Departure Boards

Matrix Airfare Search, what is it?

You’ve probably seen us reference Matrix when discussing flights before, we pretty much rely on it when planning and booking a trip. It’s a really powerful flight search tool, you can’t actually book anything through it but it’s packed with various search and display options such as time bars. We’re going to run through the basics today and we’ll cover some of the features it in more detail at a later stage.

Part 1 – Matrix by ITA, what is it?

So today, we’ll see how to use ITA for a trip from Dublin (DUB) to New York (JFK) for a couple of days in January. There are usually tons of options on this route from several non-stop daily flights to 2-3 connections across multiple carriers.

The Search Page

Most of the options on this page are self-explanatory. I’ve entered “DUB” into the departure box and “JFK” into the destination box. If you’re unsure of the airport code just type in the city and it’ll list the closest airports.

Matrix Flight Search Page

We’re going to search exact dates so I’ve gone with the 16th – 22nd January. We’re only booking a flight for one in the cheapest available cabin and we’re going to allow airport changes. I’ve also set the currency to € (because we’re in Ireland) and the sales city to Dublin.

Next hit search and it’ll begin loading up the results.

Displaying & Filtering Search Results

Matrix Filter Bar

The blue bar at the top of the results page lists all airlines available and displays fares for nonstop and 1 stop routes. Clicking an airline will show you only flights under that carrier, while clicking a price will show you flights on that carrier that match the number of stops.  The fares listed are “all-in” so it includes taxes and charges.

Complete Trips

By default, Matrix will list flights as “complete trips”. This is the easiest to understand and includes both departure and arrival times, any stopovers and advisories such as short connections or night flights.

Matrix Complete Trips Page

In our case the cheapest possible combination is with British Airways routing via London at a total of €422. Our cheapest direct option is on American Airlines metal but sold as a mix of Air France & KLM. But its €55 more than BA, if you’re travelling as a family that could be an extra €2-300.

Maybe the above combinations don’t suit time-wise? That’s where the two other display options come in…

Individual Flights

The individual flights option is just like the screen you’ll get when booking with an airline. It allows you to pick the outbound flight before proceeding to pick your inbound flight. The price you see beside each option is the lowest possible return fare based on that flight option. It’ll change as you go down the list.

Matrix Individual Flights Search Page

Time bars

My favourite option. It displays each flight as a coloured bar form take-off to landing. It also has a grey connection bar (complete with airport code) to tell you where you’ll be hanging for a few hours, if the flight includes a connection that is.

Matrix Time Bar Search Page

You can hover over a flight or connection to get more information about it. Each flight has an airline code to advise who is marketing the flight, if there is an asterisk beside it you’ll need to hover over to find out which airline is operating the flight.

Let’s stick to time bars for the rest of this. We usually fly BA so I’m going to select the option for €445. It’ll take the 831 to London Heathrow and then transfer onto an American Airlines 777 (which apparently has a stunning new business cabin on-board).

Matrix Time Bar Search Page

Notice how when I get through to pick the return flight there is a mix of carriers. As we go down the list there are several different times. We like to take the sleeper-service when heading east so we’ll go for the 112 back to London.

Itinerary Details

Now that we’ve selected all our flights it’ll open up the summary page which lists all the flights and gives a full breakdown of the fare. You *should* in theory be able to find this fare when booking online with British Airways, but if you can’t you’ll need to give them a call.

Matrix Itinerary Details Page

You can find the fare construction and booking codes under “How to buy this ticket”. You’ll find them useful if booking over the phone or through a travel agent as they’ll know exactly what to look up when searching for your flights.

So that’s the pretty basic rundown of Matrix. I’ll cover some features we skipped over in more detail in a later post.

Airbus Wing View

How to find the cheapest flights to anywhere

We’ve all experienced the never-ending, repeated searching when trying to find cheap flights. With literally hundreds of search engines, airlines and travel agents offering fluctuating fares, trying to be frugal when it comes to booking flights can be a bit overwhelming. We’ve put together our top tips that will hopefully save you time, money and usual frustration that comes with booking a holiday.

1. Hide

If you’ve ever experienced flight prices going up between searches, you’re not going crazy and there’s not thousands of people trying to book the same flight as you. It’s more than likely the cookies on your browser, airline websites can detect when you’ve searched particular routes multiple times and its smart enough to adjust the fare based off this alone. Always change your browser to private browsing mode, or incognito if using chrome. It’ll enable you to search without having to worry about cookies being stored.

Your cookies are reset each time you open a private or incognito window. So close all your private windows and start from scratch between searches and you’ll start with a clean slate each time.

2. Start with a Flight Search Engine

The likes of Expedia are essentially a middle man when it comes to flights booked through them. So chances are they’ll stick a little something extra on top of the fare. (In saying that, we did find some great value fares last year though, €980 return in business with US Airways from London – New York).

Its best that you familiarise yourself with more than one search engine, as we’ve often found some slight variations between them.

It’s good to note that many of the above do not include budget airlines. If you’re looking for fares from the likes of Ryanair or Easyjet, you’ll have to head to their websites to check fares.

3. What a difference a day makes

When it comes to how flights are priced, it’s pretty complex. The length of a trip can really affect the price. Playing around with different date and length combinations can make a huge difference when trying to bag cheap flights.

For example, business travelers typically won’t spend a weekend at their destination, so if you’re planning to fly back on a Friday, check the price for Sunday instead. We saved over €3,000 on our flights to New York last year by staying for 10 days instead of 7. The only downside was the tiny A318 was packed full of business travelers heading to London for the week ahead.

4. Budget airlines can be your friend

Most budget airlines now offer a more à la carte experience. By stripping back everything but the seat from their fares you can then pick if you want to take a bag, buy food or get priority boarding. If you can live without a checked bag, food and don’t mind where you sit then you’re guaranteed to bag the cheapest flights.

Before going budget always check the following..

  • Check the airport location (some budget airlines fly to airports that might be further out than the main airports).
  • Ensure you’ve booked & paid for any baggage. Make sure you’ve got your measurements and weights right as they can charge a hefty fee if you’re over. They’ll also charge you extra if you pay at the airport.
  • Read the fine print. Some airlines can charge you if you don’t print your own ticket or have more than the allowed pieces of hand luggage (this can include duty free).

5. Not sure where to go?

Kayak Explore is a great little tool if you’re just looking to get away for a weekend on a budget. Enter your departure city and select the month or season you want to fly. It’ll then calculate approximate costs for hundreds of destinations across the globe from your chosen departure airport. (so it turns out it’ll actually price in € if you go through their Irish site here)

Kayak explore map showing the cheapest European destinations from Dublin. It can be used to find cheap flights.

6. Don’t leave it until the last minute

Airline tickets usually don’t get cheaper as your departure date approaches. Airlines will usually split prices into fare buckets, as once one sells out the next one will open, usually at a slightly higher price. If you know where you’re going and have your dates nailed down, book it, waiting on a sale that may never appear is never the best choice.

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