As we reach the end of our “find cheap flights phase”, it’s finally time to look at one of the most flexible flight aggregators out there. Before we get into that, a note: a lot of “travel hacking” is about avoiding spending cash on flights and hotels. We’ve spent the last few weeks on saving money on cash flights because these ideas apply to the majority of travelers, not just travel hackers.
But rest assured, there are ways to avoid spending a lot of cash on flights – that section of the Family Travel Hacking Guide will commence after this post! Digression over.
I decided to write about Google Flights since I think it will be the best option for the average end user. Here are some ideas how to get the most out of your searches.
1 – Keep your dates flexible to find the best prices
If you’re not 100% locked in to your travel dates, you can often save a little bit of money. Let’s go back to those flights I was looking at between Boston and Syracuse. I started my search from Sept 9-11 (2 nights). Results appear instantly AND Google Flights helpfully tells me how much money I can save by adjusting the dates by a day or two:
If I click either my departure or return date, a calendar of dates with the cheapest prices for 2 night trips pops up:
I can also click on “Flexible dates” to see a matrix of departure and return dates around my original search:
Finally, I can click on “Price graph” to see how prices have been fluctuating:
While other websites can do all this for you, the nice thing is how snappy Google Flights is – there is virtually no wait time.
One key to saving money on flights is being flexible whenever possible, especially when looking for multiple seats for a family!
2 – Explore the cheapest destinations to visit that fit your schedule
If you want to take a trip but aren’t sure where you want to go, use the Google Flights map feature. Basically, you can give Google your dates and you’ll get a map of fares. As you move the map around it populates with different fares: pretty neat.
You can refine the map by continent, interest (like beaches vs. cities), times, airline alliances, and almost anything you can think of. So for example, you could search for two tickets from August 9-13 to beach destinations in South America on Oneworld with any number of stops.
The map is a simple visual aid to look at prices, and as you zoom in some of the smaller cities will appear. It’s fun to play with and dream about where you can go, but it also can provide some great deals to places you never would have thought of visiting.
Although a feature like this isn’t for every family, I find that it’s a good tool to use just to research destinations.
3 – Refine your results to find the best deal or most convenient option
A lot of family travel is about finding the best balance between price and convenience. Most families of four or more will pay a little extra to avoid two connections (this of course applies to many people).
Google Flights can help you quickly sort through the various options to find that balance. When you specify number of stops, airline alliance, departure times, etc., you can really drill down to find the flights you want. Best of all the results load quickly, saving valuable time. Most search engines offer the same functionality but I find Google Flights the most efficient.
Be aware, however, that Google Flights may sometimes miss the cheapest flights. Some low cost carriers like Southwest won’t share their data with Google (or anyone). In addition, Google preloads results, meaning it doesn’t perform a new search every single time you refine a parameter. That can sometimes leave to paying a little more but you can always use Google Flights to perform your initial searches and then switch over to something else when it’s time to book if you’re worried (I generally don’t bother).
4 – Automatically monitor flights you are interested in
Like Kayak and Hopper, Google Flights will track flights you are interested in and send you updates. Just in case you don’t want to use multiple services.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do with Google Flights. If you poke around there are a lot more features to play with. But the goal of travel hacking is to avoid spending money on flights! Looking forward to finally starting down that road in the next post in the series.
Family Travel Hacking Guide Index