Google ITA Software matrix is a potent tool to use for finding cheap flights. It is the engine that drives Google Flights and Kayak, and it is by far the most efficient flight-finding web application out there on the internet. Why? Because MIT nerds developed it and nerds love tinkering with stuff until it’s more efficient than a quantum computer at crunching numbers. What they came up with is the most powerful flight search tool in the known universe.
Even if it powers popular flight search engines like Google Flights and Orbitz, the ITA Matrix has a few tricks up its sleeve not found on any other flight search. It’s by far the most efficient way to find the cheapest flight, at any combination, possible out there. Just trust me on this, I took the Red Pill and logged more hours on the ITA Software Matrix than anyone I know.
The ITA Software Matrix allows you to find fares for exact dates, display it on a calendar of prices, change sales cities, or whatever special needs for your flight. With all it’s seemingly unlimited power, you would think everyone would use it instead of any other flight search engines out there. Alas, it has one flaw that the collective brains over at MIT haven’t figured out yet.
Can You Book Flights Directly From ITA Matrix?
You can’t buy your tickets on the ITA Matrix Search Tool. You have to use a different service like Kayak or Skyscanner to purchase and book your flights. Google ITA Matrix Software is merely a research tool to find the best routes and prices. Other flight search engines already offer the same features, so one could argue the utility and usefulness of the ITA Sofware by Google.
Pros and Cons Of Using ITA Matrix
ITA Matrix is definitely one of the best flight search engine search tools. However, it’s not perfect. Below are the pros and cons of the flight search engine.
The Argument For Using ITA Matrix Airfare Search
- Professional Travel Agents use it.
- Major Airline Agencies use their flight search engine.
- Multi-city flight options. As far as I know, ITA Matrix is the only that lets you pick as many as six at a time.
- Interactive “Low Fare” Calendar. Great for finding cheap fares if you have the flexibility.
- Routing Codes capability. The only flight search tool I know that lets you enter routing codes.
The Argument Against Using ITA Matrix Airfare Search
- You can’t book flights and purchase your airline tickets directly on ITA Matrix. You’ll have to use a third-party service.
- ITA Matrix Software search result pages don’t always show you some airline’s prices directly – Like Southwest Airlines.
- Lack of future development; ITA matrix is a legacy product and won’t be receiving updates in the future.
- Extra effort when you could go use a flight search engine with booking capabilities.
Should You Still Use It Find Cheap Flights?
Absolutely, yes! It might be a legacy product, but it’s still a very powerful flight search engine tool you can use to do fare comparison shopping. The interface is simple to use. There’s no pop-up anywhere to distract you from your searches. It’s not influenced in any way by a commercial airline or travel agency. It gives you an unbiased result set that you can use for research – research to finding you the best and cheapest flights available.
How To Effectively Search In The ITA Matrix
Let’s run through it step by step in as very Layman’s Terms way as possible. It’s intuitive and straightforward to use.
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Here is a quick rundown of a sample search:
First, go to https://matrix.itasoftware.com, and you will be presented with the page below.
Now, follow the following steps as instructed or
1. Round, One-way, or Multi-City Trip
Choose Round Trip or One-Way. I choose the One-Way cause that’s just how I roll.
2. Departing From City
Pick the Airport of your choice. Hint: Enter the country first, a drop-down will appear with options of airports in cities within the country.
3. Destination City
Same as above, I mean not the same place, the same concept.
4. Advanced Routing Codes (Optional)
This is one of the best features of the ITA Matrix not available on other flight search engines. If you’re familiar with routing codes, you can use this to do things like excluding red-eye or overnight stops or avoid a specific airport on the search result pages. This section, however, is optional. If you don’t enter anything here, ITA Matrix Software will display everything available.
5. Dates (Exact or Calendar)
I tend to be very flexible on my travels, so I always pick the calendar of lowest fares to get the cheapest ticket possible.
6. Outbound/Departure Date (Exact or Flexible Date Options and Preferred Times)
Enter specific dates but use the Flexible Fare Calendar so we can narrow it down to the cheapest available.
7. Return/Arrival Date (Exact or Flexible Date Options and Preferred Times)
Enter specific dates but use the Flexible Fare Calendar so we can narrow it down to the cheapest available.
8. Number of Adults (Children or Seniors Optional)
9. Cabin Type
Enter cabin of choice – Economy, Business Class, First Class, etc.,
10. # Stops
Indicate if you want a non-stop flight or a maximum number of stops you’re willing to have. Note – cheaper flights usually have multiple stops, while non-stop flights are more expensive.
11. Extra Stops
Here is where you indicate the additional number of stops you are willing to accept past the number of stops stated in #10 above as possible. For instance, if you picked non-stop, setting this value to 1 will return only non-stop flights and 1-stops.
12. Other (Airport Changes, Only Flights With Available Seats)
Ignore for now.
13. Currency (Optional, Defaulted to Currency of Departure City)
Set it to Dollars or your currency of choice. Note – this can affect the final price of the ticket, so experiment as to which currency gets you the best bang for your buck.
14. Sales city (Optional, Defaulted to Departure City)
This is the city where you are buying the ticket (currency), experiment like #13 above.
After clicking the search button, it will show you a calendar of fares. From there, you can click on the flight you want.
Sample Fare Construction (you can hand over to your travel agent)
Making Sense of the ITA Matrix Search Results
Making sense of the search results is quite simple. However, there are some things that you have to aware of so you can catch the cheapest flights possible.
Clicking on the “Time Bars” link in the upper right-hand will reveal a graph that shows you the flight duration, layovers, ect., that is easy to read.
This link will show only the individual flights both for From and To.
This link will show the entire trip (round trip).
Price Per Mile
Clicking on the drop-down button “Price” will reveal a panel where you can sort by price or reverse order and Show price per mile.
The Advisory dropdown will show you “advisories” of the flights you choose. These include itineraries that might use the same airports, perhaps a terminal change, very long layovers, overnight flights, and maybe too tight of on connections.
As you can see from the results page, you cannot book the flights directly from the ITA Software. You can either send the Fare Construction code like the one listed above to your travel agent or reconstruct the trip on another flight search engine on your own, which I will cover below.
How to Book Flights Found On ITA Matrix Search Results
So you have found the flights you want using ITA Matrix. Now here’s how you book the flights:
Method 1 (Google Flights)
Since Google Flights is using the ITA Matrix Software and flight search engine, it should, in theory, return the same results. The only thing different here is that Google Flights lets you book and purchase the flights. Searching for flights on Google Flights is super easy, and you can compare fares with other booking engines like Kayak or Orbitz.
So why even use ITA Matrix? Simple, it still offers more advanced search functionality than Google Flights such as advanced routing codes or the nifty calendar of fares. Whatever search results you got on ITA Matrix, plug that into Google Flights.
- Go to Google Flights – The default is round-trip, but you can choose one-way or multi-city if you like. Enter your Depart From and Destination City. You can pick the number of passengers and cabin types like you would on ITA Matrix.
- Click on the “Dates” panel. This will show you results similar to the “fares calendar” you found on Google ITA Matrix. This displays the prices of the airfare based on the days you pick.
- Click day and price on the calendar and then scroll down to reveal the list of flights.
- Click on the Flight of choice, and Google Flights will reveal various options from various airline booking services like Expedia or Priceline, where you can purchase your airfare and book your flight.
- Choose the booking service purchase your tickets, and you’re done. Be aware that just like the ITA Matrix, Google Flights can’t retrieve Southwest Airlines Price. Be sure to check extra fees for the airlines, if any, such as additional baggage fees.
Method 2 (Orbitz)
With this method, you can go directly to Orbitz or Skyscanner to search and directly book the flights you found on ITA Matrix. As mentioned previously, Orbitz is also using the same flight search engine as ITA Software, so the results should be very similar.
The process is straightforward. You take the search results provided by the ITA Matrix Software, and you let the Orbitz search engine do some more crunching. This way, you can use the Google Matrix as a price comparison and research tool.
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- Go to Orbitz’s Website – Enter the same entry: Airport codes, outbound flights, Round-Trip/One Way, etc.,
- Under ‘Additional search options,’ you can narrow the search to your preferred airline and choose the airline provided to you by the results in the ITA Software Matrix.
- Click Search, and Et Voila! The results show up with the flight, airline, and prices that you saw in the ITA Software Matrix Software. Funny how that works :)
I was able to find an excellent fare using this method. The ITA Matrix results showed the same flight in Orbitz, $329 One-Way from Madrid to Sao Paolo, Brazil non-stop. Not bad!
Method 3 (Bookwithmatrix)
Bookwithmatrix is a website and tool developed to address ITA Software Matrix’s limitations. That is, book flights directly.
- Copy the Itinerary from the ITA Matrix results – It will say Itinerary on the page. Use Ctrl-A to highlight the whole page and then Ctrl-C on the keyboard.
- Go to BookWithMatrix.com – Place the mouse cursor on the text box that says “Paste (Ctrl-V) your ITA Matrix itinerary here,” and then either Ctrl-V on your keyboard or right mouse click and paste.
- Scroll down to where you see Book with Flight Network, and there’s a drop-down button you can click to reveal other booking options such as Priceline.
- Book your flight, and you’re done.
No matter which method you choose you to book your flights, you can rest assured that you found the best airfare deal from your efforts. The ITA Matrix software might be retired, but it hasn’t lost its usefulness. I’m sure I’m going to be using it, as well as many others, for many more years to come as a tool to land be the best airfare available.
Making Sense Of ITA Matrix Advanced Routing Codes
By far, the best feature that makes ITA Matrix stand apart from its competition is the “advanced routing codes.” You can toggle this option from clicking the Advanced Controls right below the Destination text box.
What do the Routing and Extension Codes do?
Routing Codes provide extra information on which airline and where you should fly, and the Extension Codes give the search engine additional information on what kinds of itineraries are allowed.
You can use the information to earn travel or airline points on your booking!
This requires some familiarity with routing codes and can be very powerful if used correctly.
Here Are The Following Ways You Can Use Routing And Extension Codes
Search Airports Connecting to an Airline
It will require you to be familiar with airport codes and airline codes. You can find all the codes from the IATA website, but if you’ve searched for flights and purchased online airfares, you should be familiar with a few of them. So say you want to fly American Airlines from SFO (San Francisco) to JFK (New York), you would use the following:
Departing From: SFO :: AA
This tells the ITA Flights Search Engine to look for flights at San Francisco International Airport on American Airlines. To fly the same airline on your return flight, just specify it on your inbound journey.
Departing From: SFO :: AA
Target Specific Alliance
The coolest thing about it is you can specify which alliances any particular flights may have. It’s useful for accruing more points. Just add a “/” (or forward slash) followed by the word “alliance” and then the specific alliance you want. Below are some examples.
Star Alliance – “/ alliance star-alliance”
One World Alliance – “/ alliance oneworld”
SkyTeam – “/ alliance skyteam”
Search Multiple Carriers and Airports at the Same Time
This is where the ITA Matrix wins as a flight search engine and worth using over and over. You can specify multiple airports on your departure and also your destination. Using our San Francisco example, there are other airports nearby. Maybe you are willing to drive to Oakland or San Jose for a flight. Perhaps you don’t mind landing in New Jersey or La Guardia in New York. Maybe you only want to fly United or American.
Departing From: SFO, SJO, OAK :: UA,AA+
Destination: JFK, EWR, LGA :: UA,AA+
Determine Booking Classes
There are reasons why you would want to specify your booking classes. Maybe there’s potential for earning more miles, a slight difference in airfare, or maybe you can qualify for an upgrade using your loyalty program. This is where you use the fare extension codes:
Departing From: SFO, SJO, OAK :: AA /f bc=w
Destination: JFK, EWR, LGA :: AA /f bc=w|v
These are just a few examples of how you can use the power of ITA Matrix routing and extension codes. I’ve used the examples using Google ITA’s examples found HERE. You need to know some codes to be able to construct actual queries. Here’s a list of the codes and examples that you can use right now for your searches:
Restricting to specific airlines
|Direct flight marketed by United Airlines||UA or C: UA|
|Any number of flights marketed by American Airlines||AA+ or C:AA+|
|The direct flight marked by American Airlines, United, or Alaska Air||C:AA,C:UA,C:AS|
|A direct flight operated by United Airlines (instead of a code-share or subsidiary carrier)||O: UA|
|The direct flight operated by Alaska Airlines, United, or American (instead of a code-share)||O:AS,O:UA,O:AA|
|Find three flights that include at least one marketed by Alaska Air||F? AS F?|
|Any number of flights, including at least one marketed by American Airlines||F+ AA F+|
|Exclude American Airlines and only show direct flights||~AA|
|Exclude American Airlines and show options with 0 or more connections.||~AA+|
|Find exactly two flights, and excluding American from the 2nd flight||F ~AA|
|Find a direct flight excluding flights marketed||~AA,CO,DL|
|Search for results with a direct flight excluding flights marketed by Alaska Airlines, United, or American||~AS,UA,AA|
|A flight on Delta followed by a flight on Alaska||DL AS|
Restrict the number of stops
|Non-stop flight on America Airlines||N:AA|
|Direct flight (may have a stop, but same flight number continues to destination)|
|Any connections, each with a minimum connection time of 30 min||/ minconnect 30|
|Any connections, each with a minimum connection time of 30 min, maximum connection time of 3 hours||/ minconnect 30; maxconnect 180|
|One or more connection points||X+|
|One connection with at least 15 min||X / minconnect 15|
|Exactly two connections||X X|
|Two connections or less||X? X?|
|Two connections or more||X X+|
|Connect in SFO with no other connection points||SFO or X: SFO|
|Connect in SFO with additional connections before or after||F? SFO F?|
|Connect in either SFO or JFK with no other connection points||SFO,JFK|
There are so much more you can do, but these examples should be the right place to start experimenting with the power of routing codes on ITA Matrix.
DO YOU USE GOOGLE ITA MATRIX?
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