Search for Cheap Airfare Like a Pro: Part 1 – ITA Matrix Basics

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I’ve written about Google Flights and how it’s a great search tool for finding the cheapest airfares.  It’s simple to use and lets you customize your searches based on airline, number of stops, departure & arrival time, and more.

But if you want to search for airline tickets like a pro, you’ll want to learn how to use ITA Matrix.  It’s owned by the same company that runs Google Flights, but it’s much more powerful and gives you many more search options.

You can’t buy a ticket using ITA Matrix.  It’s a search tool only.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

ITA Matrix Is a More Powerful Tool That Lets You Find the Cheapest Flights

While some of the advanced search options require learning different codes and syntax (which some folks might enjoy!), basic searches are simple to do.  I’ll show you how!

Search for Cheap Airfare Like a Pro Index

ITA Matrix Basic Flight Search

Link:   ITA Matrix

The search fields on the ITA Matrix website are generally straightforward.  At the top, there are tabs that allow you to search for round-trip, 1-way, or multi-city tickets.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

There Are Lots of Options to Customize Your Search on ITA Matrix

What Are All These Search Fields?

Departing From

Enter the city name (like New York or Chicago) or the 3-letter airport code if you know it (like JFK or ORD).  Clicking the “Nearby” icon allows you to search for airports within a certain distance of a town or city.

If the city you’ve chosen has more than 1 airport, you’ll be prompted to select the airports you want, or search from all airports.

Don’t worry about the “Enter Outbound Routing Codes” field for now.

Destination

Enter the city name or the 3-letter airport code.  The “Nearby” icon functions in the same way as for the departure city.  Ignore the “Enter Return Routing Codes” for now, too.

Dates

You can search exact dates, or if your travel plans are flexible, you can search a calendar of lowest fares.  For round-trip tickets, you can specify a starting departure date and length of stay, and it will show you the cheapest fares a month beyond the departure date.

Number of Passengers

This defaults to 1 adult, but you can search for more than 1 ticket, or for children and seniors by clicking the “Children, Seniors” icon.  That opens pull-down fields for seniors, youths, children, infants in seat, and infants in lap.

Cabin

Select Cheapest Available, Economy, Premium Economy, Business Class or higher, or First Class.

Stops

You can choose non-stop only, 1 stop, 2 stops, or no limit.

Other

Clicking the “Allow Airport Changes” box means you could arrive at 1 airport and depart from another in the same city (for example, land at Chicago – O’Hare and depart from Chicago – Midway).  If you don’t mind switching airports on your return leg, you can leave this box checked.

And I’d leave the “Only Show Flights and Prices With Available Seats” box checked, because otherwise it could show you fares that are already sold out.

Currency and Sales City

The currency defaults to the currency of the sales city, which is assumed to be your departure city unless you specify otherwise.  But if you click on the field, you can select from any currency you like!

You’d really only want to change the sales city if you’re planning to buy the ticket in a different country, in which case fares might be different.  Or if a fare expires at midnight and it’s already 2:00 am in your time zone, you could switch the sales city to a time zone further west where it’s not midnight yet!

Let’s Try a Basic Search

Suppose I wanted to fly from Austin to Philadelphia round-trip, departing on January 9, 2015, and returning on January 15, 2015.  I’d enter Austin or AUS in the “Departing From” field, Philadelphia or PHL in the “Destination” field, and click “Search Exact Dates” with the dates I wanted.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

A Simple Round-Trip Search Can Be Customized Exactly As You Want It!

Notice when you search by exact dates, you’re also given the option to select preferred times (either for departure or arrival).  And if you have a little bit of flexibility in your travel, you can modify the search to include dates up to 2 days before or after your specified date.  I left it as the exact dates with no preference as to time.

Then I selected the cheapest available cabin and no limit to the number of stops.  Then, I clicked “Search” in the bottom right corner.  The results page defaults to sorting by lowest prices 1st, with a summary at the top of the lowest fares for each airline, depending on number of stops.

Note:   The prices shown include all taxes and fees.  Most airlines are included, but a few (like Southwest) are not.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

ITA Matrix Will Automatically Show Flights by Price, Starting With the Cheapest

There are 17 pages of results!  But if you look just above the 1st search result, there are pull-down tabs that allow you to narrow down your search based on price range, airline, departure & arrival time, trip duration, airports (for cities that have more than 1 airport), number of stops, and if there are any advisories for the trip (like a long layover or short connection).

That’s a lot of choices!  If you’re simply looking for the cheapest fare and don’t care about the airline or anything else, you can stop at this point.

But suppose I only wanted to see flights on US Airways or American Airlines.  I’d click the “Airline” tab and select those 2 airlines only.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

Sorting by Airline Lets You Display Only the Airlines You Want (or All of Them!)

If I wanted to show only flights which depart in the morning, I’d click the “Depart” tab and select my desired times.  You can do the same thing for arrival times by clicking the “Arrive” tab.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

Narrow Down Your Search by Selecting Your Desired Departure and Arrival Times

If I wanted to only show flights (non-stop or otherwise) of less than 6 hours, I’d click the “Duration” tab and adjust the sliders accordingly.  Notice the search results are now much different, with American Airlines flights showing 1st (and at a higher price).

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

Specifying Flights Below a Certain Length Narrows the Results Down Even More

You can also filter results by number of stops.  They’ll give you the cheapest price for non-stops, 1-stops, or more.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

You Can Eliminate Flights With Connections by Displaying Non-Stop Flights Only

Some flights have advisories attached to them, like a short connection time, terminal change, or long layover.  You can also include or exclude flights based on these criteria.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

If You Don’t Want to Worry About Short Connection Times, You Can Filter Those Flights Out

ITA Matrix has more tools that let you display flights in different ways, but we’ll cover those in another post!

What to Do When You Find the Flight You Want

Once you find the flight you want, click on the price to see more information about the flight.  You can also click the “Details” icon on the far right (which appears when you hover the mouse over a flight) to see more information without leaving the search page.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

Click Price or Details to See More Information About the Flights You’re Interested In

You’ll be taken to a new screen that gives you detailed information about the flights you’ve chosen, including flight numbers, airplane type, cabin, fare class, and if meals are offered.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

You’ll See Flight Numbers, Arrival and Departure Times, Flight Duration, Equipment, Cabin, Fare Class, and Meal Service

And lower down on the page, you’ll see the fare breakdown, with details about the fare and the taxes and fees.  There’s also a fare construction, which you can print out and bring to a travel agent if you choose to book a ticket that way.  Remember, you can NOT book your ticket on the ITA Matrix website.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

ITA Matrix Gives You the Fare Breakdown and Fare Construction, If You Choose to Book Through a Travel Agent

So what do you do when you’re ready to book?

How to Book the Flights You’ve Chosen

If you have a credit card that gives you bonus points for booking a ticket directly with the airline (like 3 miles per $1 you spend with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card), then buying your ticket through the airline website might make the most sense.

Other folks use online travel agencies like Orbitz or Expedia if they collect reward points from those websites.

And you might consider using a credit card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, because you can redeem miles as statement credits worth 2.2% cash back for travel (including online travel agencies).

You may not always find the exact fare you want.  Sometimes you have to check several websites.

I went to the US Airways website to find the ticket in the previous example, and it was easy to find the same fare and itinerary.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 1 ITA Matrix Basics

The Fare Was Easy to Find on the US Airways Website

Then just go ahead and book like you would any other airline ticket!

Bottom Line

ITA Matrix is a very powerful airfare search tool which lets you search for the cheapest airfares.  It’s a search tool only – you can NOT book a ticket on ITA Matrix.

Basic searches are simple to do and you can filter results based on airline, departure and arrival time, flight duration, number of stops, and more.

Once you’ve found a flight you want, you can book it through the airline, an online travel agency, or a travel agent.

There are many more search options built-in to ITA Matrix, but we’ll talk about those in later posts!

Do you use ITA Matrix?  What do you like about it?

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15 responses to “Search for Cheap Airfare Like a Pro: Part 1 – ITA Matrix Basics

  1. How is the ITA Matrix any different or better than Kayak.com?

  2. He’s just showing the basics in this post, it looks like future posts will get into the real power of the ITA Matrix.

  3. Does IATA include all airlines? Like Discounted ones? Wowair, Norwegian, USA3000?

  4. i just used ITA Matrix to find a long- cheap miles run–it worked

  5. I did not have a good experience lately with ita. I have been using this tool for a while and searched for BOS-LHR roundrtrip and got some results. My wife searched using kayak and got a better deal on AA. Then we went to aa.com and booked the flights. I went back and searched with the same criteria that my wife did , still that AA flight would not show up. I am puzzled.

  6. The tool I always use when I am looking for the best fare from Russia to the US is expertflyer.com
    You can register for a 5-day trial of their paid subscription (and then, rinse & repeat if required….). It is actually a priceless tool when looking for complex itineraries with award tickets – not once and not even twice it literally saved me thousand $$$. I have to admit it’s not user-friendly at all (and also that I probably use 10-20% of its capabilities), but once you are comfortable with it this tool is just a miracle…
    But maybe ITA Matrix does the same thing, I’ve never really looked into it before.

  7. I searched for some flights from DFW-RUH in decemeber. The best fare quoted was from Qatar airways via Doha. However, I can’t see the same fare on either Qatar’s own website or any other search tool.

    what do i do? how do i but the ticket? Any advise.

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  9. Can I transfer Chase ultimate rewards earned w/ ink business plus
    to Virgin Atlantic then to Virgin America. It seems on a flight from SFO to Ft. Lauder round trip
    ultimate costs me 23k but Virgin America charges about 15k points. unless I’m not reading my charts right.
    Also how do I earn points for carnival cruises in the carabean etc.?
    thanks

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  11. Hi, Hope you having a great week. Saw you guys in Dallas at FTU. In regards to ITA software, Flight info : YYc to OGG july 11/2015, oneway. (AC via YEG,YVR OGG) When I call either the airline or travel agent (just to see if they know what this is) neither seems to know how to book. They tell me its not live, so prices may have changed , it that correct ? What info do I give to the airline on the phone ? hope you can guide me here . thanks. susan
    Itinerary
    Calgary (YYC) to Kahului (OGG) — Sat, Jul 11
    Long layover

    Calgary (YYC) to Edmonton (YEG) — Sat, Jul 11
    Air Canada 8142
    Dep: 12:30 pm
    Arr: 1:20 pm
    0h 50m
    De Havilland-Bombardier Dash-8
    Economy (L)
    OPERATED BY AIR CANADA EXPRESS – JAZZ
    Layover in YEG
    2h 30m

    Edmonton (YEG) to Vancouver (YVR) — Sat, Jul 11
    Air Canada 245
    Dep: 3:50 pm
    Arr: 4:27 pm
    1h 37m
    Airbus A320
    Economy (L)
    Layover in YVR
    1h 33m

    Vancouver (YVR) to Kahului (OGG) — Sat, Jul 11
    Air Canada 1827
    Dep: 6:00 pm
    Arr: 9:00 pm
    6h 0m
    Boeing 767
    Economy (L)
    Food for Purchase
    OPERATED BY AIR CANADA ROUGE
    Mileage
    3,325 total miles
    CO2 Emissions
    515 kg (estimated by ITA).
    Airport Information
    Calgary International (YYC)
    Kahului (OGG)
    Edmonton International (YEG)
    Vancouver International (YVR)
    Cost per passenger (including taxes & fees)
    CA$353.81
    Total cost for 1 passenger
    CA$353.81
    How to buy this ticket
    Tickets cannot be purchased directly from ITA Software.
    Provide this information to a travel agent to help them match the fares found.
    Make sure to provide the exact booking and fare codes shown.
    Fare for 1 adult
    Fare 1: Carrier AC L7S2TG YYC to OGG (rules)
    Passenger type ADT, one-way fare, booking code L
    Covers YYC-YEG (Economy), YEG-YVR (Economy), YVR-OGG (Economy)
    CA$252.50
    USDA APHIS Fee (XA)
    CA$6.20
    US Immigration Fee (XY)
    CA$8.70
    US Customs Fee (YC)
    CA$6.90
    US International Arrival Tax (US)
    CA$22.10
    Calgary Airport Improvement Fee (SQ)
    CA$30.00
    Canadian Goods and Services Tax (XG)
    CA$1.50
    Canadian Air Travelers Security Charge (CA)
    CA$25.91
    Subtotal per passenger
    CA$353.81
    Number of passengers
    x1
    Subtotal For 1 adult
    CA$353.81
    This ticket is non-refundable.
    Changes to this ticket will incur a penalty fee.
    Fare Construction (can be useful to travel agents)
    YYC AC X/YEA AC X/YVR AC OGG Q7.50 245.00L7S2TG CAD 252.50 END XT 25.91CA 30.00SQ 1.50XG 6.90YC 8.70XY 6.20XA 22.10US
    Total Airfare & Taxes
    CA$353.81

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  13. i need help doing what i saw someone do
    he adds a long of airport codes as a final destination WITH a stopover to the city he really wants to go to and finds really good fares and he simply get off in the middle

    can someone tell me how to do that

    thank you

  14. You want skiplagged dot com

  15. Didn’t work for me
    I found a great fare, tried to match it at the airline, Kayak, expedia, orbitz, priceline, just fly , vayama, (cleared my cache and tried a few options again. Finally I called a travel agent figuring that a $25 fee would still be worth paying for. They didn’t know what I was talking about even when I told them I could email them booking codes etc.
    Now the fares have gone up even more and I’m frustrated having wasted time chasing this elusive fare and worse off than when I started