No matter how often you travel – if you’re a frequent flyer or if it’s just the occasional vacation trip you’re going on – there’s one thing that we probably all have in common: we’d like to find the cheapest flights within a specific time period without a big hassle.
And of course, there is a way to fulfill our dream. And its called ‘Matrix’. Not the kind of Matrix you might know from the successful movie franchise. No, a Matrix in the mathematical sense. Its official name is ITA Airfare Search, and this tool will help you find the perfect flight. All you need to do is enter a day, the period of time you want to spend at a destination and you will get an overview of all the prices for your route within the next 30 days.
Note: We know, this could sound familiar to you if you’re not entirely new to the world of travel. Another tool with similar capacities comes to mind: Google Flights. And that’s no coincidence. Google once bought the ITA Airfare search and subsequently developed the tool until it became what nowadays is know as Google Flights. But don’t be mistaken: we wouldn’t spend time to show you something that we already presented to you. The ITA Airfare Search and Google flights might overlap. But there are things that the later just can’t do.
Part 2: The Matrix for advanced users
Table of contents
Use the Matrix to search and find flights
Departure and destination airports
First things first: you should know where you want to go to and also when you want to leave. Consequently, the ITA Matrix will ask you to enter a departing airport and a destination. You can enter multiple airports in both fields.
One limitation that the ITA Airfare Search has (an didn’t use to have) is, that only destination airports within one country can be selected. So, Madrid and Barcelona will work whereas Paris and Amsterdam won’t.
Dates and length of stay
There are two different ways to search for a flight with the ITA Matrix. Maybe you already know when exactly you want to fly somewhere. Or you’re just looking for a specific flight to check the fare rules or other details.
If that’s the case, it’s straight forward. Enter an outbound and a return date and specify if that’s the day you want to arrive at the destination or depart:
You can also add a little flexibility here by opening up the search results to flights departing or arriving up to two days before/after the day you entered.
The functionality that most of us will be even more interested in is the search for flights within a certain period of time. As already mentioned, the ITA Matrix can show you a calendar view that includes prices for flights on a specific date and a month later.
Just enter the first day you want to see fares for and tell the ITA Airfare Search how long you want to stay:
Now that we’ve defined the essential parts of an airfare search – airport of departure, the destination and the dates – we still have the option to narrow down or change the results. First, you can choose how many travelers there will be. The standard selection is for adults, but you can click on ‘Children, seniors’ to see more fields.
The next choice you have to make is the cabin class. Cheapest available will typically be Economy Class. If you next more legroom, go for Premium Economy, Business, or even First Class.
If you want to make sure that you will only see direct flights in the search results, you can limit the search to non-stop connections in the ‘Stop’ field. By using the ‘Extra stops’ option, you can indicate how many additional stops you are willing to take beyond the minimum stops possible. For example: if there is a direct flight with zero stops and you enter ‘Up to 1 extra stop’ you will see non-stop flights and flights with one layover.
The two checkboxes are pretty much self-explanatory. Do you want to see connections that require a change of airports? If no, uncheck the box. And most likely you’re only interested in result for flights that actually have seats available, so you can just leave the second box checked.
By default, the Matrix will show you prices for flights in the currency of the country of departure. If you want to change this, you can do so by entering the shortcode for another currency in the designated field. Same goes for sales city.
Once you entered all the data that the Matrix needs and clicked on ‘Search’, the tool will soon deliver results. Depending on what type of search you used (exact dates or overview of lowest fares) you will see one of the following screens:
By clicking on one of the results in the calendar view, you will also be forwarded to the list view where you can get more details about available flights on a specific day. It will then look just like the result for exact dates.
This is a very convenient feature that the ITA Airfare Search includes. You can enter the departure airport that works best for you and then broaden your search to airports that are nearby. Just click on the small link next to the ‘Departing from’ field and a new window will open.
Now you can choose the radius around the airport you entered, and the Matrix will list all other airports that are within this distance.
Open-jaw flights are often an excellent way to get even cheaper flights. With ITA Airfare Search you don’t have to use the Multi-City option, you can enter various airports in the departing or destination field.
Unfortunately, this function is not as useful anymore since Google decided to limit searches to departing airports within one country. But it can still be worth a try.
Limit the number of airports
It can be tempting to enter as many airports as possible – especially for destinations – if you are super flexible. But results will sometimes not be as accurate. So it can be better to split up your search into a few easier ones.
By the way: if you want to enter multiple airports but you don’t know the IATA codes that are needed to do so, here’s a list: IATA airport codes
Show more detailed results
If you’re searching for flights by using the calendar view, the results will typically be cached (the Matrix displays results from previous searches to save time). If you click on a specific date, you will often get more results and sometimes even cheaper flights!