We’ve all been there: Exhausted, in need of a vacation or trip away. “Just get me on the next plane out of town, I don’t care where it is, so long as it’s cheap.”
Google Flights is the best travel search engine out there, and it’s here to help. It has an unadvertised feature called Google Flights Explore that can help you find the cheapest ticket possible. You can narrow things down to stay in the U.S., head to Europe, or wherever you need to get away to.
We love this feature because Google still gives you plenty of power to set the ground rules while also exposing tons of destinations you may have never considered. Here’s a look at how to use Google Flights Explore to book your spot on the cheapest flight possible, and also a few new features that Google has recently added.
Want to go back to basics? Read our full guide on how to use Google Flights – and why it’s the best tool for finding the cheapest flights possible.
How to Find Google Flights Explore
Google doesn’t heavily promote Google Flights Explore, but it’s easy to find. Simply navigate to the Google Flights homepage at www.google.com/flights, enter your departure airport, but leave your destination blank.
You can then filter for things like trip duration, number of stops, airlines, bags and more. And you will quickly see a map of the cheapest places to go based on your filters.
How to Use Google Flights Explore
Google Flights Explore looks and operates much like Google Flights itself. Be sure to read our guide on how to use Google Flights to find the cheapest flights. There are origin and destination bars, date fields, one way versus round trip selectors, the ability to choose your cabin, and the number of passengers.
The beauty of Google Flights Explore Map is just how much it lets you, well, explore. Start by typing in your home airport if it hasn’t auto-populated for you. The beauty of this setup is that you can keep things as loose or as prescribed as you need them to be. If you have a set weekend you need a getaway, just enter the dates.
Let’s say you’re more flexible and just need a weekend away sometime in January. Just click the date field, select “Flexible dates” and then “January” and “Weekend.”
You can similarly tailor your destination. It can be as broad as “The United States” or “Europe” or as specific as a given state or city.
The results also hinge on how you move the map. So if you know you need some West Coast sun but don’t care where you find it, just zoom in and see what flights pop up.
Let’s say you want to head to Mexico for a few weeks sometime this fall or winter but don’t care when so long as the flight is cheap. Just enter your departing airport, “Mexico” as your destination and select “All” in the date field.
Once you’ve zeroed in on a destination, click on the result. You can find the specific flights and even play around with the schedule to see if there are better dates at the same or similar prices.
Use Filters to Set Some Ground Rules
You might be flexible but you still have some preferences. That’s OK – you’re still in control, though this Explore feature doesn’t give you the same level of customizability as the standard Google Flights page.
- Stops: You can select how many stops you’re willing to make during your trip or note if you only want nonstop flights.
- Airlines: While you can’t specify or exclude an individual airline, you can filter the results based upon the three major airline alliances.
- Bags: Want a carry-on bag included in your flight ticket? Toggle this filter on to only see fares that include a carry-on.
- Flight Duration: Have a maximum length you’re willing to be a plane? This lets you filter out ultra-long trips or fares with longer layovers (under “More”).
Some Quirks to Keep in Mind
This Explore feature isn’t perfect, and there are a few limitations to keep in mind. While Google Flights will generally find flights 11 months out, this feature can’t search beyond six months unless if you set specific dates.
If you’re planning travel, in the U.S., you’ll need to search for flights on Southwest Airlines separately. Just like with the standard Google Flights search engine, Southwest flights don’t show up. Your best bet for finding cheap Southwest Airlines flights is using their Low Fare Calendar.
And finally, the results for your search aren’t sorted by price – nor are they always highlighted on the map. So it pays to scan through the results and poke around on the map just to see what you might be missing.
Latest Updates to the Explore Feature
Google is continually enhancing the Explore feature, and the latest update – which seems to still be in testing and is not yet available to all users – has some interesting changes. We just discovered this earlier this week, and here’s what’s new to Google Flights Explore.
1. Number of stops & cheapest dates in the summary bubble. Before, when you scrolled the Explore map, you’d only see the price hovering over the destination city. Now, Google has made it easier to determine if that destination and flight is best for you: easily see the number of stops and cheapest dates available when browsing the map.
2. Major National Parks listed on the Explore map. This is a huge – and interesting – addition to the Explore feature. Likely a result of COVID-19 and increased interest in outdoor travel activities, Google has added major national parks worldwide.
Hover over a national park, and Explore will show you the price of a flight into the nearest airport – and how long it takes to drive from the airport to the national park entrance.
For example, a flight from Chicago to San Francisco in late October will run you $113, and from there it’s a 4 and a half-hour drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park:
3. Commercial airports have a blue airplane icon: points of interest have a blue dot. This is another recent addition: points of interest on the Explore map, so you can see what there is to do near each destination.
Again, you can hover over or click on the blue dot points of interest (cities, beaches, parks, etc.) and see what the nearest flight is, and how far of a drive it is from the airport. For example, there are multiple points of interest marked around the LA area:
This feature seems to be mostly built out for the United States right now, but we may see these points of interest spread nationwide on the Explore map later on. And again, it only seems to be available for some users as Google is likely beta testings the features. That being said, it may not be available to you just yet.
Google Flights is already far and away the best search engine for flights out there. But if you need a cheap getaway and don’t care where you’re heading – or just need some travel inspiration – this extra Explore tool is invaluable.
And these new features to find the cheapest way to get to some of the countries best national parks is just icing on the cake of an already amazing flight search tool.