Search for Cheap Airfare Like a Pro: Part 4 – ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

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To really become an expert at searching for cheap airfares using ITA Matrix, you’ll need to learn about advanced routing codes.

These are codes you input into the “Enter Routing Codes” box on the main search screen, between departure city and destination.  Advanced routing codes allow you to do very specific searches!

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Entering Advanced Routing Codes Allows You to Be VERY Specific About Your Searches

I’ll show you some of the more common codes and how to use them.  And where you can find more!

Search for Cheap Airfare Like a Pro Index

How to Use ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Link:   ITA Matrix Google Help

Clicking the little question mark next to the advanced routing codes box opens a window with some examples of codes and how you’d use them.  Not all available codes are listed!  You’ll find more of them on the ITA Matrix Google Help page.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Clicking the Question Mark Next to the Advanced Routing Codes Box Opens a Window With SOME Examples of Codes

Clicking the “Examples” tab gives some basic examples of how to use the codes.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

You’ll See Some Basic Examples of How Advanced Routing Codes Are Used

And there’s a glossary with some useful definitions of terms used in ITA Matrix.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Refer to the Glossary If You’re Confused About Direct Flights, Non-Stop Flights, Marketing Carriers, and Operating Carriers

Explaining how to use all the advanced routing codes is beyond the scope of this post (and my ITA Matrix skill level!) and there are many codes that aren’t even published by ITA.  This FlyerTalk thread has a good discussion on some of the unpublished codes available.

That said, let’s look some examples that would be useful to most folks.

1.   Specifying Connection Cities

Suppose you wanted to fly from New York to Los Angeles, but instead of going non-stop, you need a connection in Philadelphia (maybe to have lunch with a friend or meet with a business colleague).

Enter the departure city and destination as you normally would, but in the “Enter Routing Codes” box, enter the 3-letter airport code of the airport you want to connect in (in this case, PHL for Philadelphia).  If you don’t know the airport code, you can look it up on an airport code website.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Enter the 3-Letter Code for the Airport You Want to Connect Through

After you hit search, you’ll only see flights that connect through Philadelphia.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Only Flights With a Connection in Philadelphia Will Appear in Your Search

If you want to specify 2 or more connection points, type the airport codes separated by a space in the “Enter Routing Codes” box.

So using our previous New York to Los Angeles example, if you wanted to meet a business colleague for breakfast in Atlanta, then meet your sister in Salt Lake City (SLC) for coffee, you’d enter “ATL SLC” in the “Enter Routing Codes” box.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Enter the Airport You Want to Connect Through in Order, Separated by a Space

You’ll only see a list of flights that connect through Atlanta 1st, then Salt Lake City.  Note that some of the connections are LONG or overnight.  But maybe you want to hang out with your family or friends for a night anyway!

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

You Can Specify More Than 1 Connection Point by Listing Airport Codes in Order in the “Enter Routing Codes” Box

Note:   If you wanted to connect in either Atlanta or Salt Lake City, you’d enter “ATL,SLC” instead (separated by a comma).

If you DO NOT want to connect at a specific airport, you’d enter the airport code in the “Enter Routing Codes” box with a ~ (tilde) symbol in front of it.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

You Can Specify Where You Want (and Don’t Want) to Connect

For example, if you were flying from Rochester to West Palm Beach (knowing there are no direct flights between the 2 cities), but absolutely dislike connecting through Atlanta, you’d enter the following:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Entering the Tilde (~) Symbol Before the Airport Code Means You Do NOT Want to Connect There

Your search results page will only include options that don’t connect in Atlanta.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

No Atlanta Connections Here!

That’s pretty neat!

2.   Specifying Airlines and Alliances

I’ve already shown you how to filter results by airline on the ITA Matrix search results page but you can do so more powerfully by including advanced routing codes in your search.

You can get very specific about marketing carrier (the airline that sells the ticket, but it could be a code share flight), operating carrier (the airline that actually operates the flight), or alliance.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Want a oneworld Alliance Flight or an American Airlines Operated Flight? Advanced Routing Codes Can Help You Search

Here are some common examples of ways you can specify airline or alliance.

Routing CodeExample
AAA direct flight marketed by a specific airline, in this case American Airlines. However, it could be a code share flight operated by another airline.
O:UAA direct flight operated by a specific airline, in this case United Airlines.
US+Any number of flights marketed by a specific airline, in this case US Airways.
O:DL+Any number of flights operated by a specific airline, in this case Delta.
NAny non-stop flight.
N:ACAny non-stop flight operated by a specific airline, in this case Air Canada.
~BAAny direct flight, but excluding a specific airline, in this case British Airways.
~CX+Any number of flights, but not operated by a specific airline, in this case Cathay Pacific.
HA,ASDirect flight on 1 of these airlines (add more if needed, separated by commas). In this case, Hawaiian Airlines or Alaska Airlines.
AF KLA direct flight on 1 airline followed by a direct flight on another. In this case, Air France then KLM.
LH+ SQ+Any number of flights on a specific airline, followed by any number of flights on another airline, in this case Lufthansa then Singapore Airlines.
/alliance star-allianceSearch for flights on Star Alliance airlines only.
/alliance oneworldSearch for flights on oneworld airlines only.
/alliance SkyteamSearch for flights on Skyteam airlines only.

If you don’t know the 2-letter code for an airline, you can look it up (and airport codes, too!) on the IATA Airline and Airport Code Search website.

Let’s look at a few examples.

1.   Toronto to Los Angeles, United Airlines

Suppose you wanted to fly from Toronto to Los Angeles on any number of flights marketed by United Airlines.  Your search entry would look like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Enter “UA+” for Any Number of Flights Marketed by United Airlines (Will Include Code Share Flights)

The search results only include flights with United Airlines flight numbers.  But note that the 1st flight on the list is operated by Air Canada (a code share).

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

The List Includes Flights Operated by Other Airlines on Behalf of United Airlines, in This Case Air Canada

To list flights operated by United Airlines only, you need to enter “O:UA+” instead of “UA+“, like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Putting an “O:” Before the Airline Code Restricts Search to Flights OPERATED by That Airline Only

The results are now different, with only flights operated by United Airlines shown.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Flights Operated as Code Shares by Other Airlines Are Now Excluded

2.   New York to Honolulu, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines

If you wanted to fly from New York to Honolulu on a direct flight operated by either United Airlines or Hawaiian Airlines, your search would look like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

A Search for Direct Flights Operated by United Airlines OR Hawaiian Airlines

The results look like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

You Can Fly Direct From New York to Honolulu on United Airlines (Expensive!) or Hawaiian Airlines (Much Cheaper)

Let’s change the search to allow any number of flights on United Airlines, followed by any number of flights on Hawaiian Airlines.  You’d enter “UA+ HA+” instead of “UA,HA“.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

If You Want to Fly United Airlines AND Hawaiian Airlines, in That Order, Enter “UA+ HA+”

The results list gives quite a different set of options!

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

All Options Have 1 or More United Airlines Flights FIRST, Then 1 or More Hawaiian Airlines Flights

3.   Philadelphia to Hong Kong, Star Alliance

Doing a basic search from Philadelphia to Hong Kong without adding any advanced routing codes lists a massive number of options.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

So Many Choices From Philadelphia to Hong Kong

However, if you know you want to fly a Star Alliance airline (say because you want to credit the miles flown to a specific program), your search would look like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Use “/alliance” to Specify an Airline Alliance

The results are much more refined!

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

The List Includes Only Flights on Star Alliance Airlines

3.   Avoiding Red-Eye Flights, Overnight Stops, Propeller Planes and More!

Some folks really don’t like certain types of flights, like red-eyes, overnight stops, or propeller planes.  You can avoid these (and more) by using the following codes:

  • / -redeye (avoids red-eye flights)
  • / -overnight (avoids overnight connections)
  • / -prop (avoids propeller planes)
  • / -change (avoids airport changes)
  • / -train (avoids train connections)
  • / -helicopter (avoids helicopters)
Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Not a Fan of Turboprops? You Can Exclude Them From Your Search Results

If there’s more than 1 type of flight you’d like to avoid, just separate the codes with commas.  So if you wanted to search for flights with no overnight connections and no propeller planes, you’d type “/ -overnight,-prop“.

For example, suppose you wanted to fly from New York to London, UK, but you don’t do well on red-eye flights (most US to Europe flights are red-eyes, but not ALL).  Your search would look like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Don’t Do Well on Red-Eye Flights? You Can Avoid Them!

The search results include only daytime flights.  But some of the results include overnight connections!

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

You’ll Get Daytime Flights, but Also Overnight Connections

To exclude overnight connections, too, include “-overnight” in the advanced routing codes, like this:

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

You Can Avoid Red-Eye Flights AND Overnight Connections

Now the search results list only daytime flights, with no overnight connections.

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Much More Civilized! No Red-Eyes OR Overnight Connections.

Where Can You Learn More?

The examples I’ve given are just a small sample of what you can do with advanced routing codes.  There are many other codes, combinations, and tricks you can use for even more complex searches.

Don’t be discouraged if it’s confusing at first.  You don’t have to learn everything.  Just a few codes that apply to the way you like to travel are enough!

Search For Cheap Airfare Like A Pro Part 4 ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

Don’t Worry! You Don’t Have to Know It All!

I’ve found the best way to learn more about ITA Matrix is to just play with it.  Try dummy searches with different codes, or make up crazy criteria and see if you can get the system to return a list of flights that fit.  It’s kind of fun!

Here are some resources to learn more about ITA Matrix routing codes:

Bottom Line

Using advanced routing codes in ITA Matrix is a very powerful way to make your airfare searches ultra-specific.  You don’t have to use them, but for some folks they can be very helpful.

For example, you can specify airlines (operating or code share), alliances, and connection points.  Or avoid certain types of flights, like red-eyes, altogether.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of ways you can mix-and-match codes to fit your exact travel plans.  And there are resources online to help if you get stuck.

Do you have any favorite ITA Matrix routing code tricks to share?

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7 responses to “Search for Cheap Airfare Like a Pro: Part 4 – ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes

  1. What’s the easiest way to search AA, ineworld and every non-oneworld AA partner?

    • @Chuck – You could use the command “/alliance oneworld” to search for flights on American Airlines and their oneworld partners. But I’m not aware of a command to search non-alliance partners all at once, so you’d have to search for the airlines you want separately.

      @DancingTravel – Stay tuned for a post about ExpertFlyer! It might help with what you’re looking for.

  2. This is great, thanks! Do you know of any similar information about searching to redeem points and constructing a trip like this? I’ve been collecting bits and pieces from here and other places, but I love how this series really pulls together a 0-100 guide for ITA booking. I’ve loved using ITA matrix, and this makes it so much better!

  3. Is there method in ITA Matix or another tool to find following:
    1) Find Cheapest destination from a location. For example on any given sunday i want to know what is best available for weekend gateaway from Boston ?

    2) Would like to search above based on purchasing tickets or using Miles ?

    Sometime i would like to pick a destination solely based on points/miles to go somewhere

  4. @karma: try Google Flights (flights.google.com). Enter your origin and dates and, before you select “enter”, you will see a map below in the many colorful links that shows various major destinations with prices next to them.

  5. Have used ITA on several occasions, but never used or knew of the advanced routing codes. Thanks for the explanation. This will certainly help save me time in looking for exactly what I need and want. THANKS!

  6. Hello

    I am new to this and want to find a routing ZRH – ARN – ZRH – NYC and same back but the matrix search says “no connections found”. I want to use the cheap business class flights offer from ARN to NYC by LX via ZRH. But I need to get to ARN first from ZRH that is why I added ZRH-ARN. This flight must be economy. It works for FRA – ARN – ZRH – NYC but I must start itinerary in ZRH.

    Thank you so much!