Hotel Paradox – A Short Trip to Santa Cruz

Hope you all had a great weekend!  It’s a new week and thus time for a new blogpost.  This time, I’ll be writing about a local hotel in Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the Hotel Paradox in Santa Cruz, CA.  For those who don’t know, the Autograph Collection is marketed as a collection of properties unique to each destination.  It’s not as nice as SPG’s The Luxury Collection (which is five star properties instead of four star), but it’s still a very nice collection of hotels.  We went to visit the hotel last December just prior to my fiancee’s birthday.

The Hotel Paradox has a very nature-ish theme, with a lot of brown and beige color tones throughout the property.  A lot of the decorations focus on a forest-type theme as well.

The check-in desk was actually the trunk of a giant tree.  During check-in, the staff was friendly and professional.  The hotel is a bit spread out, so it was a walk to our room, but inside, the decorations and room quality were quite nice.

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Tree Trunk Check-in Desk
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Hotel Decor

The room, bed, and bathroom were nothing incredibly outstanding, but they were still very nice.  All of the furniture and decorations were of good quality as well.  As a gift, they gave us some fruit and nuts.  One additional point that I loved was the fact that they had Illy Coffee.  I don’t see it too much, but when I do, I definitely make myself a cup.

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A Nice, Comfortable Room
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Desk and TV Area

We arrived a bit late, so we decided to go down to the restaurant/bar for some drinks and a bite to eat.  We had some glasses of wine with some calamari.  It was fantastic.  I would definitely recommend!  Also, because it was winter, there was barely anyone there, so it was a nice, quiet, and relaxing atmosphere.  In fact, the food was so good for the snacks, we decided to stay there and just order some larger plates for dinner.

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Calamari and Red Wine

The next day was nice and sunny.  We started off the morning with breakfast at the hotel.  It wasn’t anything special to be honest.  It was pretty standard as far as hotel breakfasts go.  I had some scrambled eggs.

After breakfast, my fiancee wanted to check out the pool.  The pool was quite nice, with lots of seating.  It was decently warm, so she was able to lie out in the sun for a little bit while I did some work.  I was also able to get some nice pictures.  The cabana and lounge areas were nice, and there was a huge sequoia (I think) tree providing some shade.  I can imagine this spot being pretty lively in the warmer months.

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Huge Tree Overlooking the Pool
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Cabana and Fireplace Area

After lounging around by the pool, we checked out and then went to go explore downtown Santa Cruz.  Thankfully, it was just a short Uber ride away.  It was quite nice, there was a bunch of restaurants, but we weren’t too hungry.  There was a nice book store, Bookshop Santa Cruz, where my fiancee got a book that had been signed by Amy Tan.  We also visited a cool, southwestern-style furniture shop.

Afterwards, we did the obligatory trip to the Santa Cruz pier and boardwalk.  We walked up and down the pier in the late afternoon.  The scenery was beautiful, and the crowds were mostly gone from earlier in the weekend.  We had some fish and chips at Ideal Bar & Grill.  It was a nice end to the weekend as we watched the sun going down before heading back to the hotel to pick up the car and head back home.

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Santa Cruz Beach

 

Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay – Twenty-Four Hours on the Coast

This past December, I was lucky to finally get the chance to stay at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay.  Usually, the place is ridiculously expensive, but thankfully, for my fiancee’s birthday, I was able to use points plus cash to reserve a night in a fire pit terrace room.  Using points was a big way to soften the blow to my wallet.

The drive up to the property was beautiful.  As with other Ritz-Carlton properties where I’ve visited, check-in was easy, seamless, and professional.  We also got a glass of wine upon arrival.  It was the inali Pinot Noir from Atsina Cellars in the Russian River Valley, which was excellent.  I ended up ordering a bottle through room service later on.

The room itself, like other Ritz Carlton rooms, was gorgeous.  There was nothing too big about the fire pit terrace room (it was not a suite).  That said, it was very well taken care of and had nice, calm colors.  It definitely had the seafarer vibe.  And because it was my fiancee’s birthday, they added some balloons for a nice touch!

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Inside the Hotel Room with the Balloons!

 

 

 

The room decorations were standard Ritz-Carlton, from the nice, soft bed to the bathroom look.  The main draw of the room was without a doubt, the view and the fire pit.

The view from the room was spectacular!  You could clearly see the ocean and the cliffs, and you could just walk right outside to them.  The fire pit was great.  My main regret is that we actually didn’t get to use it that much.

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The Amazing Fire Pit
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View when Sitting at the Fire Pit Chairs

As we didn’t have too much daylight left after checking in (it was December, after all), we decided to explore the grounds outside.  There was a bagpiper, but he was finishing up as we had started to explore.  The grounds, however, were absolutely beautiful!

There were fantastic views of the property, the ocean, the nearby golf course, and the cliffs.  I only wish there had been more daylight.  Luckily though, it was at least a sunny evening.

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View of the Ocean and the Cliffs
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Part of the Golf Course
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The Hotel Courtyard (rear)

After exploring the hotel grounds during daylight, we went back to the room to freshen up a bit before dinner.  For dinner, I decided to treat my love to a nice dinner at Pasta Moon.  It was a short drive in downtown Half Moon Bay.  The food and pasta were delicious (and my fiancee loved the mussel appetizer), but the cocktails were what really stood out.  I noticed one on the menu called ‘Atticus Finch’. It looked similar to a Manhattan (my favorite cocktail), and since it was named after one of my favorite book characters, I felt the need to try it.  I’m glad I did.  It was quite tasty!

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The Atticus Finch

The next day, we awoke just in time to have some breakfast at Navio.  Again, the service was second to none, just like the rest of the hotel.  I would definitely love to come back here for dinner someday.

After breakfast, we decided to explore the grounds a bit more.  We walked down to the beach south of the hotel.  We walked right along the ocean and got some great pics.  It was a picture perfect birthday weekend for my girl.

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The Cliffs South of the Hotel
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The Beach with the Hotel in the Background
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The Happy Couple

After checkout we decided to do one more iconic Half Moon Bay thing.  On the drive back to San Francisco, we stopped by for an afternoon snack at Sam’s Chowder House.  We had some of their famous New England clam chowder and some delicious calamari.  It was definitely worth the stop.

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New England Clam Chowder
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Calamari

And that was our quick twenty four hours in Half Moon Bay

SprezzaBox – The Lexington

So I recently decided to try a new subscription box around lifestyle items.  This box is called SprezzaBox.  I had seem some Facebook ads and have been curious about this one for some time.  I went to their site and saw a discount code, so I decided to try it.  I had also considered Gentleman’s Box (and now I’m getting bombarded by their ads on Facebook), but I didn’t like the fact that you had to call them to cancel (vs. you can do it easily online with SprezzaBox).  For now, I’m just sticking with SprezzaBox, but that may change in the future.

This box is called ‘The Lexington’.  I’m not sure where it gets its name from, but I must say, I was pretty impressed with my first box.

Like many other subscription boxes, this one comes with card stock with item descriptions.  This box came with the following:

  1. Twillory Necktie
  2. SPREZZA Tie Clip
  3. Salt + Dapper Pocket Square
  4. Standard Shirt Collar Stays
  5. Basic Outfitter Socks
  6. Steak & Scotch Lint Bruch
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Box Contents
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Description of Box Contents

Upon opening the box, the presentation was very nice, and the item quality was very impressive too.

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Opening the Box

Twillory Necktie

This is a very nice gray tie.  It’s of a great width and length, and it’s of very high quality.  I can’t wait to get the chance to wear this one as it will look well with a lot of my dress shirts.

SPREZZA Tie Clip

This is a nice tie clip, but it’s nothing too special.  It’s pretty generic compared to most tie clips I’ve seem out there.

Salt + Dapper Pocket Square

This is a very nice pocket square with some nice colors and design.  It matches the blue and gray color scheme of the rest of the box.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to use this.

Standard Shirt Collar Stays

These are some very heavy duty collar stays in an excellent leather package.  It’s great for travel, and I love metal collar stays over plastic due to their strength.

Basic Outfitter Socks

These are some great socks.  They’re thick, and nice and warm.  I only wish we had a few more months of winter so that I could wear them more.

Steak & Scotch Lint Brush

This is a nice quality lint brush.  Aside from the coloring and the cool name, there’s nothing extraordinary about it though.

All in all , I was actually quite impressed with my first SprezzaBox.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I’ll definitely be keeping my subscription for now.

BirchBox Man – February 2018 Review

Ok, so back to some blogposting.  Now that I have a new job and some time, hopefully I can get several posts up in a week.  At least this post and the next one will be lifestyle posts.  Today, I’m going to give a quick review of my February 2018 BirchBox Man.  For those who don’t know, Birchbox Man is a monthly subscription service for $10 a month (used to be $20/month) that sends you sample sizes of different grooming or lifestyle products.  I had cancelled my subscription a while back to cut my costs, but not that they’ve lowered the prices, I’ve decided to try them again.

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Contents of the Box

Each box usually comes with five items, and this month was no exception.  They always print the items and a description on  a nice piece of card stock.

This month, the five items were:

  1. Billy Jealousy Gold Standard All Over Wash
  2. Clinique for Men Face Scrub
  3. DTRT Smooth Start Shaving Cream
  4. Hims Multivitamins
  5. Oribe Silver Pearl Eau De Parfum
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Description of Box Contents

Billy Jealousy All Over Wash

Billy Jealousy is a common brand for Birchbox.  In face, I feel like every box has at least one or two Billy Jealousy products.  Most of the time, I have not been too impressed with them.  In many cases, I also don’t like the smell.  This one does seem a bit different though.  With the papaya extract, it smells quite nice, and the fact that it works for hands, body, hair, and face is a big plus.  I washed my hands with it.  No special feeling, but I do like the fresh smell.

Clinique for Men Face Scrub

I washed my face with this.  The beads were really tiny, much smaller than I’ve seen in other face scrubs.  It just felt ok right after I washed my face, but a few minutes later, my face felt really nice and soft.  I’ll have to wait and see on this one.

DTRT Shaving Cream

This one just didn’t do it for me.  I’m used to more thick gels, and I had to use nearly half the sample tube to cover my face for a shave.  And when I actually shaved, it clumped up in the razor.  It felt good on my skin both during and after, but with the amount of product I’d have to use, I think there are better options.

Hims Multi-vitamins

These are some interesting multi-vitamins.  They taste great for sure, but when you look in the nutritional info, the main thing they have is biotin (supposedly good for hair and nails).  I’ll have to wait and see if I notice any difference after using the sample pack if I should get some more.  Regardless, I’d still have to take my regular multi-vitamins if I got these.

Oribe Silver Pearl

This is a great smelling fragrance (I only wish they put it in a mini-spray bottle).  It’s got a strong, but not too sensual scent.  That said, at $105 for a full size, it’s a bit too expensive in my opinion.  Thus, I probably won’t buy more after I use up the sample.

Summary

In summary, I’ll have to wait a bit longer for how these $10 boxes go, but I’m keeping my subscription for now.

 

Weekend in LA – W Hollywood and Japantown

After a slightly delayed flight, we arrived at LAX, grabbed the rental car and headed to our hotel, the W Hollywood.  Even at 11 P.M., the hotel was bustling with activity.  Check-in was a breeze, and the staff was super friendly.  For some reason (technical glitch I’m guessing), my SPG platinum status wasn’t in their system yet, but they gave me all the perks anyway.  Best of all, we got a suite upgrade for a two-night stay!

The Lobby

We took a few pictures of the gorgeous lobby and then we were up to our room.  We had stayed here once before, but it was really brief and didn’t get the chance to experience all the hotel had to offer.  We weren’t going to let that happen this time though.

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Fancy staircase and lighting the in lobby
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Awesome decor in the lobby
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Nice courtyard out back

The Room

The suite was just amazing.  We were high up on the eleventh floor, overlooking the entrance courtyard.  If we looked out, we could see all of the exotic cars parked out front.  The room had a huge, circular couch and a massive bathroom, with separate shower and tub.

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Nice, comfy bed
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Reall cool snack bar
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The nice, circular couch

Every detail was taken care of, they even had fancy barware, with instructions on how to make the cocktails.  And the bed itself was super comfy, always the case in W Hotels.  Before bedtime, we went downstairs to grab a couple of drinks in the bustling lobby.

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Fancy barware

Breakfast

The next morning, we had breakfast at Delphine, the hotel’s main restaurant.  As it was nearly 11:00 A.M, the place was just about empty.  In fact, as we were finishing, people were starting to come in for lunch.  As a Platinum member, I got the free continental breakfast and then added some scrambled eggs a la carte.  The entire meal was delicious.

Pool Party

Then, we were off to big event, their Summer Pool Party.  I walked up to the rooftop pool just before noon.  Luckily, there was still some seating available.  I would have liked to take some pictures, but it was so hot, my phone actually started to overheat, so I had to take it back to the room.

We spent probably an hour in the pool just to stay cooled off, as it was so warm.  That said, the pool was really nice, and the DJ was great.  Everything about the pool party was awesome, except for the waitress who basically ignored us as we kept trying to flag her down (read: small tip), but we didn’t let that bother us, as the rest of the staff was friendly and professional.  I would definitely recommend attending one of these parties if you’re in Hollywood.

After about two and a half hours on the rooftop, it was time to head back inside.  Since it was nearly impossible to get food on the roof, we got some food in the lobby.

Good Times at Davey Wayne’s

After the refuel, we changed back into our regular clothes and walked over to Good Times at Davey Wayne’s.  This bar is awesome.  The owners apparently modeled it after the 1970’s pool bars that their father visited.  My girlfriend and I both loved it.  The decor is amazing, and the door is a refrigerator.  It was one of the most creative bars I have ever seen, and I definitely recommend it to anyone in the area.  Imagine walking into a refrigerator and then seeing an entire bar behind it!  That’s what this place was like.  And of course, the music was spot on as well.

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Cool decor at the entrance
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The front door is a refrigerator!
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Behind the refrigerator
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More decor

Dinner and Breakfast

We ended the evening with dinner at Delphine again.  One of our friends literally lives next door, so it’s super convenient, and SPG Platinum members get a 10% discount.  Just as with breakfast, the food and service were excellent.  One thing to note: apparently, there is a theater across the street, as when we checked-in, the hostess asked us if we where going to see the show.

The next morning, we had brunch with our friend at Delphine (yes, a third time, haha).  This was actually my favorite of the meals.  I had my standard eggs, but they were really, really good.

Food Tour

After checking out around 2:00, we made the drive to downtown LA for a Little Tokyo food tour.  It was my second time visiting Little Tokyo, and it was still as impressive as the first.  We chose Six Taste as the food tour company, and we were not disappointed.  Our guide, Sally was wonderful and filled us in on all of the interesting history of the area.  She even was able to get the group access to the Japanese garden, which was so serene.  The only downer was that we had to leave a little bit early so that I could catch my flight.

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Ramen from My Ramen Bar
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Japanese Garden

And that was it.  Even though it was too short, it was an excellent weekend, and I can’t wait to go back to LA and see even more of what it has to offer!

Tips – Finding Cheap Flights – Part II

Okay, so now that I’ve shown you Google flights in my previous post, let’s talk about some of the other tools out there to find cheap flights.  There are many out there, but I’m going to focus on those that have some pretty cool features and are pretty powerful.  For this post, I’ll focus on three tools: The Flight Deal, Hopper, and GTFO.

The Flight Deal:

The Flight Deal is one of my favorite sites.  It’s one of the best sources out there for finding great deals that come up.  To be really diligent, you should probably check about once a day (it only takes 30 seconds) or just subscribe to them on Facebook.

Basically, when you go to the site, just scroll down a little and you will see specific deals on certain routes.

Clicking on one will show the specific details (such as dates, airlines, etc.), and after that, all you have to do is visit the airline website to book.  Looks like my next vacation might to Brazil!

Info on the Particular Flight Deal Info on the Particular Flight Deal

Hopper:

Hopper is a great resource to check the timing on your flight purchases.  As of now, it’s only available as a mobile app, so you’ll have to use it from your phone or tablet.

If there’s a specific route you’re looking at and you want to see if the price is about to drop in the future (or if it’s the cheapest now), Hopper is your resource.  Apparently Google Flight Tracker does something similar, but I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet.

With Hopper, you simply select your origin and destination and then go.  Its interface will show you a price calendar so you can see the cheapest dates.  In the example below, I show a trip from San Francisco to San Jose Del Cabo.  I’ve filtered the results to show non-stop flights only.

If you select specific dates, then you can see how the price may fluctuate over time, as you get close to the departure date.  In the case below, note how the app recommends that I wait, as the price might get lower.

Here, it recommends I should purchase the ticket before May 15th, if I’m looking at a June 4 departure date.

GTFO

GTFO (Get the Flight Out!) is for the special occasion when you want to leave (literally) at the last minute.  It’s available as a website, but I usually use the mobile app.

Select an airport:

Then, it will show you available flights that leave within the next 24 hours.

Imagine like looking at the flight board at an airport and wondering how much it will cost to fly to each of those cool destinations at that moment.  GTFO will tell you.

Conclusion:

So that’s it for my list of top flight tools.  In summary:

Finding great deals -> the flight deal

Should you wait or buy your ticket now -> Hopper

Prices at the last minute for many destinations -> GTFO

Tips – Finding Cheap Flights – Part I

So you want to go on a trip?  You travel a decent amount and know a thing or two about it, but you don’t necessarily have a million frequency flyer miles to use, and you don’t have the time to keep track of 30 different airline credit cards with all of their points.  You’re not broke, but you want a decent deal – and you don’t want to spend hours and hours finding the best flights and deals.  Welcome to the majority of recreational travelers! 

There are plenty of tools out there for finding great flight and hotel offers, but they’re spread in many different places, and some of their most beneficial features can sometimes be hidden.  In this post, and in the next few posts, I’m going to go over some key features of different flight and hotel search tools to help you find the best bang for your buck.  With a little practice and diligence, you’ll find some amazing deals out there.

In this post, I’m going to focus on Google Flights.  It’s probably one of the most well known, versatile, and easy to use flight finding tools, but some of its features are a bit ‘under the surface’.  Instead of going through the features one by one.  I’ll discuss them by going through some different flight purchase scenarios, so you can see what features work best for each situation.  For this post, I’ll use the following four examples, one with a flexible destination and others with flexible dates:

  1. You want to go to NYC on a specific weekend and simply want to find the lowest price option.
  2. You have a three-day weekend coming up and want to know where the cheapest destination from your home airport.
  3. You want to visit Chicago but need to find the cheapest weekend to visit.
  4. You want to take a few days off in early May to visit Boston and want to easily see all your flight options in one place.

Before I begin, I’d like to point out one quick thing:  In my personal experience, the best days to search for flight deals is Tuesday – Thursday (the day to search, not the days to actually fly).  Although this is not set in stone, in my past experience, this has been the most common theme.  Now, let’s get searching!

Scenario 1: Finding the cheapest flight for a specific destination and date.

I want to go to NYC the last weekend of next month and would like to find the cheapest price.  This is the simplest of Google Flights features (and is common on many other travel sites as well).  For when you have a set destination and a set date, just simply put in your origin and destination airport.

This gives you some choices, but what are some good ways to filter and explore your options?

If you noticed, I put ‘NYC’ for the destination, instead of a specific airport.  If you’d like to narrow it down or add airports, simply click the ‘+’ sign in the box for a drop down:

To narrow down your list of airlines (since no one wants to fly United right now), simply click on the ‘Airline’ drop down and select your choice.  As you can see, there are other filters as well, such as price and number of stops, which are pretty self-explanatory.

And if you have some money to blow, you can always check Business or First class as well.

And before moving on to the next section, if you click back on the calendar dates, you can begin to see how flight prices change, with the cheapest dates showing up in green.

OK, so what are some of the more unknown features of Google flights?  Let’s dive in.

Scenario 2: Finding the cheapest flight destination for a given date.

If you remember when you first went to the Google Flights website, there were some pretty pictures of destinations if you scrolled down a little bit.

Whenever you go to the site, it usually fills in your home airport and picks some dates, giving you a list of prices for top destinations on these dates.  This leads us to our second scenario: You have a three-day weekend coming up and want to know where the cheapest destination from your home airport.  What are your options?

Once you’ve selected the dates, you can scroll down to see some of the different options and highlights for each destination, and if you remember the top of the menu, you can even filter by interests.  Clicking on these filters will display more of the image tiles that show specific destinations and prices.  That said, the ‘interests’ section is fairly broad in my opinion, and I’m honestly not sure how they choose what goes into each category (AKA: I don’t use this option). 

I’m going to show you the map, and that’s my favorite part!  Go ahead and click on the map that says ‘Explore destinations.’

Now let’s say for these dates (in this case April 29 departure and May 3 return), we want to find nonstop flights from San Jose, CA that are $350 and under round trip, and we want to see all destinations at once.  In the top left, select the ‘nonstop’ filter and click on the ‘Price’ filter and move to ‘$350’.

And voila!  You now have all of your options in front of you.  You could go to LA, NYC, or Portland, and they would all be in your price range.  Clicking on a city will then give you the actual details and flight options (no need to cover here, since it’s pretty self-explanatory from this point.

Let me give another example to show the power of this capability.  Let’s say I want to take an international trip, but I’m on a tight budget.   I really want to visit Asia, but I only have a flight budget of $750.  Where can I go from San Francisco?  I put in the flight origin, dates, and filters in the map, and in a matter of seconds, I can see a trip to Shanghai for only $612 and Beijing for less than $500!

Scenarios 3 and 4: Finding the cheapest flight dates for a specific destination

OK, so now our last two scenarios:

  • You want to visit Chicago but need to find the cheapest weekend to visit.
  • You want to take a few days off in early May to visit Boston and want to easily see all your flight options in one place.

For the first one, you can easily use the calendar that I showed in the first scenario.  Put in some random dates, and then look at the various weekends.  In this example, there’s a great deal at the beginning of May.

Now, what about the last use case, where your dates are much more flexible.  Here is where Google flights has some much more powerful, but far less used options: Flexible Dates and Price Graph.  You’ll notice these options when clicking on the calendar dates.

With flexible dates, you can see flexible departure and return dates all at once for a destination.  Here’s the view for a trip between San Francisco and Boston in late April or early May.  Don’t leave on April 30 – those flights are expensive!

You can use the arrow buttons on the right and on the top to modify the dates.

Now, the last feature to go over is the price graph.  This is pretty nifty if you want to view all the options for a 4-day trip to a particular destination.  Let’s say you want to go to Boston again, and you know you want to stay there for four days.  What are your options?  With price graph, you just select the number of days you want for your trip, and that’s it!  We can see here that May 1-5 is a good option, and then the prices spike in late May.  If you look at the bottom, you can see through to much later in the year – looks like there’s a drop in prices just before Christmas.

Conclusion

As you can see, Google Flights is an incredibly powerful tool that can help you find cheap flights, even when you’re just wanting to explore, with no particular date or destination in mind.  Here’s a quick summary:

  • You know the destination and dates -> Use the basic calendar option
  • You know the dates, but want to pick a destination -> Use the Exploration Map
  • You know the destination, but have flexible dates -> Use the Calendar, Flexible Dates, or Price Graph features.

All of this might seem like a bit much at first, but trust me, you will get the hang of it quickly.  Pretty soon, you’ll be traveling a lot more for a fraction of the price.  Now, for my next post, I’ll cover some additional resources for exploring cheap flight options.