This week I’m discussing how to use ITA Software’s Fare Matrix. If you’ve never used it before, today’s post will not make any sense. I suggest you read Part 1 first.
You now know how to use advanced routing language to search multiple airports and airlines at the same time, as well as how to specify things like favorite alliances, minimum connection times, and individual flight numbers. Today I’m going to show you a few other tips and tricks that may be helpful when using ITA.
Fortunately for those of you who think this is starting to sound like a programming class, nothing today involves any fancy syntax.
Price Per Mile
ITA has a separate version of their search engine that displays price per mile (PPM) information in the search results but otherwise behaves identically. You can even sort the results by PPM instead of by total price. This can be helpful when searching for mileage runs or even just extending an ordinary trip for a few extra miles.
You might have two pages of cheap fares in the $220-230 range, but a slightly higher fare for $240 on page three that involves flying 1,000 more miles. Sorting by PPM will bring it to the top. Unless you routinely scan every page of your search results (and most people don’t even reach the bottom of the first page), you might not have found that great deal without this feature.
In the example above, the lowest nonstop fare on United was $529, and two stops could be had for $505. But if you were willing to sort by PPM, you would find that the best price is at 9.2 cents per mile (cpm) for $569-579, or you could compromise at 9.7 cpm for $538. Admittedly not a great deal either way, but worth checking if you don’t mind the extra time and need elite qualifying miles (EQM) that are usually only attainable by sitting on an airplane. (The link in the yellow box says “Sort by price” because I’ve already sorted by PPM. Clicking the link will toggle it back.)
Bookmark http://matrix.itasoftware.com/?showPricePerMile=true to use this feature every time.
I usually have a flexible schedule and make frequent use of the calendar search feature on ITA. In addition to specifying specific dates plus or minus one to three days, you can also click the radio button that says, “See calendar of lowest fares.” Enter the earliest date you would want to depart and the number of nights you want to stay (a single number or a range).
You will get a calendar with the lowest price on each day of departure. If you picked a range for the number of nights, hover over a date to see how the price changes depending on the length of your stay. This is a great feature for weekend trips since in my experience fares vary wildly depending on the date of departure and return. It is also useful when trying to book a mileage run posted by someone else and you aren’t sure which days have the low fare you read about. In the example below, you can see that if you were flexible the same 3-day trip to DC we’ve been discussing could be had for $453 midweek, or for $475 on a different weekend.
One-way and Multi-city
These are very similar to the round trip search I described in Part 1. You can use the same advanced routing language I described in Part 2, but you can only use it in the departure field because, obviously, you’re not returning from the destination airport.
Multi-city searches function like several one-way searches. You can delete individual segments from the search page and add additional flights (up to five). If you need more than five segments, try using connections as a way to force multiple segments on each flight. Unfortunately it is a bit buggy in my experience and will undo your changes when you try to alter dates or airports to repeat a search.
Just above the departure field, ITA keeps a list of a few links to recent searches you performed. They aren’t always very descriptive if you’ve been searching between the same cities on different dates, but it can help when you want to go back and repeat the same search over time.
Instead of listing multiple airports manually, you can click on the “Nearby” link, enter a city or airport name, and ask ITA to give you a list of all airports within a certain radius. Personally, I already know the airports near any given city I want to visit, but it can be useful when searching for a short, inexpensive flight known as a “3X” for fuel dumping.
Allow Airport Changes
This radio button near the bottom of the search page (underneath the “Cabin” and “Stops” dropdown menus) comes into play when you include multiple airport options for your origin or destination as well as when you use a city code like NYC instead of listing JFK and LGA separately.
Leaving this box checked will allow ITA to search for flights into one airport and out of another. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, as when you are in a city like New York where all airports are readily accessible or if you are touring through Europe and don’t need to fly in and out of the same city. However, uncheck the box if you must fly in and out of the same airport, such as if you are staying at an airport hotel and are relying on the free shuttle service.
Sometimes you just want to know what flight options exist, and other times you want to know which flights have availability so you can book it today. If you don’t want to rule anything out because you think seats might open up later, uncheck the box labeled “Only show flights and prices with available seats.”
Currency and Sales City
The currency feature is relatively new and allows you to display the price in another currency if you have plans to purchase your ticket through an unusual channel. By default it is set to the sales city. The sales city is set by default to the first departure city, but there are certainly ways to buy a ticket from other places in the world, and they sometimes quote different price.