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.
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, click the Menu button and click “Explore map.”
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 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 July. Just click the date field, select “Flexible dates” and then “July” and “Weekend.”
You can similarly tailor your destination. It can be as broad as “The United States of America” 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 Spain for a few weeks sometime this summer or fall but don’t care when so long as the flight is cheap. Just enter your departing airport, “Spain” as your destination and select “All” in the date field.
Thrifty Tip: Flexible about where you’re departing from, too? After you’ve typed in your home airport, click the destination bar again and hit “+” – that way you can add up to five origin airports.
The map will spit out the cheapest options to get anywhere in Spain for the next six months. Under $400 for flights to Madrid _ or $433 for a nonstop flight to Barcelona _ sounds pretty good to me.
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.
- Price: If you’re on a budget, you can set the maximum price you’d pay for a flight and filter out the rest.
- Times: Only want to depart in the morning? Or know you must arrive by a certain time? Use this filter to identify flights that fit the range you are seeing.
- Airlines: While you can’t specify or exclude an individual airline, you can filter the results based upon the three major airline alliances.
- 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”).
- Separate Tickets: You can determine if you’re open to flying to your destination with one airline and back with another or note that you only want tickets booked in the same itinerary (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.
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.
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.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.