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Matrix ITA Advanced Guide: Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

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Brian Graham
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Brian Graham

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After leveraging employee travel benefits from a previous corporate job, Brian set sail with his buddy around the world and has become a seasoned traveler who maximizes points and miles wherever possi...
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Kellie Jez

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Kellie’s professional experience has led her to a deep passion for compliance, data reporting, and process improvement. Kellie’s learned the ins and outs of the points and miles world and leads UP’s c...

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The advanced features of the Matrix ITA Software can be difficult to understand, but they can definitely add value in your search for the cheapest flights. We can all search for a basic flight and find out where to book it, but are we really getting the best deal?

Read Part 1: Basics of Using the ITA Matrix >>

First: Earn Travel Points When Making Your Booking!

Don’t throw away the opportunity to earn valuable travel points when using ITA Matrix to book flights, hotels and trips.

There are many travel rewards credit cards that’ll earn you 2-3x points per $1 spent on travel purchases, but among our favourites (and cards we use all the time) are the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the American Express® Gold Card.

We like these cards because they collect what’s called “flexible points” and this means that you’re able to transfer them to different airline and hotel partners. This flexibility makes them (very) valuable.

You can read our articles on Chase transfer partners as well as the American Express transfer partners if you want to find out more.

Alternatively, there are also specific airline credit cards if you want to get additional airline benefits and perks.

In general, you want to try to do a few things to find the cheapest flight:

Tip #1:  Check a standard trip from your city to the destination (and back if appropriate) using your desired dates (this is what we did in the beginner’s section).

Tip #2:  Filter results to figure out what really works best for your itinerary (advanced filtering).

Tip #3:  Check flexible dates. Not just +/- 2 days from arrival and departure time, but also a totally flexible trip (both dates and length using the calendar option).

Tip #4:  Check a variety of routing codes to get more specific results.

Tip #5:  Check a variety of departure and destination options, in case it would actually be cheaper to go MORE places using the multi-city option.

Tip #6:  Check to see if another currency or sales city has a cheaper option.

All these tips will be explained below. It’s also important to note that the cheapest airfare isn’t always the one that costs the least amount of money for the ticket. You also have to consider things like time spent traveling, other transportation costs, the value of what you’re seeing, and more.

For instance, say you find a ticket that costs $30 less, but it means you arrive at a time when public transport is unavailable. You might end up spending $50 on a taxi, which makes the cheaper ticket a moot point!

In another example, cheap tickets may mean booking on an airline where you have no status, in which case you may spend more because of baggage fees.

Considering airport options is also important. If you travel into another airport, you may be able to take public transport more cheaply and see more sites while you’re there.

Think outside the box to truly get the best value, not just the best price!

Hot Tip: A better price will almost always be the wiser financial choice, even considering points. Due to the marginal increase in points per transactions, we need to attack it from that end first and then add in our favorite points earning tricks.

Results Filtering Tips for Matrix ITA Software

Let’s take a closer look at the results screen to see some filtering options. Here is a photo of an example results page, with all the different filtering options pointed out:

matrix ita filtering
There are many options to filter the data you get from your Matrix ITA results, which is what makes the tool so powerful.

Price Filter

Selecting the price filter brings up the following option. You can basically slide the filter to whatever price range you desire, and you can see that the filter itself shows little marks where flights are showing up.

If you choose the “Show price per mile” filter, you’ll simply see that data under each price.

matrix ita filtering price
Filter the results by price, whether in a range or maximum and minimum.

Airline Filter

Using the airline feature will obviously allow you to select and deselect any desired airlines for your itinerary.

matrix ita filtering airline
You can select any airlines you do or do not want to see.

Departure Time/Arrival Time Filter

If you click these filters, you can select the times of day you want to filter by. This allows you to select only times that work for you when considering your schedule and other conflicts.

matrix ita filtering departure arrival
This filter is great for only showing flights that make sense for you based on timing options. This can affect your ability to get to/from the airport, whether or not you’ll need a taxi or other public transport, etc.

Duration Filter

If you know you have a maximum on-the-plane time before you go stir-crazy, this filter can help choose your flight lengths. Combined with the number of stops filter, this can really help finesse your travel!

matrix ita filtering duration
Filter by flight duration if you can’t stand being on an airplane for more than a certain number of hours, or if you have medical reasons to need a shorter trip. Very helpful in many cases!

From/To Airports Filter

This feature allows you to choose which specific airport you want if you searched for all airports in a certain zone. Use it to choose whichever location works best for your trip.

matrix ita filtering airports
Sometimes there are multiple airports available in a region. If you know you like a specific one or want one closer to your destination, be sure to choose that option.

Number of Stops Filter

For those of us concerned with the total trip length more than how much time you’ll spend on a plane, you can choose the number of stops: nonstop, 1 stop, 2 stops, etc.

matrix ita filtering stops
Non-stops are typically better flights for the majority of us, but you can select your desired number of stops here.

Advisory Filter

If your itinerary has any advisories, they will be visible here. These are little notifications that help point out some things that may make your trip more difficult.

matrix ita filtering advisories
The Matrix ITA program provides some little “keys” that help you note some special cases for each trip. These include short and risky connections, long layovers, red-eyes, and a general “other” warning.

Complete Trip/Individual Flights/Time Bars Filter

These filters help you get into more details about your flight and take control of how you want to travel. Take a look at the differences between them below:

matrix ita filtering trip view
Filter your results in three different ways on a top level: Complete Trips (for both departure and return flight), Individual Flights (for choosing one-ways individually), and Time Bars (which help visualize all the data).

Notice that the “Complete trip” bar finds the lowest round trip with all the data it has, the “individual flight” finds the lowest price for each leg, and the “time bar” uses the individual flight model and visually depicts the time of the flights.

Also notice that the time bar displays all the different dates selected in your date filter, which in this case was +/- 2 days. If there were multiple connections, it would show all of those in various colors to show you how your trip will lay out.

Using the Powerful Calendar Option to Find Your Cheap Air Tickets

The calendar option is a very powerful way to find cheap fares for the more flexible travel. This is less useful if you need specific dates, unless you just want to spot check your prices to see what kind of a deal you’re getting.

Here is how to fill out the calendar option:

The Calendar Filter from the main screen of the Matrix ITA software. This is possibly the tool’s most powerful feature.

In this example, we chose the “calendar of lowest fares,” departing 2/1/2015 with a 5-10 night length of stay and no limit on our extra stops.

We did this because the calendar will show a month of dates after the one chosen, all including anything from 5-10 nights.

Choosing no limit on stops will truly give us the lowest fare we can find. Here are the results returned:

Results Examples for the Calendar Search feature in Matrix ITA.

Finding the Cheapest Fares

Notice the cheapest airfare options are highlighted in orange. It turns out that the dates we had chosen to fly before were just about our cheapest option overall. To select one of the options, just click on the date of departure and select your flight.

When you highlight the date you want, you’ll also get a subcategory option of how many dates you want to stay, which shows you the price options for each of those.

When you click on the trip length, notice that the line with the dot at the end expands to show which date you’ll start and end on. Then, you can click on the price of the trip to bring up that option.

Calendar Sub Optioin
Choose your length of stay.

Once you’ve chosen your desired itinerary, you’ll be brought to a screen with even more options, and it defaults to showing you the results using the time bars.

You’ll be selecting the flights individually. Notice this result has a bit of each of the different pieces of information, so have fun filtering down from here:

Using the calendar option will default to the Time Bars results screen, where you will be able to see lots of details about your potential flights. Take the time to filter down which option has the best variables for you.

Hot Tip:  Use the Matrix ITA Advanced Features in order to find your cheapest fares, then book them using your best points-earning cards to ensure you get top value for your trip!

Matrix ITA Software Advanced Routing Codes

If you’ve used Google Flights, Kayak, or any other travel search tools before, then you know there are some certain limitations to them if you wanted a really specific type of flight. ITA Matrix crushes all of those barriers!

You may have noticed by now that there’s an option to select “Advanced routing codes” when you’re searching for your flight. If you did so before, you would have seen the following two boxes appear:

Advanced Routing Codes Form Show
Click on “show advanced routing codes” to see the advanced options, where you can filter by airline, airport, alliance, and much more!

After opening those, you may have clicked on the radio button with the question mark to learn more, and then been quickly overwhelmed and confused. Don’t worry! It’s a lot to take in, and you certainly don’t need to know all of it.

This is a powerful tool, and these are the most powerful features for making the Matrix ITA software your own travel agent.

Advanced Routing Codes Radio Buttons
Don’t feel overwhelmed. There is certainly a lot to learn and tons you can do. Take a browse, see if anything stands out, and give it a try. Alternatively, just think to yourself what additional filter you would add if you had the chance, and then see if it already exists in the tool!

Routing codes allow us to set more specific parameters for our flights so that when we do our searches, we don’t have to worry about filtering anything else out.

Some of the options are the same as the filters on the results screen, but many of them are only usable here.

You can do multiple things with it, and you can set multiple filters at the same time:

  • Search or leave out specific airlines/alliances
  • Search number of connections to find direct flights, 1 stop, 2 stops, etc.
  • Only include or avoid certain airports (whether direct flights, connections, or multi-city)
  • Include or exclude certain trip lengths or advisories (overnights, short connections, etc.)

In this syntax, you’ll refer to airlines by their two-digit code (e.g. American Airlines is “AA”) and airports by their three-digit code (e.g. O’Hare is “ORD”).

Hot Tip:  The Matrix ITA becomes an incredible redemption booking tool when you use the advanced routing codes. You can search for all kinds of scenarios, such as potential open jaws, alliance-specific, or airline-specific flights. You’ll have to know some of the rules yourself, but once you do this can be a quick way to find options!

Matrix ITA Advanced Routing Codes Table

A list of some useful codes follows (taken from Google Support):

Restricting to specific airlines
Direct flight marketed by American Airlines[AA] or [C:AA]
Any number of flights marketed by American Airlines[AA+] or [C:AA+]
Direct flight marked by American Airlines, United, or Delta[AA,CO,DL] or [C:AA,C:UA,C:DL]
Direct flight operated by American Airlines (as opposed to a code-share or subsidiary carrier)[O:AA]
Direct flight operated by American Airlines, United, or Delta (as opposed to a code-share)[O:AA,O:UA,O:DL]
Up to three flights, including at least one marketed by US Airways[F? US F?]
Any number of flights, including at least one marketed by American Airlines[F+ AA F+]
Exclude United and only show direct flights[~UA]
Exclude United and show options with zero or more connections[~UA+]
Search for results with exactly two flights, and exclude United from the second flight[F ~UA]
Search for results with a direct flight excluding flights marketed by American Airlines, United, or Delta[~AA,UA,DL]
Search for results with a direct flight excluding flights marketed by American Airlines, United, or Delta[~AA,UA,DL]
A flight on US Airways followed by a flight on United[US UA]
Restricting by alliance
Oneworld[/ alliance oneworld]
SkyTeam[/ alliance skyteam]
Star Alliance[/ alliance star-alliance]
Restricting the number of stops
Non-stop flight[N]
Non-stop flight on United Airlines[N:UA]
Direct flight (may have a stop, but same flight number continues to destination)[F]
Specifying connections
Any number of connections, each with a minimum connection time of 45 minutes[/ minconnect 45]
Any number of connections, each with a minimum connection time of 1 hour, maximum connection time of 2 hours[/ minconnect 60; maxconnect 120]
One or more connection points[X+]
Connect in Dallas-Fort Worth with no other connection points[DFW] or [X:DFW]
Connect in Dallas-Fort Worth with any additional connections before or after[F? DFW F?]
Connect in either Dallas-Fort Worth or Denver with no other connection points[DFW,DEN]
Connect only in Dallas-Fort Worth or Denver[N DFW,DEN N]
Connect in Dallas-Fort Worth followed by Denver followed by 0 or more stops[DFW DEN X?]
Find itineraries with exactly one connection and exclude connections in Dallas-Fort Worth[~DFW]
Specifying itinerary duration
Maximum itinerary duration of 4 hours (specify in minutes)[/ maxdur 240]
Specifying flight attributes
Exclude overnight stops[/ -overnight]
Exclude both red-eye flights and overnight stops[/ -overnight;-redeye]

Using the Advanced Routing Codes

What a list, right? So how do we REALLY use these codes? This is where it helps to have some ideas about what you want to do with your trip.

Are you just trying to get directly to your destination so that you can start a vacation? Are you trying to see some sites but pay the least amount of money? Are you trying to connect to see a friend on the way?

Using our Austin to Seattle example, I’m going to search for flights that connect through San Francisco airport for at least one night so I can see a friend on the way. Here is what I would have to search for that:

From Austin to Seattle using….gibberish? While that snippet of “code” may look intimidating, it’s simply a series of different filters we added using advanced routing codes. This code means that I want to route my flight to Seattle through SFO with a connection no shorter than 480 minutes.

I tried a couple different searches, and many of them had connections that weren’t overnight, which is what I wanted.

There is no code that I know of right now to FORCE overnights, so instead I used a long minimum connection to force the majority of results to be overnights. Here is what I got:

I don’t know of a specific “force overnight” code. Instead, I hack it using the minimum connect feature to ensure I’ll see these types of flights.

It’ll cost a bit more money to do, so ultimately I’ll have to decide if that is worth it. But I got what I wanted from the search results.

Try playing around with your own ideas, such as booking the departing and return flight separately, since there are so many combinations we can’t cover them all!

Multi-City Filtering Options

The next advanced feature of this online travel agent software is the multi-city search. This option is technically available on most airline sites, but it often goes overlooked and under-appreciated.

You can see more and pay less in many cases if you have a few options of additional cities to see.

In addition, you can utilize the advanced routing codes we just went over to help you specify what you really want.

It may take a few iterations of different searches (rarely can we do only do one search when using advanced features), but it could be worth it.

In my case, I decided that if I’m going to spend extra money, I’d rather stay some extra days to see my friend. So I’m going to look at a multi-city flight into SFO rather than just a transfer.

Here’s the difference: before, I was searching for transfers, but now I want a stopover or open jaw. A transfer is less than 4 hours, a stopover is between 4 and 24 hours, and an open jaw is greater than 24 hours.

First, let’s think about what I want:

  • A flight from AUS to SFO (stopover/open jaw, from 2-3 days)
  • A flight from SFO to SEA (for my main trip, lasting 6-8 days)
  • A flight from SEA to AUS (to get me home ASAP afterward because I’ll be exhausted!)
  • Prefer flights on AA, AS, or a Oneworld partner
  • Prefer non-stop flights

I know I can’t get to SFO on an AA or AS flight, so I’ll have to leave that open ended. But I should be able to get one from SFO to SEA, and can definitely can one from SEA to AUS. Since my schedule’s a little flexible, I also chose some flexible dates.

Here is how I input all this into the Matrix ITA software:

Trying to take full advantage of some time off and want to visit more than one place? Most search engines can do a multi-city search. Matrix ITA makes it easy, and we can add in some cool codes to give us exactly the trip we want.

In my search, I got a number of results. Remember that in this mode, it defaults to individual flights, but we can still change it to complete trips. I ended up choosing my flights and got the final price as shown.

Note that it’s slightly more expensive than the transfer option, but it also gives me two days instead of eight hours!

While my final chosen flight was more than my original direct flight round trip to Seattle, when I tweaked the results enough I was able to get a fair deal that allowed me to not only go on my ski trip, but also visit a friend in SFO at the same time!

So play around with that option to see what kind of great deals you can find!

Hot Tip:  Trying to make use of that new The Platinum Card® from American Express? Use the Matrix to search for flights that route through airports with lounges you want to try, while still finding the cheapest fares. 

Using Currency and Sales City to Find the Cheapest Flights

These two options fall under a bit of a sneakier tactic to finding cheaper flights using this search engine. The basic idea is this: currency exchange rates are sometimes favorable for us, and for whatever reason the ticket prices are not always equivalent in various cities.

What this allows us to do is hedge different currencies and cities’ sales prices against each other to see if we can find a better deal.

Changing the sales city is likely more effective when we’re talking international travel. However, we can change the sales city for the Austin/Seattle example to a foreign currency and see what happens.

Here are a few results for London, Paris, Tokyo, and Sao Paulo. Remember that in USD, the standard lowest fare we saw was $196.20.

Sales CityLocal CurrencyConverted to USD
Sao PauloR$775.42$196.16

As you can see, there is a bit of a difference between the prices, but nothing to write home about. There have been instances that produce better results, so give it a try.

Final Thoughts on Advanced Matrix ITA Features

Not only is the Matrix a powerful search tool with its basic features, but its advanced features can really help expand your ability to find flights.

From filtering to using routing codes, you will find endless ways to research your trip. Even better, while you used to be required to book through the airline website, you can now book through ITA if you use the site!

That’s all we have for the advanced features of the Matrix ITA. Hopefully you enjoyed learning some new ways to search! Good luck on your next trip!

Part 1: Learning to Use the ITA Matrix >>

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use Matrix ITA to find a specific fare class or code?

You certainly can by using the advancing routing code features. To do this, you need to put the following code into the advanced routing code box for your itinerary:

/f bc=g (find only G class fares)

/f bc=v|bc=y (find only v or y class fares)

What are the Matrix ITA Advanced Codes?

Matrix ITA codes are used in the “Advanced routing codes” section of the search form. Use the Matrix ITA routing codes to find more specific travel options. There are a variety of codes, a few of which are as follows:

“AA” find only AA flights“N” find only non stop flights“JFK” connect only through JFK airport
~AA find any flight except American flightsF+ search for one or more connections (unspecified)“F F” find flights that have two legs
“/ alliance star-alliance” find only Star Alliance airlines’ flights“/ minconnect 50” find a flight with a connection that has a minimum of 50 min connection“/ -overnight” exclude flights that have overnight connections in your search

How can I search for Matrix ITA Oneworld partners or general alliances?

To search for alliances, you need to enter the following code into the advanced routing code box:

/ alliance oneworld (or “star-alliance” or “skyteam”)

Will I still earn miles if I use the Matrix ITA to find flights?

Not a bad question. In fact, some of the fares you find may limit or completely impair your ability to earn miles when you fly. This is because airlines have special “discount” fares, and some of these have rules against earning miles.

However, you will always earn points and miles through your credit cards, so make sure to use your travel rewards card or your airline credit card when booking.

Will I be able to book my itinerary through Matrix ITA's website?

Booking directly on the website through ITA is not possible, but you can use to easily book flights found through the Matrix.

What is better, Google Flights or Matrix ITA?

Well, that depends on what you are looking for. Obviously, Matrix ITA is a powerful search tool. It can do many things that Google Flights cannot.

However, Google Flights is more quick and seamless. A search you do for a flight will show up almost instantly, versus some lag time in the ITA.

Therefore, determine your flight goal to help decide which tool will serve you best!

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About Brian Graham

Brian’s first ever airplane ride was in a private turbo-prop jet. He was merely an intern boy trying to make a good impression, but it turns out the plane made an impression on him.

It wasn’t until Brian relocated to Dallas, TX, and moved in with an American Airlines employee that he truly discovered how incredible travel could be.

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