Google finally forced me to spend time learning to navigate their new Google Flights format after they ended access to the Classic Google Flights version earlier this month. After hours of searches this past weekend planning two upcoming trips to Europe, I finally see the improvements of the new Google Flights layout.
More importantly, I figured out how to find fare calendars and maps of airline fares similar to what I preferred in the previous version of Google Flights.
Here are some beginner navigating tips for Google Flights fare searches.
I am not an expert on Google Flights, despite probably spending about 1,000 to 2,000 hours on the site over the past three years.
I have some questions of my own for reader feedback.
1. Calendar View and one week fare matrix combined offer added functionality.
Calendar view for airfare is found through homepage.
My page auto inserts Monterey as the default airport. Anyone know how to change this to SFO?
Monterey has very few flights and ticket prices are generally outrageous. I would love to set default to SFO, but I do not see anyway to make that change.
Google Flights San Francisco to London round trip fare search June 7-June 15 (8 day itinerary)
Google Flights defaults to a 4-day round trip search. Most of my searches are international trips so I reset this itinerary to 7 days or more for international fare searches.
In a general search for low airfare deals I don’t worry too much about specific dates. My objective is to set up parameters for looking at calendar view.
Click on departure date box for June 7 to open Google Flights calendar view for SFO-LON 8-day trips.
Now it is possible to quickly scroll through calendar months to check prices for 8-day trips over the next 10 months. If there is a low fare, then click on dates and check fare matrix to see if a shorter or longer trip results in lower fare.
Now that I see there is a low fare at $277, I can switch to Google matrix calendar to see if there might be lower fares for a shorter or longer trip than 8 days.
Airline Filter Tip:
Since I am doing a general search for low fares, I did not filter for any specific airlines. Normally I block out WOW Air when searching SFO international fares to Europe due to all the add-on fees for bags. And frequently I am searching specifically for Star Alliance flights since that is my preferred alliance for advancing elite miles earned in my Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus account.
At this point I can select specific airlines or a specific alliance to search. If searching for Icelandair I can select Icelandair only. Selecting a specific alliance and scrolling through calendar view is a way to see if any airline alliance members have a competitive fare.
Thousands of Google Flights searches over the past few years have shown me that some of the best alliance fare sales are responses to Icelandair low fares.
A quick check of alliance fares is possible by selecting Star Alliance and then go back to the departure date box to open calendar view and scroll through months.
A quick check shows me there are no competitive Alliance fares to Icelandair $277 round trip for SFO-London. This is a limited assessment since calendar view is only showing me the price for an 8-day trip on alliance airlines. There might be a more competitive fare with an alliance airline for a 7-day, 9-day, or some other length trip.
- Star Alliance $462 round trip.
- Oneworld $547 round trip
- SkyTeam $588 round trip
Google Flights Fare Matrix
So far I know Icelandair has a low $277 fare for an 8-day trip in September 2018 with similar prices seen in other months when I search monthly calendar view.
The next step to pinpoint low fares is check Google Flights fare matrix for specific dates in a small weekly calendar range.
Note: Icelandair fare increase from $277 to $285. This change happened while writing this article.
I bought my Icelandair SFO-LHR ticket two days ago. Several blogs posted this fare sale today and prices have been rising quickly. My $270 Icelandair ticket dates were pricing at $700 this morning.
The main strategy here is using fare calendar and fare matrix together to pinpoint best fares.
Assume the $277 fare for Sep 5-13 had risen to $600, then I could go back to the Sep 5 date box, search fare calendar for lower fares and repeat the steps covered so far.
Continuing on with Icelandair $285 SFO-LON Sep 5-13 itinerary shows me the ticket can be purchased through Priceline and Orbitz.
Google Flights Tip: Don’t trust Google Flights prices.
I have learned from years of experience that the price shown on Google Flights does not necessarily price the same when you click through Google Flights deep link.
Icelandair San Francisco SFO – Keflavik KEF – London LHR – KEF (overnight) – SFO
Priceline has correct fare as shown on Google Flights. This is also an example of how Google Flights prices always round up. $284.01 is shown as $285 on Google Flights calendar mode and fare matrix.
Orbitz direct link pulls up a $352.84rt. Also, a closer look shows this is not even the same itinerary as the Priceline ticket. Priceline ticket is a 27 overnight layover in Iceland (3:10pm to 5:00pm next day).
Orbitz itinerary has same outbound flights, however, return flight departs at 9:10pm with 11:10pm arrival in Iceland. Same Icelandair departure flight to SFO at 5pm next day as Priceline.
Be sure to check the itinerary on the Google Flights direct link booking to be sure it is exact same itinerary you originally searched.
Google Flights Fare Maps
Fare Maps is one of the most useful search tools in my airline fare searches. I know Icelandair has $270 fares for San Francisco to London.
What other cities in Europe might be on sale with Icelandair?
Three horizontal lines icon in upper left corner is drop down menu to find Explore Map tool.
My search is still filtered to only show Icelandair. Change airlines filter mode to search by alliance or specific airlines. Adjust dates to see fares on adjacent dates.
The side bar indicates there are low Icelandair fares to Paris, even though Paris is not one of the cities priced on the actual map in the image above.
I quickly find SFO to Paris CDG is available for $385 Sep 5-13. Google Flights fare calendar shows me ticket prices at $372 round trip for some dates in October and November. Checking fare matrix shows Sep 5-Sep 14 drops the price from $385 to $376 for a 9-day trip. A quick check of other alliance airlines shows prices from $560 to $620. These are all the same steps I showed in this article. I can do all that in less than two minutes.
The powerful part of explore maps is the ability to zoom in on a specific region and find low fares to other airports. This is a tool I used frequently over the past few days when I was searching for low one way fares from Rome to other places in Europe to get out of FCO airport without an overnight. I found a $20 one way Wizz Air flight to Vienna departing 3.5 hours after I arrive in Rome FCO using Explore Map for my summer travel.
Playing around with SFO flights in Google Flights Explore Map mode searching all airlines quickly shows me several other low fares in Europe for September travel.
When asked by a reader today how I find low fares, I realize now that I spend a lot of time on Google Flights playing with Explore Map.
Pick random dates in any month for any SFO, SJC, LAX ( or any city) to a city in Europe ( or any global region), then search Explore Maps for low fare cities. Then adjust dates, adjust map and repeat…many times.
That is how I find most of my fare deals posted on Loyalty Traveler.