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7 ways Google Flights beats other travel search sites

Already a useful tool for travelers, Google's flight finder continues to improve. Here's how to make the most of it.

Kent German/CNET

Planning a trip? Google Flights may be the next best thing to a travel agent. It combines some of the best features of travel services such as Kayak and Hopper, including the latter's analysis of historical data to help you determine when to book a flight.

Here are seven reasons you may want to check out Google Flights before your next trip.

It's stupid fast

Plug in your dates, departure and arrival cities, and Google Flights will return airfares almost instantly. Want to see how the airfares change if you make slight tweaks to your dates? Just click the left and right arrows inside each date selector. Again, the fare data updates almost instantly. That's in sharp contrast to most travel sites I've used, where even the slightest changes require all-new searches and comparatively slow updates.

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It identifies the best deal

While perusing airfares, look for the one in green. That's the flight Google has identified as the single best deal. It's a small thing, but also a handy time-saver. Note, however, that this flight won't always be contained in the "best flights" box, which represents the best combination of price and flight time.

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To save green, look for the flight highlighted in green.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

It finds money-saving alternatives

After plugging in your trip details, look just below the big blue box instructing you to choose an outbound flight. You may see an option for saving money by choosing a different date or airport. Click the little pulldown to see all the available tips for this trip. (Not all of them are about saving money: You'll often see the price of upgrading to first class as well.)

In other money-saving news, Flights will now show whether options such as overhead-bin space, seat-selection and checked baggage are included in the fare or cost extra. (For the moment, that information is provided only for American, Delta and United flights.) 

It can track your trips

If you're not ready to book just now, Google Flights can keep an eye on your selected dates, route and other parameters, emailing you whenever there's a price change. Just click the Track prices toggle. That's about as simple as it gets. To manage the various flights you're tracking, click the Menu icon, then Tracked prices.

Google recently extended this capability beyond the desktop, as it's now available on your phone as well.

If you're really into the trip-tracking element, you should probably also check out Google Trips.

google-flights-price-increase.jpg

Strong evidence that now may be the best (i.e. cheapest) time to book your flight.

Google

It can tell you if it's a good time to book

Like the aforementioned Hopper, Google Flights now analyzes historical pricing data to help you determine whether you should book now (or, if not now, soon). For example, if you're looking at a route but haven't chosen a specific flight yet, Flights may show a little pop-up notification indicating an expected price jump -- and when it's likely to happen.

Look how much cheaper it is to fly into Fort Lauderdale than West Palm Beach!

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

It helps you fly regionally

Suppose you want to take a trip to Europe, but you're not particular about which city. Use Google's Explore destinations option, which brings up a map and shows the airfares for your selected dates. You might discover that it's cheaper, say, to fly into London than Paris.

It can predict flight delays

Google

If you search for a particular flight, Google will show you any known delays. Following a recent update, however, that information now includes reasons for those delays and delay predictions.

The latter is based on historic flight-status data, which Google leverages to help "predict some delays even when this information isn't available from airlines yet." However, those delays are flagged only if there's at least an 80 percent chance they're accurate, and Google still recommends you head for the airport with time to spare. (It's all about "managing expectations" and "preventing surprises.")

Have you found any other cool ways to use Google Flights? Or a travel tool you like better? Spread the word in the comments section!

Update, Jan. 31: This article was originally published on Nov. 3, 2016, and has since been updated.

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