The Secret Flight Search Site Savvy Travelers Use
With so many travel booking websites out there, it can be tough to decide which one to use. But did you know that many of these websites are powered by the same search engine?
ITA Matrix is the powerful software behind such household names as Kayak and Orbitz. It's a great place to start when you're looking for airfares.
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Why Have I Never Heard of It?
Unlike other flight search websites, ITA Matrix does not book flights for you. Other websites earn money through bookings, while ITA earns money through selling its software to the travel industry. This is why consumers are not likely to see their ads or find them by googling "book cheap flights." What ITA Matrix does is search for flights so you can book them elsewhere. (See also: 10 Ways to Get Dirt Cheap Airline Tickets)
Why Use It?
Using ITA Matrix does involve an extra step, but it's worth the extra time because it's the most flexible flight search engine out there. It can take into account many different factors of your trip to help you find the perfect airfare. If you have a flexible itinerary or if you're using air miles, ITA Matrix can actually save you time by doing in one search what other websites can only do in multiple searches. (See also: Negotiating All Your Travel)
Searching for Airfares on ITA Matrix
At first glance, the search form looks like any other flight site's. You first choose between "round trip," "one-way," and "multi-city." Then, you enter your city, the destination, travel dates, number of passengers, and cabin class. The magic lies in its other search options.
If you don't have specific travel dates in mind, you can take advantage of price fluctuations to get cheaper airfares. When you do a search on ITA Matrix, choose the "See calendar of lowest fares" option and enter the earliest date you can fly out. The website will show you a calendar view of the cheapest dates over the next month.
Flexible Trip Duration
If you can't decide how long to stay in your destination, ITA Matrix can help by showing you how much your airfare would cost depending on the length of your stay.
For example, if you enter "5-7" in the "length of stay" field on the search page, you'll again see a calendar view of the airfares over the next month. But this time, when you hover over a date, ITA Matrix will show you how much the airfare would cost if you were to fly out on that date and stay for each trip length option — in this example, five, six and seven nights. (See also: 20 Secrets of Last-Minute Travel)
Another way you can save big on airfares is by choosing to fly out of less-busy airports. With other flight search websites, you may have to search each airport one by one.
ITA Matrix allows you to search multiple airports at once. You can enter each airport by name, but where ITA Matrix really shines is when you click the "Nearby" link and let the software search all airports up to 2,000 miles.
This is especially useful when you have several destination options and can't decide which one to choose. If you enter all your possible destinations, ITA Matrix will show you whether it's cheaper to go to Fiji or Australia.
This feature is also great for when you want to explore an entire region and have no preference on where you start or end your trip. For example, if you want to book airfares for a trip to Europe, you may search the entire region to see the cheapest entry and exit points. (See also: Get the Lowest Rates on Airfare Even After You Buy)
Using Air Miles
If you'll be using air miles to pay for the flight, ITA Matrix is undoubtedly the best place to find your airfare. The software has all sorts of advanced search functions that allow you to make full use of your air miles.
If you click "Advanced routing codes" on the search page, you can search by airline. You can also have ITA Matrix calculate the price per mile of your flight.
Choosing Your Flights
After you choose a date from the calendar view, ITA Matrix will show you all your flight options, arranged by price.
You can narrow down your search at this point by playing around with the column headings. For example, if you click the "from/to" heading, you can choose to see only flights leaving from the JFK airport.
Another neat feature is the "Time bars" view, which shows each flight as a color-coded bar from departure to arrival.
Once you've made a decision, you can choose an airfare by clicking on the price button. ITA Matrix will show you all the flight details you need to make a booking.
Booking the Flight
Armed with the flight details, you can go to the airline website and book there directly. For example, if you choose a flight on United Airlines, just go to the United Airlines website and find the flight there.
Alternatively, you can make a booking through a travel agent or another website. Check their prices as well because no one website — not even ITA Matrix — will always show the lowest fares every time.
Have you used ITA Matrix? Where'd you go? How much did you save?