Until Kayak Explore debuted in 2011, rapidly comparing the prices of various trips was all but impossible. Since then it has -- thanks to the app's questionable functionality -- been merely difficult. Now, Google has googlified the whole thing, making it possible for travelers to dynamically search for affordable airfares to a region, rather than playing an endless game of guess and check.
The problem with guess and check, or looking up fares to one destination then another, was and is that airfares are not governed by any sort logic transparent to those outside the airline industry. No one would guess that a flight from New York to Paris in February would cost basically the same as a flight to Tashkent. The whole thing is illogical. The joy of Google Flights' new regions feature, which allows potential bookers to see costs throughout regions, is that it gives travelers a chance to take advantage of airlines' illogic.
No, there aren't that many people looking to travel to Uzbekistan. That's hard to deny. What is also clearly true is that one reason so few people want to travel to Uzbekistan is that very few people even consider it as an option (that and a dismal human rights record). Map searching allows travelers to be open to options rather than requiring that they have an encyclopedic knowledge of the world's cities.
The new feature is not really a major breakthrough, but it absolutely streamlines the enjoyable process of pondering possibilities.
"Oh yeah," thinks the traveler bound for Turkey. "Maybe I'll go to Odessa instead. It is cheaper and I like drinking myself into gutters."
This thought -- and do pardon our hypothetical user's adherence to cultural cliches -- is why using map-based fare searches is not merely a practical way to travel impractically. The whole thing is a good bit of fun.
As such, it joins AFAR's "Spin The Globe" Facebook app, which is exactly what it sounds like, Kayak Explore, which we've discussed, and Plane Finder, which allows users to find almost every commercial jet on Earth, in the elite club of online travel-related time sucks. Each of these sites, despite having some stated purpose, is optimized for aimlessness and, as such, can serve as a sort of methadone for anchored travel junkies. Mental exploration is almost as much fun as physical exploration. A distant second to be sure, but still a pretty darn good cubicle diversion.
Google's new toy was clearly designed to help travelers save money by making slight concessions like flying into John Wayne instead of LAX, but it might prove a better way of convincing them to fly into Inyokern instead.