How do you know if you're getting the cheapest flight? Travel experts have long relied on ITA Matrix to find and compare flights, and you may have used it too, without even realizing it.

The software that many avid travelers swear by powers numerous travel search sites. ITA Matrix in its basic format, however, has long offered travelers in the know the most advanced array of ways to search for cheap flights. Recently, however, Google simplified the technology into a more streamlined and user-friendly platform: Google Flights.

Travel bargain hunters are now far better off using Google's version of the insights. Google Flights is faster, mobile-friendly, and displays all available trips, organizing them visually using maps, graphs, or calendars, and allowing users to tweak filters like travel dates and destinations to find deals. But it all comes down to how you use it: Here are five tricks for finding the best prices using Google Flights.

Use open-ended dates

Before you plug in your ideal dates and destination, try being open to flexible flight dates—you might save yourself some money. Set your destination and leave the travel dates blank by selecting "flexible dates." Some people tend to think of vacation time as a consecutive Sunday to Saturday window, but opting instead for Wednesday to Tuesday or Friday to Thursday could save you lots of money, since you'll be flying on less in-demand travel days. Searching Google Flights by viewing a calendar of fares to your destination will help you see which days are best. The search engine will also suggest changes to your itinerary that can save you money, so keep an eye out for "TIP:" insights atop search results. Tip: Don't limit yourself to one airport or even one destination. Search "Asia" or "Europe" to see a map of all your options.

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Don't specify destination

If you just need a vacation but aren't set on a destination, Google Flights will show you which flight routes give you the best value. Enter your dates and origin and leave the destination blank to discover cheap fares around the world. If you don't like the deals that appear below the search options, click the map to "explore destinations," and compare prices by simply glancing at a map. Tip: Dates with green-colored prices and cities with fares displayed are deemed great deals.

See if you're "Feeling Lucky"

This wouldn't be a Google tool without it tracking your Internet history—but in this case, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Embrace Google's snooping by taking advantage of the I'm Feeling Lucky button, which will suggest trips based on your recent searches. Your computer might be smarter than you are when it comes to planning a vacation. Tip: If you're wary of Google changing fares and suggestions based on your history rather than strictly on price, clear your browser's history and cookies in between searches.

Use the graphs to easily spot fare drops

If you (like me) are not a math person, use the bar graph visualizations of the data to your advantage. Google's advanced software creates reliable graphics of the prices for every single day around the time you travel. This will tell you—without having to comb through individual numbers—whether changing your trip length or travel dates could yield cheaper fares. Access this visual option by selecting "price graph" when entering your travel dates. Tip: Adjust the length of your trip with the date arrows to see the graph of daily prices change. You could stumble upon a travel date that works for you and is much cheaper than the day you initially planned to travel on.

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Save itineraries to monitor the price

Trigger-happy booking isn't usually wise with a tool like Google Flights. Benchmarking and comparing flight prices takes time, and visiting your searches more than once will give you a feel of what's truly a deal. Hit "save this itinerary" to get alerts about fare changes and view the same flights at a later date.

Tip: Google Flights is just as easy to use on your smartphone or tablet—which makes it great for checking alerts and booking tickets on the go.

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Read the original story: Master Google Flights with These Five Tricks by Shannon McMahon, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

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