This Beautiful New Travel ‘Escape’ Tool Will Help You Visualize Your Next Cheap Getaway

Apr 10, 2019

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When it comes to wanderlust, there are a number of ways to scratch the travel itch. Many travelers gravitate toward the best cash and points redemption deals. But what about travelers whose schedules are more restrictive?

For people who have only limited time to travel (teachers, for example), there have long been tools such as Google Explore and Skyscanner that help you filter your travel fantasies by departure airport, general availability and budget. But for travelers who want everything — even flight searches — to be beautiful, there may finally be an elegant new solution: Escape.

Designed by the Singapore-based team of the MIT Senseable City Lab, this tool, which they’re calling an “inspirational flight search engine,” trawls flight comparison sites to aggregate the lowest-price destinations for your available dates. And the clean, minimalist design is downright sleek. Though Escape launched at the end of 2018, it’s only just begun to attract attention.

The blank landing page just asks for two input fields: Your departure airport and your travel date range. One “search” tap, and the magic begins, replete with little emojis to help pass the (relatively) brief search time.   

Once your search results are complete, the previously blank world map becomes a beautiful color gradient of available routes that can be filtered by budget, direct-only, visa-required, popularity and weather filters to the left of the page.

At the bottom, you’ll see a breakdown of the lowest-priced fares to any continent. Click on any fare or region, and the page will gracefully zoom in to offer greater clarity.

At any point, you can hit the “back” button on your browser to return to the previous page, or click on a nearby, unmarked airport to get more information on available routes and prices.

Once you select a destination, a new page will show you all of the available routes in visual format.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like users can filter by major airlines like you can with Google Flights, so most of the fares you’ll see will start with low-cost carriers. But you can use the toggles to the top right of the page to sort through your options. You’ll also see helpful details about your potential destination at the top left of the page.

Currently, Escape only has access to flight search results from Skyscanner and Kiwi, but the team does have plans to add more partners.

The Points Guy emailed professor Carlo Ratti to learn more about the Escape team’s goals for the project. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What inspired the project?

“We started with a simple question: ‘Where can I go for a certain dollar amount?’ The idea for Escape was born out of necessity, since budget is a key factor in destination planning. Our end goal was to help people find a cheap flight deal, even at the last minute.”

“Singapore is a hub for people looking to explore Southeast Asia, where thousands of people take off every weekend to nearby destinations to enjoy the beautiful beaches and the rich culture. However, travel planning can be very stressful when you have to take into account your budget, time, weather conditions, visa availability and so on. It was clear to us this can be solved by data and design, and that’s when Escape was conceptualized.”

Who designed Escape?

“Escape was developed by our MIT team in Singapore: engineers and designers at SMART, the Singapore-MIT Alliance of Research and Technology. Our focus has always been to find new ways to make big data more accessible and actionable. Several members of our team, including Escape project lead Mohit Shah, were inspired by the SMART Innovation Grant, which promotes turning research into startups.”

What technology powers Escape?

“Escape sits on top of other search engines and various other travel datasets that are constantly updated. Our goal was to simplify the process of travel decision-making by taking a “price first, destination second” approach. Our interface makes it easy to access a large amount of data points even on mobile devices. Escape uses the modern technologies in mapping and visualization such as Mapbox GL and Deck GL, and the application of various techniques we’ve developed in the lab over the past five years.”

The design is lovely and intuitive. What were the user experience considerations?

“We focused on creating a beautiful data visualization experience that would make exploring destinations extremely easy and fun. When it comes to design, there is always room for improvement! ‘Beauty will save the world,’ as Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said.”

 How do you plan to monetize this project?

“We are currently funded by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, and we are planning to spin off Escape into an independent company. We are planning to keep the tool free to use, and show the original flight prices as we get them. We will earn a small percentage of the booking value from our partners when a user books the flight through us.”

How will you improve Escape in the future?

“We are working on making Escape faster, and trying to add more partners to get even cheaper deals. We have just launched … we want to listen to what our users want the most from us.”

Featured image by Escape.

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