Sure, the name sounds a bit intimidating and in fact, the entire interface seems overwhelming, but the ITA Matrix is one of the best travel tools I have ever come across. ITA Matrix is the software which runs behind google flights. Unlike Google Flights, ITA Matrix helps users find specific flights, fare codes, airlines, and flights to/from nearby cities. ITA Matrix does not let users book flights directly from the website, but it helps me come up with travel ideas. I’ll explain below.
How To Search ITA Matrix
When you open the website, it looks like a traditional booking website. You are asked to enter an origin, destination, and travel dates. That is there the similarities between ITA and traditional airfare search websites ends.
When you enter your origin and destination airports, a “Nearby” link appears next to the box. When you click the link you are presented a list of nearby airports up to 2,000 miles! Using nearby cities helps users find significantly cheaper airfare to nearby airports. A ticket from JFK to Europe may be much less than from PHL to Europe. ITA help you discover cheaper city pairings. Often, if you find a cheap nearby city paring, the cost of positioning to the nearby city is cheaper than flying from A to B.
Although this is an extreme example, I recently flew from LAX to London from Chicago for cheaper than had I booked Chicago to London directly. Sure, it added some time to the journey, but I ended up saving $400 overall.
Exact Dates Vs. See Calendar
If you know the exact dates you wish to travel you can use the exact dates function. When you enter the dates you have the ability to search dates +/- 2 days from the exact date, or simply search the exact date alone. If you choose to see the calendar, you will be presented a calendar to select your departing date, then you must enter the option of how many nights you with to be at your destination. Date ranges of 7 night can be entered. So, you could select a departure of July 1st with a duration of between 3-7 nights. When you hit “search” you are presented with a calendar view of prices to select from.
Advance Routing Codes
Selecting the Advance Routing Codes option will present yet another box to enter information. This time, the information entered is critical and does not come with the same auto-fill options found on other options. Advance routing codes are used to define the airline, fare code, airports, alliance, etc. Clicking the “?” next to the box helps users understand how to use advance routing codes.
A great way to use advance routing codes would be to avoid certain airports for layovers or defining certain airports for layovers. Lets say you are traveling during the winter months. ITA Matrix advance routing codes allows users to avoid Minneapolis or Chicago to route through Dallas or Houston. Learning the routing codes can be cumbersome, but useful.
When you get finally find the flights you want, ITA matrix provides detailed breakdown of the itinerary. The breakdown shows you the times, flights numbers, type of plane, and most importantly, fare code. ITA matrix allows you to better understand fare codes and how it impacts the price of an airline ticket.
In the little blue box below the itinerary, click the “rules” button for each “Fare.” These are the FARE RULES and they determine the base price you are paying. Fare Rules are a bit intimidating at first, but there are key things to look for within the rules:
Category 5: Advanced Reservations/Ticking Restrictions:
This section will tell you how many days prior to departure you must purchase the ticket to get this price. There is still a good chance that the airline might sell out of this fare class, but at least you know what the rules are.
Category 2: Day/Time Restrictions:
This section will tell you what times you are allowed to fly on this fare class.
FROM CHI - PERMITTED 1201AM TO 930AM OR 630PM TO 1159PM DAILY. TO CHI - PERMITTED 1201AM TO 930AM OR 400PM TO 1159PM DAILY.
The example above shows you EXACTLY why you are unable to get the lower price for the flight at 4pm on a Friday.
(Tip: Once you have even the lowest tier status with an airline, book the cheapest/latest flight and standby.)
Category 10: Combinability:
This might not mean much to you today, but it is the end all be all for “travel hackers.” This section will tell you if you are able to add “legs” to a trip or if you can fly into a different airport.
Learning and reading fare rules is one of the more tedious requirements to get the cheapest price on airfare, but can pay off in the long run. For example, when booking a trip, I will glance at the price available on the day that I first think about taking the trip. I will see what the fare code is and how many days in advance I must purchase the ticket before I travel. If I have several days or weeks, I wait. If I am closing in on either the 21st, 14th, or 7th day until departure, I will make the purchase that day.
Final Thoughts On ITA Matrix
The ITA software matrix can be very powerful when trying to book cheap airfare, but there are many resources out there to help guide you to using the tool. Flyertalk.com has an entire thread dedication to the advanced uses of the ITA Matrix. I encourage you to take some time to use the tool and see if it helps you when trying to book your next trip. Lastly, the tool does not allow you to book flights directly, but you can go back to google flights and type in the same criteria and usually get the same price. There is also a website, bookwithmatrix, which allows you to copy the ITA code into the website and book.