Save On Airfare By Tracking Flight Prices

Filed Under: Travel Technology

There seems to be an article every week pondering The Best day/time/season for buying airfare. We all want to get the best deal, so it would be awesome to decode the algorithm and find the ideal time to purchase flights. I understand the motivation.

The reality, however, is that airline revenue management is incredibly complex. There is no “best” time, just general trends, and even those trends vary by route, carrier, class of service, competition, season, day of the week, flight loads, and myriad other things.

But there are ways to filter through the noise enough to get the best price on your flights.

Enter Google Flights

We’ve talked before about using Google Flights to find cheap fares. While there are more sophisticated tools out there, Google Flights is incredibly user-friendly, and is where I generally start searching for airfare nowadays.

Google Flights also has some more advanced tools, including a price tracking option. I’ve found this to be surprisingly useful, and figure it might help some of y’all as well.

Rather than casting runes to determine optimal purchasing conditions, you can set up alerts to let you know when the price changes, and receive notifications right to your inbox!

Finding the best time to buy a flight

In this case, I was keeping an eye on specific flights for a client. They were flying from New York to Edinburgh, and then back from Dublin, and had certain dates they needed to travel.

We chose the best flights (based on timing, product, etc.), using the multi-city tab on Google Flights:

Once you’ve picked certain flights, you’ll see the “Book, track or share” box, and it’s the tracking we’re really interested in.

Turning this option on activates alerts, and you’ll get notifications of price changes. Conveniently, Google Flights will also give you alternative flights so you can get a sense of the market trends.

My favorite geeky feature is the Price History graph, which gives you an easy snapshot of pricing fluctuations from whenever you started tracking.

In this case, the lowest fares were available about 14 weeks prior to departure, saving ~$500 per ticket versus just “sensing” that a particular flight was a good price.

Finding the best flight prices on any carrier

To look at a domestic example, let’s take the flights I’ll need to go to Chicago for Frequent Traveler University in November. I’m feeling a bit carrier agnostic lately, so don’t really care which airline I fly domestically — I just want to have the best price.

Enter your city pair and travel dates into Google Flights (and apply any filters needed for stops, airline, times, class of service, etc.). You’ll immediately see an option to “Track Prices” — though most of us generally scroll past that to look at specific flights:

Activating that toggle will search all routes and carriers for the parameters you’ve given. If you have date flexibility, it’s generally easiest to set a second alert for the other date combinations.

Receiving email alerts is the easiest way to monitor prices, but you can also access your tracked flights directly from Google Flights.

Just select the stacked menu in the upper left:

Then choose “Tracked prices” to show any updates for routes you’ve chosen to monitor:

You can disable tracking at any time, though I tend to keep monitoring even after tickets have been purchased. It’s not necessary, I just find it interesting.

Bottom line

Google’s price monitoring tools are so simple to use, and save me a tremendous amount of time. Again, there are more complex solutions, but this really can’t be beat in terms of ease of use.

From tracking prices for clients to handling requests from friends and family who ask to let them know about “good deals to ____ for Spring Break,” I get a ton of use out of Google Flights.

How do you track flight prices?

  1. I purchase several tickets for my own travel and partners with a US-based non-profit. We normally are going to obscure places and the prices can get high pretty quickly.

    I really love Kayak for finding the itenerary that works best (without crazy layovers and arriving at a decent hour). Kayak has far better search parameters. I will also use google to then track the price once I found some routes I like.

  2. Really interesting stuff – thank you.

    As an aside, I’m curious why the client is routing via Paris when there are direct flights between NY (both JFK and EWR) and EDI. That Air France flight would for me have a horrible departure time – pretty much no sleep for me because it’s way too early, then arriving in Paris just as I’d be at my most exhausted.

  3. Can you track pricing on Google Flights without having a Google/gmail account. I use Google Flights all the time but I’m unable to track pricing as I don’t have nor want a Google/gmail account. Do you know of a work around? Thanks and Safe Travels

  4. @ Flying Machine — I think you do need a Google account, but even if you don’t use it for your primary email it’s still a good thing to have if you travel. Google Voice allows free calls over WiFi, for example, so it’s nice to have as a backup.

  5. Skiplagged is much easier and also includes hidden cities. Once you use it , it becomes your go-to. (use one-way !).

    Left out… Southwest tracked ?

  6. Given that airlines probably use the same algorithm for filling up seats, my assumption is that price is related to the time remaining and the number of seats left. Their ultimate goal should be to get to the same place every week.

    If I’m buying a ticket, I usually check the pricing for the exact departure and arrival time for the dates I want. At this point, I figure out which airlines and flights will work for me. I then check the pricing for those flights(using the airline and sometimes # of stops filter) for 1 week out, 2 weeks out, 3 weeks out, 4 weeks out, 5 weeks out, 6 weeks out using the google flights calendar or just changing the date. That gives me a pretty good visual indicator of what the pricing will look like over the next 2 months and what price I will pay. I feel like this is having your 6 weeks of flight pricing data all at once without having to wait for a good price. Even if a good price came, you might not know it if you just started tracking flight prices today.

    Also take into account when holidays and special events are to get a better feel for travel demand. I figure this gives me a good ballpark to work with and helps me know what good pricing is and when the sweet spot is going to arrive. Or it also tells me if the flight I want is probably not going to be available due to higher demand. If the pricing is already high and you know it should be cheaper, then that means demand is higher and you’re probably not going to get a better price so you should go ahead and pay the extra amount.

  7. Kayak app has the same tool and in my opinion it’s much better than Google Flights. I’d rather get notifications about price changes and open the app if I want more info than getting a new email in my inbox everytime price changes or something. I love Kayak, super easy to use too

  8. Thanks for the tips, I’ll try it out. I’ve been tracking flights with Kayak but Google looks like it might be better.

  9. What’s interesting is that Google Flights does not search Cathay Pacific, at least when flying out of TPE. I actually used Expedia to find CX flights cheaper than LCC flights google was finding.

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