How to find the cheapest flights to anywhere for a given date range

I used this method to find a $220 flight from LAX to Panama, where I traveled to a car-less island called Bastimentos in the Caribbean to snag this photo. Thanks to the cheap air travel and some thrifty in-country decisions, the trip cost about $400 total for 10 days. (Sorry for the foggy, sub-par shot. This was back before we had our nice travel camera (Amazon)).

 

Let’s say you have a week off work. Where would you go?

If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, you can use Google flights to find the cheapest flights to anywhere on the globe for the day you’re traveling. This article will give you step-by-step instructions and walk you through my thought process at each juncture. In broad terms, here’s what we’ll do:

1. Go to the new flights.google.com.

2. Enter your dates, stops, and travel times.

3. Use the map feature to search around the globe.

4. Research the possible destinations.

5. Choose the best flight times.

6. Book your flights.

Let’s begin.

  1. Start at flights.google.com and click “The new Google Flights has landed!” to go to the new google flights interface. (It works much better than the old one.)

2. Enter your dates and departing airport but leave the destination blank. Click “Done, then click on the map.

3. Enter your budget, filter for number of stops, and/or the duration of time you’re willing to be in transit (under “More”). We’ll start nonstop flights and a $500 budget.

 4. Position the map over a region of the world you are interested in and click “SEARCH THIS AREA”

5. In this example, you’ll see that we came up with a direct flight trip to Hangzhou, China for $486. I’ve never heard of Hangzhou and would have never thought to search for that before, but for $486, that’s worth a Google! We have found that if we search enough, there is always something worth seeing or doing at every destination we’ve ever researched. I start with a Google images search to see if there is anything that looks interesting in the region. Josh proceeds to Wikipedia and Wiki Travel. It turns out that there’s beautiful temples, a lake, and a large city to explore. Cool! If there isn’t enough for you, our next question tends to be: where else can we get to from here? It looks like there is a bullet train to Shanghai that takes less than 2 hours. Surely between those cities, you could find an interesting adventure, right? So let’s start a running list of potential destinations, beginning with Hangzhou.

7. Back to the map. This time, let’s look more carefully at Latin America. After the “nonstop” search didn’t load anything exciting to us, we switched to a duration filter instead; flexibility is key during this process. If you do that, look at all these awesome destinations in Mexico and Central America that pop up!

San Salvador for $301! What’s in San Salvador? Ask Google. Turns out awesome hiking to a huge volcanic crater! How about Mérida? Some really cool ruins, plus a deep blue Cenote! Mexico City has the largest number of museums in the Americas and has Teotihuacán. (If we ever get caught up on our posts, we’ll link to it here. We had an excellent time when we went to Mexico City and would be happy to share info with you if you wanted to reach out to us directly.) How about swimming with whale sharks in Cabo? Add those destinations to your list, too.

8. Back to the map. This time, let’s look at flights to Europe for under $500. Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen pop up! Add those to the list.

I’m curious, so let’s see what happens if we adjust the filter to $600 and return 1 day earlier.

It turns out that if we could scrape together another $40 and return on Saturday, that puts Milan on the table. Could you not go out for dinner, give up Starbucks, not buy the pair of cute boots you’ve been eyeing, bring your lunch for the next two months, and/or eat some Ramen and make that happen? If going to Milan is your dream destination, then maybe that’s worth it to you!

9. Shift your departure flight to Saturday, instead of Friday, just in case there’s an awesome flight that leaves early Saturday morning that you’re missing right now. Or try to shift either flight a day later or earlier in any direction, if you have some flexibility, or cut your trip a day short and repeat this exercise. Add the best locations to your running list.

9. Once you’ve chosen some potential locations, let’s look at flight times. To do this, click on the location, “View Flights”, and then “Select” next to the flight you can afford. Eliminate those that just won’t work for you by taking them off your list.

10. Now you have a really tough but fun decision ahead of you. You probably have a list of 2-10 destinations within your budget and with travel times that will work for you. Now it’s time to do some research. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How expensive is an Airbnb in each location on your list?
  • Does the area you’re considering have good, cheap, reliable public transit? Transportation can really make or break a trip, itinerary, and travel budget.
  • What’s the weather generally like and can you live with it?
  • Will one destination allow you to sleep on the plane more comfortably than the others?

We keep all of this research in a google doc because it will likely come in handy in the future. Sleep on it, go make some food, maybe get some work done, and come back to it later. Which of the places gets you the most excited? If you’re having trouble deciding, be sure to keep in mind that this won’t be your last vacation ever and, due to your great research, you’ve even gotten a head start on planning your next trip.

Finally, make the tough decision and buy that flight before the price goes up!

If you’re exhausted at this point, that’s to be expected. You started with a map of the world and explored the entire globe in search of flight and adventure options. Pat yourself on the back! No matter where you go, if you have the right attitude, you can make it an adventure.

 

PS- If you go through this process and find it helpful, please consider posting about it and linking to this page :). Anything helps get the word out about what we’re doing here.

Thanks!

-Nicole and Josh

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