the closest—and cheapest—airport from Augusta, Georgia, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Charleston International Airport saved us hundreds of dollars over flights leaving out of Augusta—AGS—and Atlanta—ATL. To be exact, we bought round-trip tickets from Delta, found via Google Flights, for about $800 per person.
Pay Attention to the Tips
If booking a specific date, pay attention to tips offered for a cheaper date and time. Sometimes, flights leaving the next day or a few hours later will save more than $100. These tips usually appear at the top of the booking tool, indicated with green or red text. This tip section also shows which airlines require extra baggage fees to help cut down on costs even more.
Another set of tips pop up in red if the flight is scheduled to experience a surge in price over a fixed amount of time. Entering a search for tickets to New York City three days before Thanksgiving, for example, would yield search results and a red alert saying that flights are expected to start climbing in the next 12 to 24 hours based on historical data.
Used the Advanced Search Tools
If the budget is really tight or if your travel partners don't want to make more than two stops, the advanced search functions will take that into consideration and still produce the cheapest and best airfare.
It's the Best Day Ever
The best fares will show up in their own box at the top of the search. These are the flights that fit all the advanced search parameters—if specified—that have the cheapest fares, least layovers and either no baggage fees or some of the least baggage fees.
In this section, pay attention to the departure and arrival times in addition to the departure airline. While the origin airport is typically the cheapest to leave from, sometimes it may be worth selecting a flight a little earlier or later, depending on your needs.
A Different View May Save Money
If the trip isn't set in stone, use the calendar view to investigate other times to leave—or other times to schedule the trip entirely—that may save time and money. The days with the cheapest airfare have prices listed in green in this view. The price graph view also shows fare analysis. The "Flexible Date" tool shows the cheapest days not only to fly out but to return to the origin destination as well.
Be Open to a New Destination Airport
For those whose hearts are set on a certain region or area, use the "I'm Feeling Lucky" tool or the map tool, showing nearly every available destination with airfare prices. Widening the search may save several hundred dollars, if not thousands, when switching the destination airport.
Track Plane Ticket Prices
Google Flights gives options to track airfare prices and will send emails when the airfare changes. Stay on top of multiple fares this way or bide time until it's the cheapest time to buy a flight. If emails are a hassle, save track the flight and monitor it in the "Tracked prices" located on the tool's menu page.