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If you feel travel costs have ballooned to eye-watering heights this summer, it’s not just in your head. According to NerdWallet’s Travel Price Index, there’s been an overall upward trend in the price of travel since March 2020 despite a few pandemic-related dips. The cost of travel is up 18% as of April 2023 since the start of the pandemic, and up 3% compared to costs in April 2022.
However, TikTokers recently found a way to lower some of those travel costs, particularly when it comes to booking flights. And you don’t even have to download any browser extensions or install new apps — all you need is Google Flights.
The Google Flights “trick” is simple, but does require some flexibility in terms of where and when you’re willing to travel. I’m planning a trip with friends for Labor Day weekend, so hoped that this tip could save me some money despite being locked into a specific weekend. Here’s how the feature works:
Step 1: Open up your browser and type in Google Flights. You’ll want to click on the very first result on the page, which will bring you to a page that lets you choose where you’re departing from, your destination and dates of travel.
Step 2: Select your departure city. Since I’m planning a trip with friends who mostly live in New York, I selected New York City as my departure location.
This next move is very important and the whole reason why this trick works: You’ll want to leave the destination field blank. This will prompt Google Flights to search for the most affordable places it can find based on the date range you’ll give in the next step (For this step, Google may automatically fill in some dates but you can ignore them).
My friends and I don’t have any particular destination in mind for the weekend, so the ambiguity works well for us.
Step 3: Click on the map below the departure, destination and date fields. This will bring you to a page listing some flight options and prices. You’ll also notice that the date field was autofilled to show results for a random 1-week trip in the next six months.
You can click on that field to adjust the timeframe for a trip that works better for you. You may choose to search for trips for a weekend, one week or two weeks in any of the 12 months. Or, you can also search for trips based on specific dates, but this may not populate results that are as affordable.
I tested this out by finding flights for a weekend in October departing from New York, and many of the options I received were nonstop flights for under $200. One flight option it gave me was roundtrip to Atlanta for $97 (at the time of writing this article), which is an incredible steal. Another choice was a roundtrip, nonstop flight to Toronto for $125.
Some TikTokers who posted about this trick have shown themselves finding flights to Cancun for $270 and Las Vegas for $94. You can also click and drag the map to other parts of the world to view plane ticket prices for other countries.
Who is this feature best for?
This search “hack” requires you to be flexible with your destination and the dates you’re willing to travel. So if you only have very specific timeframes you can travel or you’re already set on some destinations, you may not be able to make the most of this travel tip.
For instance, my friends and I are already set on traveling during Labor Day weekend. However, holiday weekends come with higher airfare prices. If we were more flexible with the weekend we’d like to travel, we’d stand a better chance of scoring cheaper tickets.
What are some other ways to save money on travel?
If you’re unable to use this Google Flights feature to save significant money on your airfare, there are still some other ways to save as much as possible on your trip as a whole.
Book with points and miles
Using any points and miles you’ve accumulated is probably the best way to save money on traveling since you can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket costs for flights and accommodations. This is especially true when flights and accommodations are more expensive, like a last-minute trip during a holiday weekend.
The bulk of points and miles are often earned through the welcome bonus, which usually involves spending a certain amount of money in a certain timeframe from account opening. A word of caution, though: You’ll want to avoid spending so much that you can’t afford to pay off the balance in full each month. This is because carrying a balance will result in interest charges, essentially making your purchases even more expensive.
That being said, you’ll want to choose a card with a welcome bonus spending threshold that matches what you can comfortably afford and your spending habits. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card lets you earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, which works out to be $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. On the other hand, the American Express® Gold Card gives cardholders 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after they spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first six months of card membership. Terms apply.
You have double the timeframe for spending $4,000 with the Amex Gold Card compared with the Chase card. So if you’re unable to spend a large amount of money in a shorter time period, you’re better off with a card that gives you a longer time horizon for spending to earn the welcome bonus. This way, you can make sure you aren’t inflating your lifestyle just to get the bonus.
Earn 5X total points on flights and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases plus, 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2025
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Balance transfer fee
Foreign transaction fee
Consider booking a flight with a layover
While direct flights are convenient, flights with a layover often cost less.
Granted, there’s a lot to consider when deciding to book a layover versus a direct flight and much of it comes down to personal preference. But if you’re willing to hop on a flight with a layover in another city, this could be a viable option for saving on your trip.
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Save on baggage fees using airline credit cards
Checked bag fees can be as little as $30 and as much as $150, depending on the airline and the number of bags you’re checking. Checking multiple bags — whether you’re flying solo or traveling with your family — can result in a hefty extra expense.
Some travel credit cards actually help you save on these baggage fees. Take the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card for instance; it lets you take your first checked bag for free on Delta flights booked with the card. This results in savings of up to $60 on a round-trip Delta flight per person, which is a potential savings of up to $240 per round-trip flight for a family of four. Terms apply.
On the American Express secure site
Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at U.S. Supermarkets and at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and 1X Mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases
Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99
Balance transfer fee
Foreign transaction fees
Travel during a destination’s off-peak season
Avoiding peak travel season for your destination comes with a ton of perks. For one, tourist attractions may be less crowded and expensive compared to going during peak travel season. Airfares can also be more affordable during a city’s off-peak season.
This requires not only flexibility in terms of planning, but some additional research to figure out exactly when the off-peak season is for certain destinations. For instance, Hawaii’s off-peak season tends to be April through June and September through December, whereas off-season for Italy may fall between November and March.
The TikTok-famous Google Flights trick has the potential to score you some serious savings on airfare, but only if you’re able to be flexible in both the destination and timing of your travel. If this year’s travel plans don’t allow you to be that flexible, there are still other tactics you can try for saving money.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.