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Google ITA Matrix – The Ultimate “Cheap Airline Tickets” Search Tool Guide [2017]

google ita matrix

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Many of you are probably wondering what is really the best way to search for low-priced airline tickets. Perhaps you’ve  been burned in the past by finding a lower fare on another site AFTER you already booked your own, and you’re just looking for a reliable deal.

In this case, it’s safe to say that the Google ITA Matrix software search tool is the best search tool out there.

Actually, most other flight search engines are based off its technology. This article will tell you more about what the Matrix is (not the Neo one!) and how to use it.

History of Google ITA Matrix Software

The ITA Software Matrix is a powerful tool built by MIT scientists in the 1990s to solve the problem of cheap flight tickets. Before this, no search engine could consistently return the lowest fares for travel. This original software was called QPX.

Orbitz became the first customer to use the software. Then in 2011, Google acquired the software and integrated it into its existing search engine to create Google Flight Search.

A much more detailed history exists, but basically the software is now in use by most travel companies, including airlines, meta-search engines (such as Kayak and Orbitz), and others.

In addition, the company also created a mobile app called OnTheFly, which utilizes the software to help mobile users find cheap plane tickets on the go.

Currently, the company is in version 3.0 of the software as it has now integrated with Google. Details of the updates and the software can be found on the website.

The Google ITA Matrix Basic Guide: How It Works & How to Use It

In a nutshell: It’s magic, guys.

Ok not really, but just know there’s some serious engineering behind the software that you don’t want to worry about. The MIT scientists developed an algorithm that gives great results for plane tickets, and that’s what matters.

From a user standpoint, it’s a simple form where you input your desired flight details and get flight options in return. The details you input are:

  • Round-trip, One-way, or Multi-city
  • Departing from city
  • Destination city
  • Advanced routing codes (optional)
  • Dates (exact or calendar)
  • Outbound/Departure Date exact or flexible date options and preferred times)
  • Return/Arrival Date (exact or flexible date options and preferred times)
  • Number of adults (children or seniors optional)
  • Cabin type
  • Number of desired stops
  • Extra stops allowed
  • Other (airport changes, only flights with available seats)
  • Currency (optional, defaulted to currency of departure city)
  • Sales city (optional, defaulted to departure city)

(If you’re already familiar with the basic tool, you may want to see our advanced guide.)

Now, we’ll go over all the sections and describe the various data you put into all the fields to find your cheap plane tickets.

google ita matrix
Default Google ITA Matrix Form with Advanced Routing Codes Showing.

Round Trip, One-way, or Multi-city

First, select your type of trip. The difference between round-trip or one-way is that you won’t be allowed to select return dates for the latter.

If you want more than just a “there-and-back” trip, selecting multi-city allows you choose multiple different departure and destination cities.

Departing From City/Destination City

Type in the airport code (ORD, JFK, etc.) or city name and the Matrix will find the appropriate airport. You can also have it select all airports within an area if there are multiple.

Advanced Routing Codes (Optional)

Use these to choose or exclude specific airlines as well as many other options. These are discussed in detail in the advanced section.

Dates (Exact or Calendar)

This option allows you to choose by exact or flexible dates, or elect to see a calendar. If you stick with “exact dates” you’ll get the next two options.

(The calendar option is discussed in more detail in the advanced section.)

Outbound and Return Dates (Exact or Flexible Date Options and Preferred Times)

Put in the dates you need if your trip days are inflexible. Otherwise, use the options to make your departure and arrival time flexible up to +/- 2 days. You can also select preferred flight times if you want to restrict the search to a certain time of day.

Number of Adults (Children or Seniors Optional)

You’re likely searching for flights for yourself or another adult as well, but you can also add children and seniors as needed.

Cabin Type (Class of Service)

Keep default selections to stay in economy, or change to premium, business, or first.

Number of Desired Stops/Extra Stops Allowed

In this section you can choose to look at only non-stop, one-stop, or two-stop flights. Then, you can also have the program search a range, such as 0-1 stop, 0-2 stops, etc.

Other (Airport Changes, Only Flights With Available Seats)

These two options can be used to ensure you make it back to the same airport you left from and don’t have to swap between airports on multi-stop trips.

You can also search for airline tickets even if they don’t have seats, in case you want to compare.

Currency and Sales City

These two advanced options will be discussed in the second part of this article.

Final Thoughts on How to Use the ITA Software Matrix

Using the Matrix is as simple as putting in your details and clicking the “Search” button in the bottom right of the form.

As long as you have an idea of what you want out of your flight, you can narrow down your options to something that works for you.

If you’re just looking for cheap flight tickets, you can input minimal data and come back with the cheapest fares. Of course, don’t forget to purchase it with a points/miles card!

Most cards can earn you 2-3x points, and our favorite point earners include the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. These cards utilize the bank rewards portals, which have multiple airline partners each.

See our reviews for American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards for more details.

There are also specific airline credit cards if you want to get additional airline specific benefits. These include The JetBlue Plus Card, and the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the Google ITA Matrix, let’s go through an example so you can understand it more easily.

An ITA Matrix Search Example

In February, I took a flight from Austin to Seattle (ski season!). I knew I wanted to travel around February 23-29, but I was flexible up to a couple of days.

Here is what I input (note that we’ll skip the advanced features for now):

Austin_Seattle_Example
Example of the form inputs for my flight to Seattle for my ski trip. The tool helped me find the best fares so I could spend more on having fun!

I put in information for the departing and arrival city, my preferred dates, my cabin, and the number of stops I wanted.

On this trip my schedule was flexible, so I allowed the dates to be “+/- 2 days.” However, I didn’t really care what time of day I left or returned, so I didn’t use the Preferred Times.

I also hate multiple stopovers on trips like this, so I selected “nonstop” with up to one extra stop as my options there. I left everything else defaulted. Here are the results I got:

Austin_Seattle_Example_Results
Flight results for my chosen flight from the example. I made sure to ask for no stopovers and had flexible dates to ensure I found the best price.

Bada bing, bada boom. You have results for plane tickets in mere seconds, arranged in a nice, easy to use table.

Now that you have your results, in the next section we’ll go over how to use and interpret them.

How To Use the ITA Software Matrix Results

First, it might be useful to prove that these are good prices. After all, the consumer’s biggest fear about booking a ticket is not getting the best price.

To verify the Matrix results, I used the search features of a few different sites that all use the Matrix software, and I also checked prices on the individual airlines’ websites.

Results of the Price Check Exercise

All the websites returned the same results, as expected (see results collage below). However, finding the same results on the airline websites isn’t always as easy…we’ll get to that in the Booking the Flight section.

ita software matrix
Search result comparison for ITA Software Matrix, Kayak, Hipmunk, and Google Flight Search.

On the results screen I received from the Matrix, I thought the first flight sounded like a good deal. When I clicked on it, I got the following page of details about the chosen flights:

Austin_Seattle_Example_Flight_Chosen
Flight details for my chosen flight from the example. This page includes lots of details you can use to find the flights on other sites.

Checking Different Flight Options

Let’s say that before booking, I wanted to check a few different flights. Sometimes it’s good to have options!

To get back to the main results, we simply click the URL on the word “Flights” in the top right. From there, we can click on any other results.

Check out some other cool features of the program shown in the tan box on the right hand side.

You can see total miles (for loyalty program members!), CO2 Emissions (for green-minded folk), and the airport information. Clicking on the airport name brings it up in Google Maps.

Austin_Seattle_Example_Flight_Back
Get back to the results page by clicking “flights” in the upper right. Some interesting information about your chosen flight appears in the tan box on the right.

Some general results page information:

Now you understand the basic Results Page information. In our advanced section, you’ll find some additional information on using the filters. Next, you need to book your flight!

Booking Flights Using the Google ITA Matrix

Of course, finding the flight is only half the battle. You do actually have to book it to travel (preferably using a miles card!).

Previously, you weren’t able to do this directly through ITA Matrix. However, a new site is now available that makes it as easy as can be: BookWithMatrix.com. These guys saw an opportunity, and created a simple tool to book your flights. Now ITA Matrix is as good an online travel agency as any other!

Just copy and paste the itinerary from your results page on ITA into their tool, and they will give you options to book your flight with a number of online booking agents.

If you just want to do it yourself, there are a few different options for booking the flight (note that the BookWithMatrix.com site includes the first two):

What are the advantages of each? Well for the first one, you’d have the advantage of using your favorite credit card to earn points on your airline!

If you decide to book through a site or through a travel agent, there are multiple benefits including saved time, extra assistance, and even travel insurance.

The important thing is to ensure you have your loyalty account information and hopefully a credit card that will offer you points to book it.

Remember that some credit cards only offer the extra points if you book directly with the airline, which can be a very good reason to choose that option. These include cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express.

Using the Matrix Results To Find the Best-Priced Ticket

Whichever method you prefer, you should be able to navigate there and take care of business. Your first step is to take a look at your flight details again and gather all the necessary information:

Austin_Seattle_Example_Flight_Booking Information
The information circled will be important to booking the airline tickets.

You may notice the highlighted “rules” button next to the fares in the middle of the screen. Those links have details about the rules behind the fares, which are typically used by travel agents and the airlines themselves.

Feel free to read them; they’re long, but give the exact rules for booking that fare. These are the details you need if you can’t find the same price when searching for your flight elsewhere.

Booking Directly With the Airline

First, I’ll first show you how to book with the airline directly. Remember that in my example, I wanted this $196.20 fare from Alaska Airlines.

After searching the Alaska website, I found the same flights as in the example above (Flight 671 and 670 with the same departure times)…

Alaska_Flight_Compared
The same flights found in ITA Matrix from the above search: Alaska flights 671 and 670.

…and the total price that came up was indeed the lowest fare available at this time for those dates on the Alaska site!

Alaska_Flight_Compared_Total
Final fare on the Alaska website matches the ITA Matrix result!

One last thing to note for the savvy traveler: as a Citi / AAdvantage Gold MasterCard member, I get the same benefits on Alaska Airlines since they are a partner. That means my bag and snowboard fly free!

I also am able to earn AAdvantage elite qualifying miles, which go toward my elite status for 2016.

Don’t forget to look for these partnered advantages when considering flights. You don’t always have to be on the airline you typically use, and you should check out the loyalty program guides for more information.

Hot Tip:  I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to book the flight for 2x points, and used The Platinum Card® from American Express to get a $200 airline credit (which paid for a few drinks on the flights as well as my upgraded seat). I also used the Alaska lounge in Seattle on the way home using Priority Pass, which I got with the AMEX card.

Booking With Other Travel Agents

If you want to book the flight through one of the online booking agents, simply go perform the search on their site and make sure you find the same flight details.

You can book directly through these sites, and potentially get other bundled deals if you’re interested in doing so.

Finally, if booking through a travel agent, you will want to provide them with all the flight details and Fare Construction information (as seen in the photo above) to help them book the fare.

With this method, it’s important to note that some credit cards won’t award you bonus points; on others, it will depend whether the business is categorized properly for the credit card processor.

Can’t Find the Lowest Fare from ITA Matrix?

If you can’t find the lowest fare, try searching around on different travel sites to see if it shows up. Eventually, you should be able to figure out where the fare is being pulled from.

You should also make sure all the fare information is exactly the same on the sites you’re viewing as on the Matrix; remember to check the fare class and other details if necessary.

It’s also possible that the fare you are looking for may no longer available, and in this case you should just look for your next best option.

If you think you have an idea of a trip for the future, just start checking prices regularly. This way, you can track the changes and make sure you find the best flight tickets available over a period of time.

Bonus: Get Your Flight on BookWithMatrix.com

We also want to show you the quick process of booking using the new site BookWithMatrix.com. This tool is seamless! Check out their home page for a great, easy way to use their tool.

The first step is to simply find the flight you want, so use all the instructions above to get to the final results page with a desired flight. For a new example, I created a fake itinerary from Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan (DCA) to London Heathrow (LHR).

On the results page, I simply pressed CTRL + A on my PC (CMD + A on Mac) to select all:

ITA Matrix Book With Matrix Select All
Your text will turn blue (or whatever color you have customized) when you select all, and then you can hit [CTRL + C] or [CMD + C] to copy it.
Once copied, go to the BookWithMatrix page and copy it into the line at the top to find your itinerary:

Book With Matrix Home Screen
Select the bar at the top before you paste your itinerary.

Then, paste your itinerary to have the tool spit out the options for booking:

Book With Matrix Booking Screen
The final output of BookWithMatrix. You can currently book with three different travel agents, as well as the appropriate airline from the itinerary!

Final Thoughts and Part Two: The Advanced Guide

With that, you now know how to use all the basic features of the Google ITA Matrix! Hopefully you learned something new, and will be on your way to consistently finding cheap plane tickets in the future.

Since we all know fares change frequently, you should still check back often and shop around to find the best prices. Eventually, you’ll get a more intuitive feel for what a good price is on different flights.

As always, make sure to maximize the fares you pay by utilizing the appropriate cards to gain miles and points for your purchases. If you can’t find your preferred airline, you should book on airlines that have loyalty program partnerships.

If you’re still interested in learning more, move on to the Advanced Features section, coming up next.

Matrix ITA Software Advanced Guide >>

Before You Go on Your Trip

Is this your first trip? Have you ever traveled internationally before? Make sure you have taken care of the essentials, like getting your passport (or getting it renewed), and consider some other travel tools like the Global Entry Program to help save time!

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FAQ

How does the ITA Software Matrix work?
The software is a search tool that is able to pull results from most airlines to help you find the lowest fare. It does this by allowing you to search a multitude of parameters including desired cities, connections, flexible dates, and more.

Is booking a flight via Google ITA Matrix possible?
Until recently, ITA Matrix booking was not possible. To book ITA Matrix flights and fares, you previously had to:

  • Use your flight number, time of departure, and fare class codes to find the equivalent fare on the airline website
  • Use the same information and find the same codes on an online booking agent like Priceline or Expedia
  • Take your ITA Matrix Booking Code to a travel agent if you couldn’t find the lowest fare any other way

Recently, a site called BookWithMatrix.com came up to help you to quickly book your ITA flights! Be sure to book your flight with a points and miles credit card.

Some of the best cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, the Chase United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, and The JetBlue Plus Card.

However, perhaps the new king of airline points is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which now earns 5x points for airline purchases!

How do I search for cheap plane tickets using ITA Matrix?
Put in the flight details for your departure and arrival cities, your desired dates (exact or flexible), and whatever other search parameters are important to you.

ITA Matrix offers a variety of parameters to help you find the cheapest flight  or whatever matches your desires most specifically.

How do I use ITA Matrix for a mileage run?
The ITA Matrix is a great way to find cheap flights for last minute tickets if you want to do a mileage run. The best way to do this would be to search for a flight leaving from your nearest airport to any number of destinations.

It may take multiple different searches, and you are more than welcome to use multiple destinations in the advanced routing codes (see our advanced guide) to help widen the search, since you’ll just be looking for the cheapest airfare.

Using ITA Matrix makes searching for mileage runs easy!

What is the ITA Matrix app?
The ITA Software folks made an app called OnTheFly, which you can use on your iPhone or Android device to get the same powerful search engine on your mobile device!

Where can I find an ITA Matrix guide?
Right here! Check out our standard guide above or our advanced guide here. You can also find information about the product on Google’s ITA Page.

Can ITA Matrix search for hotels?
Unfortunately, the software is only good for searching out flights, and it cannot search hotels at this time. Try a site like Priceline.com or Kayak.com.

Which is better: Google ITA Matrix vs. Google Flights?
Actually, both run on the same software. Google Flight Search may be a quicker way to get to the simple searches, but ITA Matrix will have all the advanced features you need if you’re trying to find something specific.

Which is better: ITA Matrix vs. Kayak?
Kayak actually runs ITA Matrix software to power its searches! The difference is that with Kayak, you can click on the flight to be taken directly to the fare on the particular airline’s website.

Both should find the same prices, but you have a little more control with the ITA Matrix site.

Is there a ITA Matrix Software login?
Nope! The software is free to use and doesn’t require you to sign up or create a profile. Just check out their site and get searching!

What is ITA QPX?
QPX is simply the name the developers gave to their creation when they first used it. It is now more widely known as the ITA Matrix, Matrix ITA, or ITA Software Matrix, and is owned by Google.