Did you know that with just a few handy tricks, Google Flights can be your new best friend when booking flights? Whether you’re after the cheapest option, the fastest way to just get there or something in between, there are some great tips and tricks for making the most out of this truly excellent tool. 

A pair of female hands are over a laptop in a coffee shop
The software allows users to metasearch © Inga Kjer / Photothek via Getty Images

It’s all thanks to something called the ITA Matrix, a type of flight software created by some MIT scientists in the late 1990s, bought out by Google ten years ago, and now available for you to use via Google Flights.

It’s what’s known as metasearch: you don’t book through Google, you book through airlines (or, less frequently, through online travel agents) and Google gets a percentage for sending you their way. So, what does it do? 

Add convenient (or weird and wonderful) airport combinations 

Let’s say that you know you want to fly from somewhere within striking distance of Birmingham in the UK to Japan.

You can select any combination of airports you like: departing Birmingham of course, plus Manchester, London Heathrow and East Midlands, say, but you can also skip (for example) Gatwick or Stansted. Let’s say you could even go up to Glasgow and sleep on a relative's couch the night before, so add that one in.

Arriving, let’s say you’re doing a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto to Hiroshima. You don’t really mind if you arrive at any of those cities or even Fukuoka in Japan’s west, so go ahead and take a look.

How much can you save? Well, booking a few months out for a couple of weeks in cherry blossom season I found flights for two hundred pounds less than simply looking for Birmingham to Tokyo. You’ll have to travel down to London for it, but for many travellers that’s a matter of hopping on the reasonably priced coach straight to Heathrow.

Read more: Is it better to book long haul connections with the same airline when planning a trip?

Just type the city name (or, for the advanced, the three letter airport code) into the “from” or “to” boxes, followed by a comma to add another city afterwards.

Currently, there seems to be a five-city limit either side, but that’s a wonderfully large range of destination combinations.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for that light grey "All Airports” note by a city name. If you don't know, for instance, that Osaka has two airports, or that Milan has three, this is a good way to make sure you’re searching for all the options, but don’t forget to double-check the airports you’ll actually be flying to and from. 

The hidden calendar is a really powerful tool

You might not know that, once you’ve picked your cities and calendar, you can reopen the calendar tabs and see if there are even lower prices available if you’re flexible on dates, which quite a lot of us are when we’re going on holidays.

Just click on your departure date, wait a few seconds (it can be up to thirty or so if you’re on a slowish connection) and look for prices that come up in green, which are the cheapest options.

Once you’ve clicked on that departure date, wait for another few seconds for the return dates for which that price is available (also marked in green) to magically appear.

In the Birmingham to Tokyo example, I discovered that by leaving a week earlier I could save an extra £80 — that’s a lot of okonomiyaki on the streets of Dōtombori.

Take a look at the Date Grid too, which is a bit like that old “plus/minus three days” thing on some websites, and it’s another way to hunt around to see whether you’re getting the best deal around.  

You can now find out just how comfortable your trip will be ahead of time © Guerilla Images / 500px

Learn more about what’s going to be on board

In that Birmingham to Tokyo example, the cheapest option is on China Eastern Airlines. If you’ve never heard of them, you might also be wondering what’s on board.

Thanks to a company called Routehappy and their database of what’s onboard, Google Flights tells me that I’ll get an above average amount of legroom, wifi, onboard power and USB outlets, and on-demand video on the flight to Shanghai.

(Full disclosure: five years ago now I worked at Routehappy, but have no financial or other affiliation with the company whatsoever these  days.)

Read more: Here are 20 cheap places to fly in 2020

Google Flights also pops up a little suitcase-with-a-line-through-it notification if one of the airlines in the results list doesn’t offer a carry-on bag as part of the ticket price (Ryanair, looking at you here).

That helps you figure out whether that good deal really is a good deal or not, especially if you then use the Bag Filter that permits you to check for pricing with a piece of overhead carry-on luggage. 

Figure out how much a connection is worth for you

One of the most powerful bits, I find, is that the display of the information on the results screen lets me figure out if that cheaper connection is really worth it over a nonstop flight.

Let’s say you’re going to Japan from a major city like London that has nonstop flights. On some dates, there are flights saving you two hundred pounds if you take one of those Shanghai connections, but they cost you an extra six hours of travel time.

Sometimes, though, it’s actually an extra twelve hours, and the fact that Google makes it really clear with the total elapsed time and the amount of layover you’ll have – and what airport it is – is a real benefit. 

Read more: Don’t make these mistakes when booking flights

You may not mind a long layover: there are airports with transit hotels right in the terminal (have a swift search online for your options there). Especially over busy periods, saving lots of cash and having a longer layover where you can catch six hours of uninterrupted sleep in a by-the-hour bedroom and then shower before you’re on your way again can really be worth it.

Now, that calculation will be different for every traveller. But it’s the fact that you can now make it that’s one of the things I find most useful about Google Flights.

It’s not the only tool you should use, of course: add a quick search in Private Browsing Mode on whatever airlines come up as your best options, and perhaps use another flight search site too for comparison.

Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to our daily newsletter.

Explore related stories

Anse Lazio Praslin Seychelles, young couple men and woman on a tropical beach during a luxury vacation in the Seychelles. Tropical beach Anse Lazio Praslin Seychelles - stock photo
Anse Lazio Praslin Seychelles, a young couple of men and women on a tropical beach during a luxury vacation in Seychelles
© fokkebok / Getty

Tips & Advice

How to travel to the Seychelles with points and miles in 2024

May 23, 2024 • 12 min read