When Dan ran his travel hacking March Mayhem, I was really disappointed that Google Flights didn’t top the list of tools (although I shouldn’t really complain since I didn’t vote all that much through the contest). Out of all the tools out there for searching revenue flights, I find myself constantly coming back to Google Flights. It really is the best flight search engine.
Google Flights has all the features you need when searching for paid flights, and even some that can certainly help with finding award flights (such as finding available routes and dates flown by a certain carrier). If you are looking to do some advanced stuff, then Google Flights is probably not for you. Head on over to the ITA matrix, which is used by the experts. But if you want something that is easy-to-use and feature-rich for searching the bulk of itineraries, you can’t beat Google Flights.
A leg up on the competition for the best flight search engine
After using Skyscanner a lot to browse flight itineraries, I found myself gravitating more and more to using Google Flights instead. Now it is my go-to. Here are my 6 reasons why Google Flights is the best flight search engine out there:
- The map interface – This is hands-down my favorite way to search for flights. Maybe it’s because I think spatially and geographically, but I *love* searching for flights via the map. Most of the time I am just browsing for fun, and I nearly always use the map interface. One cool tip is that if you initially search for flights between two cities that you know have nonstop service, you can then filter the stops to ‘Nonstop’ only, and switch to the map UI. The map will be appropriately filtered. Super useful.
- Speed – Google Flights is so much faster than other sites, especially when just doing some searches for fun to ballpark prices. I find that using Momondo, Skyscanner, or OTA platforms, the results take a little while to filter in. Google flights rarely has significant delays. From larger airports, the results are nearly instantaneous. I can perform multiple searches or refine my search in the same time it takes me to look through the results of a single search I have completed on Skyscanner or Momondo.
- Ease of flight selection – Google Flights is the best flight search engine because lets you easily pick your departure and return independently of each other, and modifies the price results and return flight options appropriately after you select your departure. Then when you click the button to book, you are often taken to the actual provider’s website rather than a 3rd party OTA (although OTAs sometimes show up, too, in the booking options). I’ve booked with United now on 3 occasions after being taken straight to my itinerary by Google Flights. Sometimes you can even book straight through Google (Virgin America, being an example).
- Flexible Dates View – Within the date selection UI are 2 other tools besides the simple calendar. These are the Flexible Dates interface and the Price Graph. The Flexible Dates interface shows a matrix of departure and return dates and the corresponding lowest prices for each combination. This lets you quickly identify the cheapest options. Skyscanner and Momondo have their own flexible/nearby dates UI, but I love the matrix view of Google Flights. You can even move the date windows and new lowest prices will load.
- Transparency – I will never, ever book a flight that simply says “major U.S. carrier”. Some sites (such as Momondo) will advertise fares this way! I hate this. There is *no* transparency. Expedia does the same with hotels, advertising a “mystery hotel.” No thanks. I should caveat my statements and say that I *might* consider an option like this if the price is low enough, but it pretty much never is. Google Flights doesn’t ever pull this stupid stunt. It’s transparent. You know what you’re getting. When you select a flight with “multiple carriers”, it tells you exactly who those carriers are.
- Hands down cleanest UI – After using Google Flights for a while, sites like Skyscanner and most OTAs feel a lot more cluttered. The Google Flights user interface is clean, intuitive, and fun to use. I love it.
Taken together, all these features make Google Flights the best flight search engine. But here is even more to love. The filters make searching for flights on a particular carrier or alliance insanely easy. I’ve often found myself searching United flights via Google flights rather than at united.com. It is both faster and easier to find the flights I want.
On three occasions I have found a flight I liked, and then simply clicked through to finish booking on united.com. I always double check the price with a United search once I am settled, and the Google Flights pricing has always been spot on.
There have only been a few occasions where I encountered a price discrepancy when I clicked through to book. These have typically been during flash fare sales, especially for WOW. For one of their killer one-way sales to Europe, Google Flights was showing the sale price of $69, but the seats were already gone for many dates. I would click through only to find the fare was now $299. #nothanks
Other features and the (few) downsides
Features I haven’t really used (but could be really useful):
- Price tracking tool – I’ve not had any good reasons to use this yet. I set a couple alerts on popular routes for kicks to see how the price varies over time. You’ll get the occasional email when the fare changes. Could be useful, but I am a little too obsessive to trust it. I am also usually searching in earnest when booking a cash fare and not speculatively.
- Price predictions – These are a fairly recent addition to Google Flights. They don’t always pop up for every flight, but sometimes you’ll see the small prediction box next to the booking button once you select your flight leg(s). They’re supposed to be an accurate prediction.
The few downsides:
- Region to specific destination search – I wish Google Flights would add this. You can do the reverse, such as “SFO to Europe”, but I can’t to something like “Western U.S. to Prague”. I’m guessing Google Flights will one day allow this (since it essentially the reverse of what they can do now). Skyscanner has this feature. You can do searches like “Unites States to London”, or even “United States to Everywhere”. It still doesn’t allow region to region searches, however.
- Booking options – For example, I searched MCO-NCE on a a couple sites, finding a price of $579 on Google flights and $635 on Travelocity. To book the Google flights itinerary, you would have to call Virgin Atlantic. Having to call to book a certain fare is one of the instances I may not bank on Google flights’ prices being 100% accurate.
A final feature – you should definitely consider installing the Legrooms for Google Flights plugin. It will pull up legrooms automatically for most flights, allowing you a better comparison for various products. This makes it easier than going over to seatguru to figure things out. The plugin will also display any carry-on restrictions, which is super useful given the rise of basic economy fares.
Still, I doubt I’ll find a better flight searching tool than Google Flights anytime soon. The 6 reasons I’ve described make it the best flight search engine out there. It’s one of my favorite “travel hacking” tools, and one that I will be using frequently in the future.
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