ITA Matrix is my favourite way of searching for revenue (cash-paid) flights. The website has literally a million of different options, filters, sorting, etc. On top of that, it displays most of the world’s major airlines, and perhaps the most useful feature to me: fare information breakdown and the ability to search by booking class.
Say we want to do a basic search from SEA to NYC. If the destination or origin has multiple airports, you can search for all of the airports and the software will tell you which one is the least expensive.
The “advanced” bars below the origin and destination are super powerful. There are a ton of advanced ways you can select and filter flights. If you click on the “?” icon, they will tell you all of the possible advanced options. It might be a bit tough to learn the syntax at first, but you eventually get used to it.
In this case I wrote “ua+” which means that I would like more than one United Airlines flight, if I just wanted one flight, I would exclude the plus sign. Then after that is “/ f bc=a” this means that I would like for the software to firstly search for space in the booking class “A” and then lower classes (in order) if “A” is not available.
On the return I wrote “iah,sfo” which means I would like to go through Houston and San Francisco followed by more than one flight on United, followed by the booking class “A”.
As far as the dates go, you can either search exact dates or see a calendar of lowest fares. There are also additional options such as cabin, stops, currency, etc.
Once you search, you will be given a list of airlines, followed by stops, and prices. You can then select the airline, stops, and price you’d like and the grid will automatically filter based on those options:
You can see that we might be arriving at LGA and departing from EWR since we selected “NYC – All Airports”. Also, note the stops – it routes us through Denver since we specified “more than one UA flight” but didn’t specify the connection point. On the way back, we specifically stated IAH and SFO, so it automatically routes us like that.
Once you select a flight, the site displays the details, in this case you can see the second flight does not have any availability in “A” class, but does in “C” (the highest after “A”).
Below the flight information is the fare information which I look at all of the time. We can see that on the way to NYC it is pricing the trip as a “direct” even though there is a stop in DEN. However on the way back, each segment is individually priced which means that the fare conditions do not allow this itinerary to be treated as a direct NYC to SEA and instead it becomes more expensive, since it is then calculated on a per-segment basis.
Total mileage is displayed on the sidebar, along with information about each airport.
Overall, I use ITA Matrix just about every single day to price out flights and I just use it as a general tool for searching for all flights possible throughout all airlines. Note that you cannot directly buy the ticket from ITA since all they are is a flight search site. You must then visit either a website like Expedia or the airline’s website to purchase the ticket. Most airlines let you search with booking class, therefore you shouldn’t have a problem pricing out the same itinerary on the airline’s website. You can also call the airline and give them the fare information and they should be able to price out the ticket as ITA shows it.
The newer version of ITA is Google Flights, which works much, much faster but doesn’t have as many advanced features – such as searching with a certain booking class. ITA is a little bit slow but nothing that you can’t use due to the speed. I highly recommend searching for flights through ITA first, then a major search site, then the airline’s website.