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Your new secret budget travel weapon
ITA Matrix – google’s magic flight finding software. If you’ve never used it before, your whole budget travel world is about to be rocked. (Or your flashy travel world, if that’s how you like to go!)
Now, you can totally find the same flights other places online. But you have to know exactly what you’re looking for if you wanna search those other places. With ITA matrix you can have a very specific, or slightly vague, or even totally fuzzy idea of what you’re looking for. THAT’s what’s amazing about it. ITA Matrix takes the hard work of the 1st principle of planning a budget holiday – which is BE FLEXIBLE.
You can be as flexible as you want, but ain’t nobody got time for individually searching all the possible combinations of departure and arrival airports on all the possible dates. Not to mention keeping all that information organized and current once you’re searching. ITA Matrix can do all of that in one search. Seriously.
You can search all of your possible departure airports to all of your possible arrival airports (which might be all of Europe or Hawaii) in the window of an entire month… in one search.
Related: 15 Tips for a Cheap Hawaii Vacation
How to use ITA Matrix – the basics
Here’s the search page – the page that will come up when you go to the site.
You can input the airport nearest you, and then select “Nearby” and tell it how far you are willing to travel to another departure airport. I always put in 200 miles, because that encompasses the three airports within driving distance from me.
Put in your arrival airport – where you want to go, or where you think you might want to go. If I want to search all of Hawaii, for example, I put in Honolulu (HNL) and then select “Nearby” again, and set my arrival distance to within 500 miles of Honolulu. Now ITA Matrix will search arrivals into ALL THE AIRPORTS WITHIN 500 miles of Honolulu.
(This also works ah-mazing for Europe. Put in London, Copenhagen, Paris or Amsterdam, then search any and all airports in a 500 or 1000 mile radius. At Christmas we often go to London, and we usually pay $900 – $1100 round trip that time of year… but this year, using ITA Matrix we found flights to Copenhagen for $618.00 round trip per person, and then booked a cheap local flight for $170.00 round trip, per person from Copenhagen to London. Flights to London at Christmas for $778.00 – totally possible.)
Or search the entire Caribbean. You get the idea.
Ok back to our search. Depending on how flexible you can be, select “see calendar of lowest fares”. Enter your earliest possible departure date, and it will search from that date up to one month after. Enter your number of nights. I entered 7-9 here, meaning we don’t want to be gone less than 7 nights or more than 9 nights.
Don’t worry too much about the other search options for now – go ahead and search!
Here’s what you’ll get:
When you hover over the prices it displays, it will give you the cheapest flight for each duration that you have indicated would be acceptable. Here you can see the price for 7 nights, 8 nights, or 9 nights, departing on the 20th. (You can’t tell, because for some reason screen shot didn’t capture my mouse, but I was hovering over the 20th.) That $367 in red on the 22nd is the cheapest flight available matching your criteria. All of these prices are links – follow the price you like on the date you like to the final page.
Here’s a list of all the possible flights matching your search criteria for the date and duration you’ve selected. One thing to be aware of on this page – if you’ve searched multiple departure and/or arrival airports, this is giving you the cheapest possible option involving ALL OF THOSE AIRPORTS. Be careful!
Here you’ll see the first flight on the list departs from and arrives to the same airport, both on the home end and the destination end. Excellent! But the first red circle, that shows a flight where you have the same departure and arrival airport on your home end, but you’re flying into and departing from different airports on your destination end. Not ideal for a budget holiday – you’ll have to get from one island to another in this scenario!
The second red circle shows a flight that uses FOUR different airports. You leave from Calgary, arrive into Honolulu. Then you leave Hawaii from Maui and arrive home to Edmonton. That could be just a little complicated if you left your car in Calgary. Never mind getting to Maui for your home bound flight, which tends to cost at least 100 bucks one way.
HOWEVER – If you were planning a cruise (or backpacking trip or tour) originating in one place and terminating in another – this can be a totally useful tool! (Or say you just wanted to visit more than one Hawaiian island – these are your flights!)
Booking your flight
You can not book a flight from ITA Matrix. It’s a search engine only. Now you have to take the information you got here and go to the airline’s website. Search for those flights using the narrowed down criteria – you know the flights exist.
Super travel tip, just because I feel like it. Use the airline’s own website because then you are a customer of that airline. Not of some third party or booking engine. If you have any problems, that airline has a desk at the airport. Booking engines don’t! The airline can’t refer you to your booking agent if THEY are the ones in charge of your booking. A human travel agent is also a great option.
SO there you have it – a crash course on ITA Matrix basics… tell me about the wicked awesome deals you find, and let me know if you need more information on how to use it to it’s full potential! (To save even more on flights, read Travel Hacking for Beginners.)