As a frequent traveler, I learned a few tricks to reliably search for hidden deals. Using the strategies described in this post, I was able to buy the following tickets (regular economy seats on American Airlines):
- Chicago to Tokyo for $565
- Chicago to Sydney (via Los Angeles) for $540
- Chicago to Copenhagen (via Helsinki) for $420
This post assumes you are familiar with navigating the Google Flights interface. If you have never used the Google Flights before, check out Your Guide To Google Flights.
The Explore Map is my first step to reliably finding flight deals. The map shows the cheapest available flight to multiple cities meeting my search criteria:
If my destination is London, the cheapest option on the map, the next step is to see how different dates and airports impact the cost of the flight (described more in Your Guide To Google Flights).
More often then convenient my destination is not the cheapest option on the Explore Map. Say my desired destination is Amsterdam.
One idea would be to buy a round-trip ticket to London and take the train from London to Amsterdam. A scenic train ride through the European countryside is an appealing idea and would save a few hundred dollars in this scenario.
However, the train ride back to London is a waste of time and money. Luckily there is an alternative: Open Jaw Routes.
Open Jaw Routes
Open Jaw Routes are a consistent strategy to reduce the cost of a flight to the destination you want. From the previous Explore Map section, I am considering flying to Amsterdam (a $918 flight) with London (a $472 flight) as the cheapest nearby city.
An Open Jaw Route is a segmented flight path. In the described scenario an open jaw route is Chicago to London, then Amsterdam to Chicago. Since London was cheaper to fly into I would expect this open jaw route to be less expensive than a round-trip ticket to Amsterdam.
Note: an Open Jaw Route will only be effective if all flights involved are sold by the same Airline or Airline Alliance. In Google Flights use the More filter and select "Hide separate tickets" to ensure you see only flights by the same Airline or Airline Alliance.
Progress! This open jaw route is $224 cheaper (without the train) than a round-trip to Amsterdam and I get to take a scenic train ride through Europe (the 4 hr train ride is $50 one-way). We can still do better using the Data Grid.
The Data Grid shows the price per arrival and departure date combination. Getting to and using the Data Grid is explained more in Your Guide To Google Flights. Here is the Data Grid for Amsterdam:
Using the Data Grid, I learn that flying out on August 11 or 12th is the best while flying back on Aug 21, 22, 23, or 27th is best. I can move my departure and arrival dates for my open jaw route backward one day to take advantage of the best price. The result?
Deal found! This Open Jaw flight path is $334 cheaper (without the train) than the original round-trip to flight Amsterdam.
Multi-City Round Trips
Multi-city round trip tickets are a dependable method to reduce the cost of an entire itinerary. Often I want to visit multiple cities within a region, potentially breaking up long flights into multi-day stopovers. For example:
- I want to visit friends in New York and San Francisco without buying two round-trip tickets.
- During spring break I want to visit Miami for a few days before flying to an Island in the Caribbean without buying two round-trip tickets.
One solution would be to book one-way tickets for each leg of the journey. However, one-way tickets are often more expensive than a round-trip ticket. Make sure to double check one-way prices via Google Flights for your potential itinerary.
A cheaper solution is to use the multi-city route search to buy a round-trip with multiple stops on the same ticket. You can toggle Multi-city mode by clicking the Round Trip ▼ in Google Flights and selecting Multi-city. Here is a sample itinerary between Chicago, San Francisco, and New York:
Once you select the flight times you want you'll be presented with a summary screen and option to check out:
Considering the cost of a round-trip from Chicago to San Francisco during the same timeframe would cost over $410 the multi-city option is a great deal!
Flying From The Cheaper Source
The following tip is useful for all travelers and especially for travelers looking at business-class tickets.
A potentially surprising discovery is, holding all else equal, the source of your flight itinerary can significantly impact the price. Consider a case where you live in Chicago and have family that you frequently visit elsewhere in the world, like Warsaw, Poland.
To visit, you need to buy round-trip tickets from Chicago to Warsaw. However, buying this itinerary means you are likely paying 50% more than needed if you take this trip frequently.
Round-trip tickets originating from Warsaw to Chicago on the same airline are 50% cheaper. Why the price of the same flight changes based on the origin city happens for many reasons that are out of scope for this post.
We will look at Business Class tickets in the following example as the impact on pricing is more pronounced. Rest assured Economy Class tickets will follow the same pattern.
This strategy helped me score an incredible deal on Cathay Pacific originating from New Delhi, India: 80%+ off business class tickets from New Delhi to Chicago flying through Hong Kong.
To take advantage of this strategy on a regular basis you need two other components. First: a one-way ticket the first time you fly. In the example, a one-way ticket to Warsaw so you can originate from Warsaw. The one-way ticket from Chicago to Warsaw happens to be half to cost of a round-trip ticket so no gain or loss there.
Second: flexible rebooking. The rules on rebooking change per airline, how the flight is booked, and what status you may have. Many airlines have flexible tickets that allow you to change dates.
With flexible rebooking, you can buy tickets at the best price well in advance of your flight and change the travel days as needed.
Finding Great Deals
With these strategies and some patience, you can reliably find great deals on Google Flights to new places you want to visit. Good luck!