One of the most common questions I get asked is: “How do you find cheap flights?”
There are lots of useful websites and tools that can help you to find cheap flights. For example, Google Flights is user-friendly and has some excellent features. Skyscanner is also easy-to-use and is good at finding low airfares. But ITA Matrix is the secret weapon that I find to be the most powerful and useful website overall for finding cheap airfares.
If you’re not using the ITA Matrix website to search for flights, you could be missing out on some great deals! This guide explains how ITA Matrix works, and some of its most useful features.
The Basics of ITA Matrix
At its most basic level, ITA Matrix is a flight search tool that allows you to find the cheapest flight and easily compare options. You can search for one-way, return and multi-city flights on specific dates, or search for the cheapest flights over an entire month.
For example, let’s say you wanted to fly from Sydney to Nadi, Fiji around the 9th of March next year. You can search for flights and choose to see options up to 2 days either side as well.
You can then choose to view the search results as “complete trips”…
Or “time bars”…
I prefer to use time bars because you can easily compare schedules and prices between airlines. If you hover over any itinerary, you’ll be able to see more details. Whichever option you choose, you’ll get a helpful summary of direct and connecting flight options at the top of your page.
If you click on any itinerary, you’ll be given full details including a fare breakdown. You can also view the fare rules, if you want, by clicking on “rules” (shown below).
Search for flights to/from multiple airports simultaneously
With ITA Matrix, you can search simultaneously for flights from multiple locations and/or to multiple different airports. The only catch here is that you cannot search for flights departing from more than one different country.
To do this, simply enter multiple IATA airport codes when searching. In the example below, we’re searching for return Premium Economy flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Rome. The flights can depart any time during the month of February 2020 and there can be a stay of 3-4 weeks at the destination.
This search shows that the cheapest fare is $2,927 return…
If we click on the dates we want, we’re then shown the various itinerary options. In this example, the lowest airfares use Cathay Pacific from Melbourne to Paris or Amsterdam for the outbound journey. (In fact, these flights are $7 cheaper than previously shown.) There are other options available as well…
Once you’ve chosen an outbound flight, you’ll be presented with a selection of inbound flights. In this case, you’d need to return from Amsterdam to Sydney to get the cheapest price.
One of the amazing features of ITA Matrix is the “advanced controls”. You can use “routing codes” to specify airlines, airports and types of connections that you do or don’t want to use.
For example, if you type “AA AA AA” as a routing code, the website will search for itineraries that include exactly three American Airlines flights. This is a useful feature for finding Qantas status runs (which are now more lucrative since Qantas increased the number of status credits earned for American Airlines flights).
ITA Matrix also has “extension codes” that you can use to narrow down your search or filter the results in many ways. For example, you can:
- Specify minimum or maximum connection times
- Specify that you want flights on certain airlines or alliances (Oneworld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam)
- Prohibit overnight flights
- Exclude flights on small turboprop aircraft
- Disallow codeshare flights
- Search for flights in specific fare class buckets
You can view a full list of advanced control codes, and examples of how to use them, by clicking on the “question mark” symbols beside the routing and extension code fields in ITA Matrix.
Some low-cost airlines are not shown
Unfortunately, there is no perfect flight search tool and even ITA Matrix has some limitations. For example, it does not show flights on some smaller carriers, as well as low-cost airlines including Tigerair, easyJet and Ryanair.
As an alternative, there is a flight search website called Azair that specialises in finding the absolute cheapest possible flights on low-cost airlines within Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It’s not a flash website, and it only really works for that niche, but it’s very good at what it does.
If you want to check what airlines operate on any given route, I’ve found that Google searches are fairly accurate. For example, you can search “AKL to BNE flight schedule” to see all of the flights available between Auckland and Brisbane.
You cannot book flights directly on ITA Matrix
The other limitation of ITA Matrix is that you cannot book flights directly through this website. Once you’ve found flights you’re happy with, you’ll need to visit the airline’s own website or consult a travel agent to actually book.
If you’re having trouble replicating an airfare you’ve found on ITA Matrix, you can try copying the itinerary details page on ITA Matrix and pasting it into the Book with Matrix website. This website will look for online travel agents that might be able to sell you the fare that you’ve found.
Want to learn more about ITA Matrix and finding cheap flights?
Frequent Flyer Solutions offers an entire training course on How to Find Cheap Airfares! This includes a dedicated unit on ITA Matrix, featuring detailed video demonstrations of how to use both ITA Matrix and Book With Matrix. View course →