ITA Matrix Airfare Search – The Basic Search

Most people are aware of the more popular ways of searching for flights on the Internet – Kayak, Hipmunk, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity are just a few of the seemingly never-ending list of consolidators and comparison sites. But there’s one site that a lot of people don’t know about, and, in my opinion, it’s the best one out there.

ITA Matrix Airfare Search is the tool that you’ll see referenced most on all of the more advanced miles & points blogs – and this is despite the fact that the site won’t even sell you your tickets! Whenever you hear about great airfares being touted on blogs or forums you can be sure that there’s a very good chance the fare was found using this tool.

ITA specialize in providing software for the travel industry and the downside is that the Matrix tool isn’t the easiest flight search tool to use. It wasn’t designed with the general public in mind but, if you learn a few basics, the results can be well worth the effort.

This post will show you the basic way to search for airfares using the Matrix tool. In my next post on this topic, I’ll go into more detail and explain how I customise my searches to include only certain airlines/alliances; how I specify the length of layovers; and how I make sure I’m routed through certain cities.

The Basic Search

When you log in to the Matrix tool you’ll see a regular input sheet like this:

Once you’ve selected your departure airport, and your destination, you can search for the cheapest flights in any month of the year by selecting the number of nights you’d like to stay (or range of nights that you’d like to stay) and clicking “Search”.

In this example I’m searching for flights for two people, between Los Angeles and Honolulu in March 2015, staying for between 4 and 7 nights.

These are the results I get:

The price you can see is the cheapest price available between the two cities I selected, on the given departure day, for the night range I selected.

Hovering the mouse pointer over any of these dates shows you the prices of flights for each of the stay options:

So, in this case, you can see that if you choose to depart Los Angeles on 18 March 2015 for 5, 6 or 7 nights, you can get flights for $664. For a four night stay the flights would cost $739.

If you decide that a 7 night stay in Honolulu suits you best, you simply have to click on the “7 nights” link and Matrix takes you to your flight options:

Here you can see your choice of outbound flights for the journey. To find out more about any one of those flights, you just have to hover the mouse pointer over flight in question and click on the “Details” link that appears on the right hand side. This will give you information on flight number, plane type, class of travel, and connections (if there are any).

Although this window shows that Delta is offering the cheapest flights you can also see the prices that other airlines are offering for the same dates of travel. This may be helpful to those wishing to keep their travel to a specific airline or alliance.

(Note: I like to see flights listed on a leg-by-leg basis so I’ve selected “Individual Flights” on the top right corner of the results section. If you prefer to see the whole itinerary in one go then just click on “Complete Trips”)

The next step is  to select the outbound flight – so we click on the price on the left.

The return flight options are displayed:

As before, you can hover your mouse pointer over any of those flights and click on the “Details” link that appears, in order to get more information.

You can now select your prefered return flight by clicking on the price and Matrix takes you to the summary screen:

As mentioned at the beginning, you can’t purchase tickets from ITA Matrix – this is just a tool to find the best price – but you can use the information on this screen to go to the airline websites or consolidators, like Orbitz, and replicate this exact itinerary and book your tickets there.

While it’s not ideal that you have to go elsewhere to purchase your tickets, this is the best way to ensure you have all your options laid out and that you get the best price for flights which work for you.

ITA Matrix Airfare Search – Advanced Options