Updated November 28, 2017

Google Flights: How to Find Cheap Flights

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Google Flights has many clever tricks hidden within its simple interface. Here are 22 must-know tips to find the cheapest deals and save on flights.

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Are you using Google Flights to its full potential?

Google dominates the Internet. So their flight search engine must also be the best, right?

You may have looked at it or used it when planning your last trip. The basic functions are pretty self-explanatory: enter in your destination and dates and it spits out the lowest airfare.

But if that's all you do, then you're not making the best use of it. There are a ton of special tricks and features that allow you to really find the cheapest flight possible. We'll explain below.

Rule of Thumb: Use Google Flights for simple one-way or round-trip flights. It's good for comparing airfare prices for different dates. But it doesn't show all carriers, like Southwest. So you'll also want to compare pricing on a couple of other sites. If you have a more complicated route, use ITA Matrix instead for finding the best fare.

Why Use Google Flights

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Let's dive into all the secret tricks Google Flights has up its sleeve. Spend just 15 minutes reading this guide, and next time, you'll know how to snag yourself the best deal.



At the end, we also compare Google Flights to other popular flight search engines. We also give you expert tips to get the lowest fare.

In this guide, you'll learn:

Did you know? Google Flights is becoming so popular now that 1 in 10 people start their airfare searches with Google Flights (according to an OAG survey). For people 32 years or under, almost 1 in 4 people start with Google Flights.

Bonus: Google Flights is a smart way to search for cheap flights. But did you know, you can travel for cheap with miles and points? Join our FREE travel course to learn how to travel the world with points.

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Google Flights Tricks You Should Not Ignore

Tip: Before trying out our insider tricks, make sure to open up a new window in your web browser in private browsing mode i.e. "incognito". This enables you to see the lowest price possible. Otherwise, your browser search history might come into play and higher prices will appear. This tip goes for all online booking sites.

1. Have flexible dates? Find when flights are cheapest

If your dates aren't set in stone, you can play around in the Calendar view to see if another day has a cheaper flight.

Enter in your departing and destination cities. And then put in your rough dates. After that, you can click on the dates and a calendar will pop up with airfare prices for each day of the month. As you change your dates, the calendar will automatically repopulate with new prices.

For example, let's look at a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago in April.

I had originally entered April 6 to depart. But from the calendar view, I can see that leaving on April 10 is the cheapest. Prices are still all in round-trip.

Tip: If you must depart on a Thursday or Friday to take advantage of the weekend, then you can confirm on the calendar that April 6 has the lowest Thursday price.

2. Sometimes, the Flexible Dates feature is even better

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If you're not finding ideal dates on the calendar view, you can click over to the Flexible Dates feature. This allows you to see prices for all departure and return options in a grid. We'll show you below.

We're using the same example of going from Los Angeles to Chicago. Let's say I don't like what the calendar found, because I really want to take advantage of a weekend. This is what the Flexible Dates feature pulled up:

You have your departure dates going across the top, and the return dates going down. Looking at the chart, the best option for me is either going on Wednesday, April 12 or Thursday, the 13th and coming back on Tuesday, April 18, depending on how many days I want to take off work. I can make use of a weekend, and the round-trip flight is only $154 (or $198 for the Thursday departure).

Baggage rules alerts: You may find a cheap ticket, but don't forget about baggage fees. A lot of people travel carry-on only to avoid fees, but low-cost fares or budget carriers may not let you carry on a bag. When you are selecting your flights, Google Flights automatically alerts you if there are baggage restrictions on the flight. For example, basic economy fares on United and American Airlines only get one small personal item (like a purse of laptop bag) to carry on. Budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit also have the same restrictions. You'll see the alert at the bottom of your selected flight, so pay attention.

3. Find the cheapest month to fly with the Price Graph

Or maybe you don't have a month in mind yet. Let's say you want to take a vacation to Cabo San Lucas. You just know that you'd like to go sometime this year.

Enter in your starting point and destination, and go to the Price Graph option. You'll see a small graph across the next year at the bottom, and a more detailed graph you can scroll.

It looks like that the beginning of April is very expensive and the price drops off towards the middle of April. Or looking at the smaller graph, September/October also seem to be the cheapest months.

Tip: If using Google Flights from another country, simply click the toolbar. At the bottom you will see a "Currency" and "Language" box that you can modify accordingly.

4. Explore places for cheap with Discover Destinations

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Feeling spontaneous? Have a long weekend and itching to go somewhere, anywhere? The Discover Destinations feature is a great way to look for a cheap flight to places you might not have thought of.

On the home page, scroll down to the Discover Destinations section. Just enter in your departing airport and dates you have available, and it'll show you popular cities and lowest airfare. I prefer the map view, where you can zoom in and out to see prices to cities.

For example, for a long weekend in March, there are flights from LAX to Seattle for only $93 round-trip. Or to Denver for $75 round-trip. Score! I've always wanted to visit those cities.

You can also click on "I'm Feeling Lucky" if you're feeling daring. Google will come up with a destination for your dates based on your search history and what's currently popular.

Looking for Premium Economy, Business or First Class seats? If you're using the map to look for flight deals, the default is economy class. You can manually change it to display results in Premium Economy, Business or First Class. Here's how: in the URL bar on top, just add at the end ";sc=b" for Business class or ";sc=f" for First class. Then hit enter, and you'll see the prices in your chosen class.

Or you can manually change the fare class by clicking the "Economy" box.

5. Search for entire regions with flexible dates

You're not limited to where you search. You can search a broad region, such as Europe, South America, etc. And you also don't have to search for a specific date. You can just specify a month and general length of stay.

For example, I'm looking at April for 2 weeks in Europe:

Wow, round-trip to Paris or London for just around $400. If you have 2 weeks and have always wanted to go to these iconic cities, now's your chance.

If you’re looking for a specific type of trip, click on "Interests". Click the interest that suits you best - such as Honeymoon, Beach, Wildlife, Adventure, etc. - and be surprised by what Google comes up with. You can only pick one interest at a time.

We recommend playing around with the "Discover Destinations" tool as the possibilities are limitless.

Cheap flight to Europe: This is probably the best way to get cheap flights to Europe. Just enter in your dates or play around with different months and see what the cheapest flights are on the map view. You never know, you may even get ideas for cities you've never considered before.

6. Automatically tells you alternative days to save money

Maybe you didn't want to mess around with the calendar view or didn't notice it. Google will automatically tell you if you can save some money by choosing another date.

For example, I'm searching for a flight from Los Angeles to London, for the dates May 19 - May 29.

For my dates, the best price is around $800 round-trip. But Google Flights gives you a tip box at the top that says if I return just 1 day later (on May 30), the round-trip price is only $653 - a savings of $150.

Tip: Of course, make sure that this works out better for you overall. For example, it won't make sense to save $150 on airfare by returning a day later, but then also having to spend an extra $200 on a hotel room for an extra night.

7. Get alerts when prices have dropped

If you are planning for a trip a little bit further in advance, then you can afford to wait for prices to drop. This works if you have set dates for the trip. You can either track general flights for any airline (for example: LAX to LHR) by switching on "Track Prices." Or you can choose to track the specific flights you like. Google Flights will email you if the price drops. Let Google do all the work for you.

You can save as many different flights/itineraries you want. Then you can pick the cheapest among them for whichever one drops the price.

Tip: In general, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The most expensive are Fridays and Sundays. Red-eye flights are usually the cheapest fares you'll find. And if you're willing to take a connecting flight, you can reduce the cost by a lot as well.

The best times to buy domestic airfares are between 1-3 months before departure. For international trips, you'll want to shop 2-5 months before departure.

8. Search for nearby airports for cheaper fares

Sometimes, it's cheaper to fly into another airport and then use ground transportation (or if you're lucky and have family/friends willing to pick you up).

Google Flights will automatically give you suggestions for nearby airports and the cost to fly into that instead. For example, flights from LAX to JFK are usually pretty expensive. But Google Flights show that if you fly into LaGuardia in Queens instead, you can save over $100.

From LaGuardia, you can either take a taxi for around $50 into Manhattan. Or if you don't mind toting some luggage around, use public transportation for just a few dollars.

Get more savings tips with Google Flights Insights. If you're using Google Flights on your phone, you'll see a little section called "Flight Insights" in the search results. This tool tells you if there's a cheaper day to fly. By tapping into "dates" or "price graph", you can see a calendar view or a date graph depicting flight prices on different days. There's also an "airports' tab that lets you see the prices to fly out of/into nearby airports. It even has a trip planning feature that shows you prices for a flight and hotel bundle.

9. Optimize your miles for specific airlines or alliances

This one is for the air mile players. If you have an airline you're loyal to or you want to book partner flights within a certain alliance, you can specifically search for that. This is great if you have points/status with a certain airline or use a credit card that transfers points.

Just go to the "Airline" pull-down tab and select your alliance or airline. You'll then see all flights within that network.

Tip: If you are familiar with airline codes, another shortcut is to add ";a=xx" to the end of the URL, replacing the xx with the airline code. For example, ";a=ua" would only show United options.

Likewise, you can X-out any undesired airlines by checking the "X", instead of the check mark, next to the name of the airline. This is especially helpful when booking international flights (as this will dictate your layovers) or whenever you want to weed out low cost carrier airlines.

10. Explore a new city with the layover feature

Layovers can be horrible. But not if it's long enough for you to actually leave the airport and explore the city. Believe me, there is a lot you can see and eat on a long layover.

This is a fun feature. By purposely forcing a long layover, you can explore a whole new city on your way. Here's how you can do it:

Let's say we want to go from Los Angeles to Miami. For this example, we'll just do 1-way to keep it easy. Enter in your date and go to the "More" pull-down tab at the end. Make sure it says "any duration" and "any connection." You'll see a list of all possible connections.

A layover in Vegas sounds awesome! Let's select that. You'll see a list of all options for a layover in Vegas.

I've selected the one that seems best to me for the price and time. For just about $100 more in airfare, you can layover in Vegas and explore it for a full day, meet up with friends, eat a buffet.

We admit that this feature takes a bit of patience to use. And you may not always find what you want. Sometimes the value is good and sometimes it ends up being a lot more expensive. But it's great if you do happen to find something that works for you.

Did you know? Google Flights now offers instant booking with Lufthansa, Virgin America, and Westjet. This means you can book the flights without leaving the Google interface

11. Find the Perfect Flight With The Duration And Times Filters

  • Duration filter: Say you want to fly from Los Angeles to Bangkok this September and spend no more than 20 hours in the air. Simply click on "More" and change the duration to what you are comfortable with.

  • Time filter: This allows you to find flights options that best suit your schedule and preferences. For example, if you prefer to leave after 5pm on your departure day and after 3pm on day you fly home, adjust the hours accordingly and Google Flights does the rest.

These tools are especially useful for business travelers who have fixed arrival and departure times, or travelers who want to avoid super long travel times.

Tip: Although Google Flights works best in desktop mode, you can also search and book flights on your phone or tablet the same way. It doesn't have the sleekest interface, but it gets the job done.

12. Finding the Perfect Destination For Your Budget

Head on over to the Explore Map feature and select your departure airport(s) and specific travel dates. Use the pull down menu at the top to set your budget limit.

For example, I want to go on a weeklong vacation from November 1-8th. I'm departing from Boston and want to spend under $350 for my flight ticket. Just by scanning the map, you will see London come up as an option for just $316 and Reykjavik for $350. What a bargain!

13. Hotel Bookings Made Easy

In addition to finding you the best flight to book, Google Flights also gives information on hotels.

After inputting a departure airport, the month you'd like to travel, and a duration, a list of destination will pop up. Feel free to throw in an interest and / or place (i.e. Europe).

A list of recommended destinations will pop up, including the cheapest dates to travel and best price. In this example, there are 18 possible destinations to choose from with London being the least expensive for just $341.

Click the destination and a box will pop up.

On the left, you'll see flight options; and on the right hotel information is listed.

Click the "Show Hotels" link which opens up a new window with a list of hotels and a clickable map. You will have to manually enter your dates of stay and number of guests. From there you can book the perfect hotel with just a few more clicks. Google also conveniently features photos and reviews from real travelers for each property. In all likelihood, you will make the actual booking via third party site such as Booking.com or Priceline.

All in all, this function proves to be handy for those on a budget as you can get a gage on what you will have to spend per night on accommodations. Plus, you can easily find a hotel to stay at within minutes thanks Google's search engine and the corresponding Google map.

Tip: Continue learning about your destination of interest by clicking the city name. The top activities and things to do keywords are also clickable streamlining the travel research process as much as possible.

The Hotels feature also shows up when using "Explore Map" after inputting your departure and arrival airports and travel dates.

Note: Google Flights won't give you all the hotel options; it only shows a select few. For more options to suit your budget, check out Trivago. This hotel search engine searches the web to give you the lowest prices on hotel rooms. It's extremely user friendly. We like the feature where you can search for hotels in proximity to a landmark. For example, if you're going to New York, you can search for a hotel close to Times Square. It will tell you the exact distance to your selected landmark. This makes it easier to sift through the dozens of listings. The prices are on par with sites like Priceline and Expedia.

14. One Way and Multi-City Searching

Google Flights is also a one-stop shop for one way and multi-city flights. Finding a one way flight is exactly the same as in the Round Trip tab (without a return date, of course).

Now the Multi-City tab allows you to put together a complex flight itinerary ideal for trips around the world and open-jaw trips.

There is no way to play around with the dates to find the cheapest option. However, you can manually compare pricing for each day if you have some flexibility with when you travel.

When you’re ready, you can add the additional flights. Click on the "Add a Flight" button and input your departure and arrival airports and the date you want to travel. You can add up to 5 separate legs.

Click through to choose the specific flights you want and scroll down all the way to the bottom of the page to see booking options. In most cases, you will have to book the airfares individually. Why? Because it's typically less expensive as you can take advantage of the super affordable fares on low-cost carrier airlines such as AirAsia.

In this example, if you book the 5 flights separately, you can enjoy a multi-destination trip through Southeast Asia for $1327. Expedia offers a similar itinerary for a whopping $6656.76, if you book it together (click on “check price”). It's a no brainer to spend some extra time to make each reservation separately.

Now that we know that booking separate airfares is the way to go, click the prices in the blue box. A new window will pop up that will redirected to each airline's booking page. Your flights will be booked before you know it.

15. Explore The World & Top Destinations

Scroll all the way down to the bottom and you will see 2 columns.

  • Explore The World: Use the direct links for each continent to narrow down possible destination(s) to visit.
  • Top Destinations: These are the places that most people are flying to which means there are some great deals to be found. If you change the departure city, a new set of top destinations populate.

16. Quick Access To Airlines' Baggage Policies

Each time you search for a flight, a note about baggage fees pops up (above the "Track Prices" box. Click the "Additional bag fees" to see a list of airlines offering the route you want to take.

Tip: It is always best practice to check if there are additional fees for baggage BEFORE booking especially if it is on an airline that you have never flown with before, or if you are unsure if it is a full or low-cost carrier airline.

Do you use the Chrome browser on your desktop? Now you can see legroom and baggage restrictions for different flights with the Legroom extension. You just have to go to the google Chrome web store and add Legrooms for Google Flights. Once you've added this, on your search results, you'll see new columns for how many inches of legroom you get on the flight and whether or not you get carry-on luggage.

17. Number of Travelers

Traveling in a large group? Google Flights can search for flight availability and pricing for as many as 9 travelers under a single reservation. Choose from adults, children 2-12, infants in seat and infants in lap.

18. Inputting Nearby Airports

Do you live in a major city close to more than 1 airport and want to see all possible options and prices? You can search up to 5 nearby airports in the departure or arrival city.

In this example, you can find round-trip flights from New York JFK airport to Los Angeles LAX starting from $317 (with 2 connections). By adding nearby airports to both the departure and arrival city, more combinations pop up.

Now I see that there’s a flight from New York LaGuardia to Santa Ana for $278 on United with just 1 connection. The best option will be highlighted in green.

This tool comes in handy when you’re going somewhere with a concentration of cities. For example, travelers departing from New York (all airports) wishing to go to Brussels can add nearby cities like Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Luxembourg. In this case, Amsterdam is the cheapest city to fly to, saving you over $200.

19. Planning A Last-Minute Trip

Similar to Google Maps, Google Flights allows you to find your location in the world. This shortcut automatically inputs the closest major city without having to type anything. Highlight the departure city and hit the "Find My Location" button.

20. Using Regions In Your Flight Search

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Going beyond scanning entire continents and countries, it is possible to use the following keywords:

  • Americas
  • Latin America
  • North America
  • Central America
  • Caribbean
  • Caribbean Netherlands
  • South America
  • South Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Central Asia
  • East Asia
  • South Australia
  • Europe
  • Eastern Europe
  • Northern Europe
  • Southern Europe
  • Western Europe
  • Central Europe
  • Southwest Europe
  • Balkans
  • Scandinavia
  • Africa
  • South Africa / Southern Africa
  • North Africa
  • Central Africa
  • East Africa
  • West Africa
  • Eurasia
  • Middle East
  • Central Asia
  • Australasia
  • Oceania
  • Micronesia
  • Melanesia
  • Polynesia

Noted you can only enter these search terms in the arrival city only. You still need to input a departure city. It is up to you if you want to search for specific travel dates, or use the dates feature to find the best pricing (within the next 6 months).

Once you've pinpointed 1-2 destinations that interest you most, it is recommended to reset the search tool using specific cities to make sure you are getting the best deal possible.

21. Booking Ahead Of Time

If you love planning and booking ahead of time, Google Flights can be a key tool to possibly save hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Currently, Google Flights allows you to search and book for flights up to 331 days in advance. An error message pops up if you try selecting a date past 12 months beyond the current date. Notice that the arrow button and dates (both in gray) are no longer clickable.

22. In-flight Details At Your Fingertips

In addition to showing the flight number and aircraft type, Google Flights gives you info about the flight features and amenities. It tells you the average legroom space, WiFi availability, in-seat power ports, and entertainment features. It's always good to know what to expect (bring an extra power bank if there’s no in-seat power!).

Below the in-flight details, there might be an advisory such as "often delayed by 30+ minutes" or "overnight flight". Make sure to take note of any text in red, especially if you have connections that need to be timed appropriately, before making your reservation.

How It Compares

Google Flights compared with ITA Software

Matrix by ITA Software is the granddaddy of all flight search tools. It was created by MIT computer scientists to find the lowest price among all airlines. Google Flights acquired the ITA Software in 2011 and uses it to power their flight search.

There's no doubt that the ITA Software has more advanced features. Besides all the basic features Google Flights has, it has advanced tools to manage complex itineraries and specifications. Some functions that Google Flights can't perform include:

  • You can designate a layover/stopover in a specific airport and say how long you want it to be. This is great if you want to visit family/friends in a certain place on the way. In Google Flights, they give you a list of layover options.

  • You can do flexible departure and return plus/minus up to 2 days to find the cheapest options.

  • You can see a calendar of prices and specify a duration of stay (for example: 5-7 nights). And the calendar will tell you what the round-trip airfare price is for each duration.

  • You can see in-depth information about pricing, mileage and fare rules. You can see this on the “Itinerary Details” page after you’ve selected a specific flight. You’ll get a breakdown of the airfare right down to the various taxes, fees and surcharges. You can also see if the proposed ticket is refundable/non-refundable and if there is a change fee should you have to change your travel dates. It’s good to know the fare rules, especially the stopover restrictions, when planning multi-destination trips overseas.

However, Google Flights is much more user-friendly. So if you're just looking for a simple one-way or round-trip flight, that's all you need. We love that Google Flights has a Calendar, Flexible Dates, and Price Graph that automatically pop up. It's easier to see at-a-glance which day has the cheapest flights. And it also has fare tracking, which ITA Software doesn't do.

Also, the ITA Matrix doesn't allow you to book flights directly on the website either. After finding the desired flight, you'll have to look it up on the airline's site, another online travel agency, or book through a human agent. Google Flights is more user-friendly in that it will take you directly to websites to book the flight you want.

See our full review of the ITA Software for beginners

Google Flights compared to Skiplagged

Skiplagged was invented based around the trick called "hidden city fares." This basically means that you book a flight with a layover that is actually your final destination. So when you arrive at the connection point, you just leave the airport and miss the 2nd leg. This can help insanely reduce the cost.

It's best explained using an example. Let's say we're going from Portland to San Francisco. On March 14, the cheapest direct flight is as follows:

And here's what we get with the "hidden city" trick:

This is a flight that goes from Portland to Los Angeles, with a layover in San Francisco. If you notice, the PDX - SFO portion is the exact same time, same flight. But the "hidden city" flight is only $66. All you have to do is get off in San Francisco, leave the airport, and miss the flight to LA.

You may be wondering: can you really just do this?? It's true that there's been some bad press and Skiplagged has even been sued. A lot of airlines prohibit hidden city ticketing, but it is not illegal to use.

Be careful, if you use Skiplagged to book your ticket, you can only do carry-on luggage. You can't check a bag or else it'll go to the final destination on the ticket. And you can only book one-way tickets. Also, do not use your mileage accounts, because you can get penalized or even shut down if your program finds out that you missed a flight.

Google Flights does not have this feature. So if you're okay with just traveling with a carry-on, it's worthwhile to check on Skiplagged if you can find a cheaper flight.

Note that you cannot book any flights on Skiplagged. It merely finds the hidden city fare price for you. You'll have to go to the airline's site or another online travel agency to book the flight.

Google Flights compared to Momondo

Momondo is one of the most popular online travel agents. It's known for finding the absolutely cheapest fares across all airlines, even the small budget carriers. For example, Google Flights doesn't have Southwest, but Momondo does.

Keep in mind: One downside of Google Flights is that it may not have as many results as other huge airfare search engines, such as Momondo, Kayak, and Skyscanner. But Google Flights is expanding the number of online travel agencies they work with. Google Flights offers bookings with Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and CheapOair.

Usually, Google Flights return the cheapest price too. But we've noticed some instances where Momondo found cheaper flights. For example, for this trip from Los Angeles to Portland on April 12, the cheapest on Google Flights was $59, while Momondo's was $52.

Its features are on the basic side, but if you're just looking for a simple trip, this site is a good place to start. And it's always smart to verify prices on 2-3 different sites anyway.

Other Travel Search Engines

There are several other travel search engines we like:

  • Expedia: Expedia is usually able to come up with the lowest price. However, it doesn't show you the prices of different days on a calendar. Google Flights'.calendar feature is much better for being able to pick the cheapest day to fly. What Expedia does better is its flight, hotel, and car rental packages. You can find a great deal by booking a bundle at once.

  • Skyscanner: Skyscanner is another one of our go-to flight search engines. It has a lot of the same features, including a helpful calendar view of prices and "explore" feature. In some instances, Skyscanner can find slightly cheaper prices for the same route, so we recommend that you also compare Skyscanner prices before booking.

  • Priceline: Google Flights and Priceline's pricing are very comparable. But Priceline doesn't have a calendar view. However, it also has hotel, flight, and car rental bundles that can help you save. Priceline is great for getting good hotel deals. It has a "Name Your Own Price" feature where you name the price you want to pay and Priceline will give you the first hotel that accepts your bid.

  • Orbitz: Orbitz acts like a one-stop shop for your vacation. Besides flights, hotels, cruises, and car rentals, it also gives you deals on activities. It also offers vacation rentals as a more unique alternative to hotels. Generally, the flight prices are competitive to Google Flights'.

  • Kayak: Kayak is one of the most comprehensive travel search engines. Usually, the flights and hotels are on par with other search sites, and you can save with their packages option. It also has an Explore feature that lets you see prices to different destinations. We also like Kayak for car rentals as they usually have the lowest price.

Most people may prefer Google Flights because of its calendar feature. In general, it's a good first step to find which days are the cheapest to fly. Then we advise that you compare the pricing with 2-3 of these other travel search sites.

Bottom Line

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Google Flights is one of the best flight search tools there is. It's extremely easy to use. Since it's powered by ITA Matrix, you can trust that it is finding the cheapest fare (usually). It has some great tools that make finding the lowest fare very easy so you can save some money on your trip. We recommend, though, that you compare prices with a couple of other sites, such as Momondo. We also love the Discover Destinations feature. It makes travel spontaneous and fun, and best of all, cheap.

App Note: Google Flights is available in app form only on Android (under the app "Flights"). If you're using an iPhone or iPad, you can still use Google Flights on the browser. An advantage of using Google Flights on your phone is that it shows pop-up alerts when your fare is likely to drop or go up in the next couple of days. Google gets this information from historical data and trends. This helps you know whether you should hold off or book your flight now.

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