During FTU I gave two talks, on ITA Matrix and ExpertFlyer, in which the central message was that an educated customer is better prepared to get the best flight for the lowest price. These search tools don’t magically create low fares. They just help you find the low fares that already exist. Not all airline websites or online travel agencies work very well, so it can be very useful to know what you ought to be paying and if its necessary to dig a little further.
The Problem: Only One Seat at the Lowest Price
One of the neatest features of ITA Matrix is how it addresses situations where there are more passengers in an itinerary than tickets for sale. Tickets for a flight are often parceled out in booking classes. A dozen or more booking classes exist, each at a different price. If there is only one ticket left for sale at the cheapest booking class — but you need two tickets — then both tickets you buy will be at the higher book class for which two seats remain.
If you want to pay the absolute lowest price for your itinerary, then you need to book tickets for each passenger separately. One person will buy the cheaper fare, and the second person will buy the more expensive fare.
The Solution: ITA Automatically Splits the Search
But you don’t need to search separately. Using ITA Matrix, you can search for two or more people at once at still find the lowest price for air travel.
In situations where passengers are booked at different fares, ITA will display an asterisk next to the price. This is the average price of two (or more) tickets booked at their respective fares. Here’s an example for a search I did on Sunday evening, for a flight from Seattle to Kansas City.
As you can see, there are several fares for $238 per person. Near the bottom are a few fares for between $253 and $257 per person. But neither fare is actually $253. You can hover over the price to see the breakdown before you even click through to the final itinerary page. You can see that one passenger has a fare of $233.60 and the other a fare of $271.60. This is confirmed on the next screen.
Again, ITA Matrix doesn’t book tickets for you, but it does tell you what the cheapest fares are. If you were to go to American Airlines’ website and try to book an itinerary for two people, AA would quote you $271.60 per person — at total of $543.20.
You Still Need to Book Separate Reservations
ITA is telling me that if I were to book each person separately, we could save about $30. In general, anything that happens to one person on a reservation needs to happen to everyone, so you can’t book different fare classes without splitting them up. $30 isn’t much, but I did a quick and dirty search. From experience I have saved $100-200 on other, more expensive trips. It even breaks down the base fare and taxes separately.
Why not just search for one person at a time anyway? I still have to book one person at a time to get the best total price. But searching for just one person isn’t as informative when you want to compare your options. Go back to the first image above. The $238 fare is available for both passengers, but the itinerary I actually chose, connecting in Phoenix, would have appeared as only $234 since it would not be averaged with the higher $272 fare. In other words, an average fare that is actually more expensive for two passengers would have looked less expensive if I searched for only one. Furthermore, if you booked all your tickets separately even when it wasn’t necessary, you might lose out on the companion upgrade policies offered by some airline loyalty programs.
You don’t need to waste your time on your favorite airline website or OTA search for one passenger, then two, then three or more as your family grows in size. Just start your search on ITA and let it warn you if you need to book one or more different fares to get the lowest price. Only then should you go to the airline website to complete the purchase.