The Ultimate Guide To Using The ITA Matrix For Cheap Flights
ITA Matrix Direct Link
Finding cheap flights is something of an art and something that Mighty Travels is wholly committed to helping our members do. But aside from Mighty Travels, where can you go to uncover cheap flights?
Most bargain hunters’ first port of call will be an online travel agent (OTA); Google Flights, Expedia, Skyscanner… While we’re big fans of all those platforms, there’s one place that not so many people know about – The ITA Matrix. It’s not as slick as OTA’s interfaces and not as easy to use either, but if you have the patience and time to get to know this platform, you could score some impressively cheap flights as a reward.
Powered by Google, the ITA Matrix is a powerful flight search tool. It doesn’t allow you to book the flights, but it can help find the bargains out there. It does have its limitations, but it’s a tool worth exploring in many situations.
Using the ITA Matrix
The ITA Matrix is located at matrix.itasoftware.com, where you’ll be greeted with a search page with all sorts of options available to play with.
Some of these will be pretty familiar and self-explanatory, for example, passenger details, dates, and O&D options. There are also selections for round trip, one way, or multi-stop, as well as various parameters that can be set to narrow down or broaden the search results.
First off, setting your origin doesn’t have to be super specific. If you are departing from or arriving at a multi-airport city, you can choose to show options to or from all airports in the vicinity. This can open more options, and is worth doing if you’re not set on exactly where you land or take off from.
Next, you can decide whether to search specific dates or see a calendar of low fares. Choosing the calendar option will increase your chances of uncovering a bargain, but it does require flexibility on travel dates.
Choose the date from which you’re willing to travel; set it to today for the ultimate list of results. The system requires you to input duration if you’re searching for a round trip, but you can use a range – e.g., 5-7 or 3-14, as you wish. Again, choosing the most generous parameters will give you the most extensive results.
You can further play with how many stops you’re willing to make, as well as selecting the passengers who want to fly. There’s an option for the cabin class you’d like too; clearly, economy is going to be cheapest, but if you love your lie flat for less, business and first are there too.
Once you’re happy with the settings, just hit search to see the results.
What else is in this post?
- Using the ITA Matrix
- Refining results
- Pro tips for using the ITA Matrix
- Pros and cons of the ITA Matrix
Your results will be presented on a calendar, allowing you to see at a glance where the cheapest fares can be had – the ITA Matrix even highlights the most affordable fares in orange to make it easy to identify them.
To get more detail on a specific date, click the square. This will give you a list of airlines operating that route on that day, along with departure times, exact routes, and number of stops.
Even more usefully, at the top of the page, it shows you all the airlines flying and an at-a-glance table of whether the flights are nonstop or involve stops. Everything is clickable, so if you only want to see flights from one airline, just click on it. You can also click on the prices to see the options available.
At the top of the page is an option to toggle between ‘Complete Trips’ and ‘Time Bars.’ We particularly love the Time Bars, which give you a visual of the time you’ll spend flying, at the airport and what time you’ll arrive at your destination.
All the headers on the Time Bars are filters, so if you want to leave during a specific window, need to arrive at a set time, or want to otherwise filter your results, it’s all there for you.
The other feature we love are the ‘advisory’ icons. These show you at a glance where the pain points on your trip will be, from overnight flights to tight connections and airport changes. Just hover over the icons to understand what they’re telling you.
Pro tips for using the ITA Matrix
Willing to travel for your cheap flight? Once you’ve entered an airport code into the ‘origin’ box, click the pin with the plus inside to bring up the advanced airport search. Here, you can set the distance in miles from your local airport to show other airport options; simply tick the ones you’re willing to depart from to include them in your results. The same options are available on the destination airport too.
If you have additional goals for your flight, such as to earn miles with a specific airline or alliance, or to connect in a particular city, you can refine your results using the advanced options. Clicking this button brings up two refinements you can make:
- Routing codes: Specify carrier, operator, stops, connection points or specific flight numbers
- Extension codes: Specify miles earned, remove airlines, set limits on the trip duration (including stops), disallow codeshares, search for specific aircraft and more
You can apply these refinements to both the outbound and return flight, and have infinite options to lock in the specifics you really care about. The question marks next to the search fields are your friends – click these, and you’ll get examples of the codes you can use and what they mean.
Be aware, the more restrictions you put on your search, the fewer cheap fares you’re likely to find.
Pros and cons of the ITA Matrix
The ITA Matrix is a cool tool, but doesn’t have relevance for everyone. Flight hunters who will get a significant benefit from the tool are those who:
- Are flexible on travel dates and O&D locations
- Want to hunt down a specific airplane type
- Need to find very specific flights
- Want more refinement options than are usually available from OTAs
However, there are some drawbacks to using the ITA Matrix, and it’s not for everyone. The biggest downsides are:
- Inability to book on the site, or even to be taken to a booking site directly
- Less user-friendly interface than most OTAs
- Not all airlines are displayed
- Results can be very slow to populate
Getting your head around the ITA Matrix can be a steep learning curve, but it’s so worth it in the end. The huge amount of filtering allowed makes it possible to track down that elusive Airbus A340 flight you’ve been hankering for, or to find a flight that tips you over into the next loyalty tier. For these types of needs, it’s a powerful travel tool.