The air travel industry has face some turbulent times lately, with factors like rising fuel costs and tightening corporate travel policies presenting particular challenges.
That's not to say that the sky is falling: Most air carriers are still enjoying big profits and in 2017 airlines enjoyed their safest year on record, as no fatalities involving jets were reported, according to the global report Civil Aviation Safety Review. While many airlines have turned to padding fares with extra fees, it's been left to the tech world to help travelers find savings wherever they can. One tool we've found particularly helpful is Google Flights.
How to navigate the new & improved Google Flights to save money
Google Flights was launched in 2011 as an organic supplement to the company’s core online search business, offering an alternative to the myriad airline booking sites. Of course, rivals weren’t happy about the fact that Googling “flights” meant the site would pop up as the first entry on the page. The stripped-down interface, ease of use and branding (hey, it’s Google) quickly made it a top airfare-shopping destination.
Over the holidays, Google Flights got a facelift, but it wants users to opt in rather than automatically see the changes. On Google.com/Flights, you will see a box on the right side of the page, which says “The new Google Flights has landed” and a blue “Try It” button.
You’ll be taken to a page with a blue search bar up top. If you have your location enabled on your computer, it will automatically show you some of the cheapest flights from your city to other destinations.
This is a great way to find a trip to some new, exciting place without having to search for it. And it also aligns with money expert Clark Howard's travel motto. "It's really pretty simple: I don't pick a destination that I have to go to," he writes. "I wait for a deal somewhere, buy the deal, and then figure out why I want to go there!"
Once you enter a destination and click on the calendar to choose your departure and arrival dates, it pulls up a grid of flights from different carriers. You can sort by price (low to high), duration and departure time.
But what really sets Google Flights apart is the improved functionality it offers in trying to save you money.
Near the top of the page under the title “Flight insights” are four boxes that offer ways to tweak your flights for better deals.
I found by clicking the “Dates” box it showed me that moving up my flight departure by three days could save me $41.
Another key insight is the “Price Graph” feature that shows you a graphical representation of the dates likely to have the cheapest and highest prices. In this mode, you can easily see how moving your flight a day or two forward or back could reap savings. Just hover over any of the bars and it will show you the date and price.
Clicking the “airports” feature allows you to easily see what that same flight would cost if you flew from the nearest alternative airport. It automatically gives you the best price out there, so there’s no need to click on another web page.
And finally, there’s a “Tips” feature that allows you to explore things to do in your destination city. You can also upgrade to first class from this page or even download the Google Trips app, which can hold your itinerary and allow you to use your smartphone as a boarding pass.
There are several great sites through which to book travel, but Google Flights is one of the most effective we’ve found for saving time and money. If you have some favorite travel sites, please share them in the comments below.