It should come as no surprise that the world's largest search engine has come up with their very own flight comparison tool, releasing Google Flights in Singapore just last month (Dec 2018).
After all, travel aggregator competitors like Skyscanner, KAYAK and Expedia are nothing but "search engines for flights", right? These travel aggregators scour hundreds of airline deals, compiling the cheapest ones on their platform.
(You know… Kind of like what we do, except for flights.)
So how does Google Flights compare with its rivals? Are they cheaper? Do they have promo codes?
WHAT IS GOOGLE FLIGHTS?
As mentioned above, Google Flights is a travel aggregator site run by Google.
You can use it like any other comparison tool - by searching for your desired flight directly on Google.com/flights - or you can simply type "flights to Tokyo" or something similar into your Google bar.
Like its competitors, the basic search filters include preferred airline(s) and flight timings, number of stops, and price range. You may also "save" your search by choosing to track the prices of your intended route.
Just leave your email, and you'll get updated of any significant changes in the airfares for your selected flight itinerary.
WILL MY GOOGLE SEARCH HISTORY AFFECT THE GOOGLE FLIGHT PRICES?
As you probably know, flight prices are super volatile. Compare prices today, check back tomorrow, and chances are, the airfares will not be the same as when you first searched for them.
There are many theories on what algorithms these booking sites use, and most seem to believe that airfares are affected by cookies collected by the site. That is, if you've spent the past week checking ticket prices for a particular destination, the aggregator site will "remember" and jack its prices up.
And that's just for regular travel aggregators. With Google also running the search engine you probably use every day, there's an added worry that your Google Flight results may be influenced by your search history.
"Will tickets to Tokyo be more expensive because I've been obsessively searching for the 2019 sakura bloom date forecast?!"
To answer your question, we don't know if Google Flights will tap into your search history. And we will never know for sure, duh.
I wouldn't be too concerned though - this is pretty much a non-issue because even if said shady tactics are industry practice, you can easily avoid the problem by surfing incognito.
Dynamic price discrimination is a real thing in the airline industry, but the prices are usually adjusted based on general factors like how many seats are left and how early in advance you're booking your flight (because demand vs supply). Don't be too paranoid.
If you ask me, I'd say it's more likely that in the time that you've been checking, seats have just been filling up, thus causing higher prices.
IS GOOGLE FLIGHTS CHEAPER THAN SKYSCANNER, EXPEDIA AND KAYAK?
Flight comparison sites are not new - even before Google Flights hit the Singapore market, we've been happy using other platforms like Skyscanner, Expedia and KAYAK to search for cheap flights. Function-wise, there's nothing too special about Google Flights either. So what's all this hype about?
Let's first check if there's in difference in ticket prices across the these top 4 aggregators. For this example, I selected a return trip to Tokyo (any airport) for 2 pax, direct flights only, from 26 Mar to 9 April 2019.
As expected, all 4 aggregators pulled out the same flights from Delta Air Lines as the cheapest deal of the moment. Google Flights, KAYAK and Skyscanner had the same price of $1,321 ($660.50 per pax), but for some odd reason, Expedia sold the same tickets for 22 per cent more ($1,620 for 2 pax).
With the exception of Expedia, I think it's safe to assume that if you're using a travel aggregator, the prices in airfares shouldn't vary too much. After all, I expect that they all scrape information from the same major airline websites.
If you're extra kiasu, then just check 1 or 2 more booking sites.
ARE THERE GOOGLE FLIGHTS PROMO CODES?
I've looked high and low, and it doesn't seem like there are any.
This is my main gripe with Google Flights: Although the airfares are competitive, they don't have any discounts or promotions.
Granted, the other flight comparison sites can't give you direct discounts on your plane tickets either, but most of these platforms also have hotel and/or car rental booking services too, so they can offer bundle discounts.
So really, what "extra" does Google Flights bring to the online travel booking game?
Nothing much, TBH.
It's not that Google Flights is a bad or lousy service, it's just nothing new. If you're the type whose entire life is chronicled on Google - gmail, Google calendars, etc - then you may prefer using Google Flights to the other sites. There are much fewer ads and jarring colours, for one thing.
Plus, you can have everything seamlessly integrated into Google Trips.
If you do decide to use Google Flights, read on for some tips on scoring the cheapest airfares on Google Flights.
HOW DO I FIND THE CHEAPEST FLIGHTS ON GOOGLE FLIGHTS?
The best way to find cheap deals is to make use of the flight insights. After you input your destination, number of pax and travel dates, Google Flights will display a "flights insights" section along with your results. Here's how you can make the most of them.
1. Use the "tips" to decide when to book your flights.
Google Flights has a "tips" insight tool which offers general recommendations to do with your flight itinerary. They tell you if prices are expected to increase, and if prices are lower than usual.
These are the 3 "gradings" and what they mean:
One thing though: All 3 insights tell you when it's a good time to book, but none tell you when prices are higher than usual.
Very sneaky, Google.
I suppose the most useful insight is to know when "prices are less than usual". Better than nothing, I guess.
2. Be flexible with your travel dates and let the "price graphs" recommend cheaper ones.
Google Flights also has a price graph function that displays fares and trends by the month or week. This is great for those who don't have specific travel dates in mind, perhaps just a rough idea of which time of the year they want to travel.
For instance, if you just know you want to travel during the June holidays - simply look at the June price graph and pick the cheapest dates for your preferred destination.
3. Consider alternative (i.e. cheaper) airports.
Aside from being flexible with travel dates, being "chin-cai" with airports can also save you some money. When you search a flight route, Google Flights will list alternative airports nearby, along with their prices.
You may find that picking the small airports further away from the city cheaper.
4. Use the "explore" function to decide where to go.
If on top of not having fixed travel dates you also have no die-die-must-go destination, you can try your luck with the explore function.
Just input your travel month and Google Flights will find the cheapest airfares. From there, pick your preferred destination that's within your budget.
CONCLUSION: SHOULD YOU USE GOOGLE FLIGHTS?
In general, Google Flights is easy to use, and does a great job in helping travellers find cheap flight deals. I found the filters and tools user-friendly and super intuitive - I didn't have any trouble navigating the site.
I also prefer Google Flight's clean, no-nonsense design to several of its competitors distracting, photo-heavy interfaces. But that's just me lah.
Plus, they work with over 300 travel and airline partners, which is welcome news, because an aggregator is only as good as the number of partners they have, right?
If you can appreciate all that, Google Flights is a pretty damn decent flight aggregator site; especially if you intend to couch surf (or book AirBnB) and don't need any other bundled services (like hotels, car rentals, etc).
However, if you do need a hotel stay or wheels to get around, you might find better value in booking through all-in-one travel sites like Skyscanner, KAYAK and Expedia by using promo codes.
BONUS: WHAT CREDIT CARD SHOULD YOU USE TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS?
To be honest, you can't squeeze that much out of flight tickets.
If you ask me, the first group of credit cards I'd strike off the list are air miles cards. I reserve those for when I'm already overseas, swiping in foreign currency for bonus miles accrual.
The only exception is if the miles card has a running promotion with the travel aggregator site, like Expedia for example. But this will never happen for Google Flights because it redirects you to the airline and/or partner page to book.
If you're looking to chock up miles, consider a rewards card instead. Those let you swap rewards points for miles too, and typically have better earn rates. Not many offer bonus rewards earning for travel bookings, but the DBS Woman's Card gives you 5X rewards points ($1 = 2 miles) even on online flight bookings. Do note that spending is capped at $1,000.
Personally, I'm more of a cashback kind of girl, so I would use the CIMB Visa Signature card. It offers 10 per cent cash rebate on online spends, including flights and other travel-related bookings. Cashback (for the online spending category) is capped at $50 though, so it's most worth it if you're swiping for airfares under $500.