Finding the Cheapest Flights: Google Flight Search vs KAYAK

How to Find the Cheapest Flights

Google Flight Search made a splash when it rolled out Flight Search in Europe. There had been some controversy surrounding Flight Search, over whether it was considered a "vertical search" property and the accompanying antitrust issues. And while flight search has been available for US-based travelers to book flight since 2012, the recent spotlight placed on Google Flight Search has me taking a closer look at the tool and asking: how does it compare to other flight search engines?

My first comparison is Google Flight Search vs. KAYAK. I tend to travel to Norway once or twice a year with my Norwegian husband to visit his family, so I decided to check out the flights from San Francisco (SFO) to Oslo (OSL).

I confess I haven't used Google Flight Search at all to search for flights, but I'm always looking for tools to help me in finding the cheapest flights, so here goes.

Behold my first encounter with Flight Search:

My first reaction was that I liked the clean, simple look.

I took a peek at my search options. First I looked at "Stops":

Okay, so I had 3 choices: nonstop, 1 stop and up to 2 stops. Does Flight Search only show 2 stops or less?

And I could sort by Airline:

As I scrolled through the airlines I realized there were around a couple dozen, and I wondered why they would display airlines that didn't fly to Oslo. Maybe it was a choice of airlines for the various legs of my trip. Okay.

A flight search by Price sounded pretty straightforward.

I did, however, find the little slider a bit cumbersome. I wondered what would happen if I just "tapped" the button. Here's what I saw:

So the most expensive was a cool $13,700. One day - maybe. I moved the slider to the far left and the cheapest was "under $100." Good luck getting to Norway on that.

Next I checked out the "Duration" option. What would happen if I just clicked on the slider? Voila:

"Under 38h 00m" appeared to be the maximum. Not my cup of tea but good to know. I moved the slider over to the far left and the shortest duration option was "Under 1 h 00 m." It was interesting that there didn't seem to be any customization for the trip I was searching, but maybe that's just the norm. I tend to leave the flight searches to my flight partner (and I plan the sights we see and places we eat).

I noticed there was a "More" option, so of course I clicked on it.

I was able to search by Outbound time, Return time, and my favorite - Connecting airport. On such a long journey (we fly to one other airport after Oslo), it's always nice to have a nice airport to hang out for a couple of hours, walk around, eat and shop.

There was one feature I had read about as far as Google Flight Search that I was very curious to see for myself: the map. When it comes to maps, Google does not tend to disappoint.

So it looked like I could see the cost of say a flight to London from San Francisco versus a flight to Oslo. I could imagine this being handy. One year we flew from San Francisco to London first, stayed in London a few days, then took a cheap airline from London to Oslo. I was also able to see how much less my friends in Chicago apparently had to pay.

Right next to the "maps" icon there was a "lowest fares" option (the little bar graph icon). That's what I'm talking about! Let's see.

If you hover over any given column in the chart, you can see the price for an 8-day trip, starting on the day of that given column. For example, hovering over the column for the day of Wednesday the 17th, you'll see "Mon, Jun 17 - Mon, Jun 24 $1,423."

I reset my dates to Monday, April 22nd - Saturday May 4th and as hoped the duration of the trip updated to "13" day trip.

Satisfied with my search on Google, I decided to try Kayak. Interestingly, at the bottom of the Google Flight Search results there was an option to"Try this search on": Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, CheapOair, Travelocity and KAYAK.

Alright then. I clicked over to KAYAK. For some reason, the dates didn't match up from my original search:

Oh well. I reset the dates.

First things first. The cheapest price displayed on KAYAK was $832 for an SAS flight. On Google Flight Search, the cheapest price was $831 for an SAS flight. Okay so neither site was besting the other so far.

Next I decided to look through KAYAK's search filters. Wow did they have a lot of them. At first glance it almost seemed like too much, but I decided to take a closer look.

The Price Trend looked like a cool tool. Now that I know it exists, I wouldn't want it taken away, but I wouldn't have thought to ask for it. The number of stops was similar to the options offered by Google Flight Search. Though KAYAK did write "2+ stops" and not "up to 2 stops," which made a lot more sense. Surely there were options with 3 stops (not that I would pick those). Seeing take-off times from each airport (SFO and OSL) was nice. I could definitely use that tool.

But wait. There were more filters.

I could choose Airports, Cabins (Economy, Business, etc.), and Airlines. And unlike on Google Flight Search, the airlines had prices next to them (presumably the lowest fares).

But wait. There was more. I could search "Flight Quality" (yea for "Wi-Fi flights only), Durations of Layovers and Flight Legs (yes!), Aircraft and Price. Phew!

Now to check out the "Sort by." I could sort by Price (low to high and high to low), Airline, Take-off and landing (late to early and early to late) from both airports and Duration (shorter or longer).

Above the "Sort by" there's a "Show flexible date charts" option (the bar graph icon) that is sort of similar to Google Flight Search's "lowest fares" option. I clicked on it, then set it to show June and July, which are more expensive times to travel.

Sure enough it showed I could save a good amount of money traveling in April rather than in June. But how did these prices compare to Flight Search's prices?

Hovering over "Thu 6/20 to Thu 6/27" on KAYAK showed "$1424 [no airline listed]."Hovering over "Thur, Jun 20 - Thur, Jun 27"on Flight Search showed "$1435."

"Mon 6/24 to Mon 7/1" on KAYAK showed "$1542 on Air Canada."

"Mon, Jun 24 - Mon, Jul 1" on Flight Search showed "$1518."

So they were pretty close. But what about the experience of looking up the details on the cheapest flights?

I clicked on Flight Search's "Mon, Jun 24 - Mon, Jul 1" for $1518 and got to a KLM flight for $1,518 on those dates.

I clicked on KAYAK's "Mon 6/24 to Mon 7/1" option for "$1542 on Air Canada" and instead of going straight to the details for that flight, I had to click on the "Find Flights" button again. That extra step was fine. I guess that way one could be sure I was deliberately clicking through.

I ended up on a page that showed the cheapest flight as being on United for $1,513 - very close to the Google Flight Search results for $1, 518. I'm not sure why when I clicked through from the "Flexible Dates" view the price was actually lower, but I was pleasantly surprised.

So who wins in the "Finding the Cheapest Flights: Google Flight Search vs Kayak" showdown? I'll let you be the judge.

For me, given that our trips to Norway can be painful (typically 20+ hours, as we have a minimum of two layovers and very few flights a day to our destination airport in Norway), I think I'd prefer all the bells and whistles of KAYAK. But for say a flight to NYC, or a trip where I don't really know where I want to go, then I might choose Google Flight Search.

And of course no matter which flight search tool you choose, you can always find the perfect place to stay on Tripping! With 5 million vacation rentals and short term rentals around the world, you're sure to find the right place at the right price.