Google Flights is undoubtedly one of the best tools available for travel research today. If you’re anything like us, deciding on the next destination for your trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself, and Google Flights (with its powerful Map Feature) can open up a world of possibilities for your trip… literally. Keep reading for a full tutorial, showing you how to use Google Flights to choose your next vacation destination (and why you should).
When to use it? Whether you are flying domestically and want to find the cheapest airport near your destination, or you have a week off from work and want to explore a new corner of the world, Google Flights should be your go-to travel planning tool. The sheer volume of information on flight schedules and pricing, the easy-to-use interface, and the unique ways to search through that information make it a tool that is exceeded by no other rival.
NOTE: since Google Flights is processing lots of data in real time, it helps to have a good internet connection before you start your search. That being said, we’ve used it successfully in the mountains in India, the islands of Indonesia, and quite a few places in between.
What is the Google Flights Map Feature?
In a nutshell, the Google Flights Map Feature allows you to input limited information and in turn, the platform presents you with a vast array of the cheapest flight options that meet your criteria.
For example, let’s say that you live in San Diego, California and want to take a vacation, but you’re still trying to figure out where to go. You could input the following:
- Departure airport (up to three): you live closest to SAN (San Diego), but you’re willing to drive to LAX (Los Angeles) or SNA (Orange County) if it saves you some money. You can input all three options to depart from, and the cheapest airport will automatically be chosen.
- Destination: you’re still not sure, so we’ll let Google Flights show you some options.
- Travel dates: self-explanatory. You can also choose one-way or round-trip.
- Travel class: narrow down your results by choosing Economy, Economy Plus, Business or First Class.
The result will be a map that shows you the price of the cheapest flight to numerous destinations that fit the criteria you specified. You can use this feature as broadly as you need. For example, if you’re truly open on where you’ll fly, you can look at a map of the whole world (which will primarily show larger, international airports) or you can zoom in on a specific region, country or state (where it will display more and more regional airports the closer you zoom in). In this example, I’d probably decide to fly into Oslo or Barcelona for my weeklong vacation, because #cheapflights.
Alternatively, if I know I need to be in New York City for a conference, I could enter in my dates, departure airport, and the NYC area as a destination (rather than a specific airport in NYC). It will show me which airport is cheapest to fly into and out of. In this case, LAX to EWR is cheapest.
Benefits to Using Google Flights Map Feature
When searching broadly with the Google Flights Map Feature, you can often find regions where airlines are offering substantial sales on airline tickets. For example, when airlines are competing for market share, they often end up driving down the price for tickets to specific regions as they try to undercut their competitors. If you luck out on finding one of these routes, these prices will stand out to you while using the Map Feature as the destination will be significantly cheaper than others in the same region. And sometimes, airlines just plain make mistakes and publish fares far below what they typically offer. By using Google Flights, you’ll be able to spot these cheap fares to help you find significant savings on your next vacation.
Alternatively, when you are searching for a specific area, you may find that a flight to a regional airport is less expensive than to a major airport hub. For example, when booking our flights from Vietnam back home to Southern California, we used Google Flights and found that flying into Ontario, California (a tiny little airport) saved us hundreds of dollars versus flying into Los Angeles or San Diego. With Google Flights, you can search all of the available airports at the same time. Let us show you how we do it!
How to Use Google Flights to Choose Your Next Vacation Destination
1. Head over to www.google.com/flights. The home page looks like this:
2. Type in your departing airport or city (you can select up to 3 by adding a comma directly after each entry. But note, to do this you need to use the 3 letter airport code as opposed to just the city name. You can find the 3 letter code by googling the airport name and adding “airport code” – for example, for this search we used, SAN (San Diego), LAX (Los Angeles), and SNA (Santa Ana). The add the dates you want to fly. To use the Map Feature, you’ll leave the destination box empty.
3. Add additional information like “one way” or “round trip” flight, choose the number of travelers and the type of fare (Economy, Economy Plus, Business or First Class). Tip: if you want to fly in Economy Plus, we suggest selecting Economy at this step. It’s oftentimes cheaper to add extra legroom and baggage a la carte, so we like to search by Economy.
4. With the destination box empty, click on “Search”. Tip: you can also enter a broad destination like “Europe” or “Asia” into the Destination box and click “Search.”
5. Your search result will pull up a new page showing the Google Flights Map Feature seen below. The map has blue dots which each represent a different airport. Because of space restrictions, Google Flights selects various destinations on the map and won’t show the ticket price to every city automatically.
If you want to see the ticket price for a destination that isn’t automatically showing, just click on the corresponding blue dot. You can also zoom in to see more data on a specific region (as you zoom in and out, the map will give you more or less information for that specific area). The picture below is the fully zoomed out version
6. On this search, flights to London look cheap (and you’ve always wanted to see Big Ben) so let’s find out more information. Click on the blue dot by London, then select “View Flights.”
7. On this new “View Flights” page, you can sort all of those flights with the filters on the top right side of the page to organize them by stops, price, times, airlines and more. The green price will be the cheapest (in this example, it’s with WOW Airlines). Choose the flight that works best for your needs. Tip: the cheapest flight won’t always be first, so make sure to look for it!
8. Once you find choose the flight that works for you, Google Flights will show the different websites where you can purchase the ticket. We prefer booking with the airline directly as you sometimes get better features (like the ability to choose a seat), but sometimes the travel aggregators prices are the best.
9. Finally, sit back and have a cocktail…you’re going on vacation!