Guru spends a lot of time searching ITA Matrix for flight deals - for one good reason…

ITA Matrix makes it super easy to find the cheapest fares

Though it seems a little complicated at first, ITA Matrix (owned by Google) is one of the best resources on the web to find great deals on first class and business class flights.

While you can’t actually book flights on the site, ITA Matrix is a powerful search engine that will prove invaluable once you’ve mastered the basic functions.

ITA Matrix provides three types of search. These are one way journeys (which are usually expensive),  roundtrip journeys and multi-city trips - when you need to search for multiple flights, or open jaw itineraries where you'll fly out to one airport, but back from another (for example, Mumbai to London; Manchester to Mumbai).

The first thing to note is that you can’t search using the full names of an airport when you’re using the site - instead you’ll be using the airport's IATA code. For example, BOM instead of Mumbai.

Guru keeps a list handy of multiple airports, since we are usually happy to travel to whichever departure city offers the best deal - especially when it’s a long-haul trip, or where the savings are substantial.

The list below covers some of the biggest airports in India and may prove useful when you’re carrying out your searches. Note that multiple airport codes must be separated by a comma or semi colon:

CCJ, ATQ, NAG, TRV, DEL, BOM, BLR, MAA, CCU, HYD, AMD, COK, PNQ, GOI

You'll need to compile your own list of airport codes, depending on where you are based. As I’m in the UK, I keep this list handy for my ITA Matrix searches:

MAN, LBA, NCL, EDI, GLA, ABZ, INV, BFS, IOM, LON, CWL

Unless you are using a long list like those above, you can just start typing the name of a city or airport, and the relevant airport code will be suggested.

ITA Matrix is especially useful because you can enter multiple airport codes in the fields, allowing you to check prices for a range of cities. This is great if you just fancy getting away, and want to look for the cheapest possible fares across a range of destinations.

Note your search will only work if you enter airport codes from the same country - meaning you can search for departures from BOM, DEL (Mumbai and Delhi), but not from BOM, CMB (Mumbai and Colombo) as the airports are located in different countries.

Let’s say I want to travel travel from India to Australia in business class (traditionally a route where there are bargains to be had). The basic round-trip search box looks like this:

The first thing I’ll do is enter the relevant codes in the ‘Departing from’ and ‘Destinations’ fields. I’ve decided to enter multiple airport codes because I’m flexible about where I start my journey, and which Australian city I fly to.

You then have a choice when it comes to travel dates. If your plans are fixed, you can search exact dates (with the option to search up to two days either side). Alternatively, you can chose to see a calendar of lowest fares - this is great if you have flexibility, and is one of my favourite tools of ITA Matrix.

If you want to see the calendar of lowest fares, you’ll also need to enter your preferred length of stay in nights (for example 5, or 10-14).

Next, you’ll be asked to enter details about who is travelling - the number of adults, as well as any children, infants etc.

The final section of the round-trip search box deals with some of your preferences about the journey. We usually keep the cabin field set to ‘Business class or higher’, though there are other options.

Note that if you are interested in first class, it is better to actually select ‘First class’ in the cabin field, rather than relying on a ‘Business class or higher’ search.

We usually leave ‘No limit’ in the the Stops field, as we prefer to see the widest range of flight results.

The 'Currency' field allows you to specify a particular currency for your flight results, while entering an accurate 'Sales city' ensures you get the right information for your location (due to airline business rules, the currency, fares, taxes, fees, and flights available for sale can vary by city).

If left blank, ITA automatically sets the sales city to the departure city of your flight search. In my case, I want to see results priced in US dollars, so I've entered USD into the currency field.

The form should now look like the image below, and we are ready to hit search.

Assuming you’ve selected calendar of lowest fares, you’ll see results like those seen below, with the cheapest option highlighted in orange. If you hover over a particular day, it will tell you how many nights you need to stay to get that price.

Once you click on the option you want, you’ll get a list of flights, starting with the cheapest result first. At the top of the page, a summary of the fare charged by each airline is given (in price ascending order).

You can click 'details' (shown when you hover to the top right of the white results panel) to got more information about the flights in your itinerary. Here you’ll find out the flight numbers, length of any connections and the aircraft scheduled to operate your flight.

You can also click on the ‘US$1,599’ price button to get more information, and links to the fare rules.

If everything looks good, ITA Matrix has done its job!

How to book a one-way fare

The process is exactly the same for booking one-way journeys, the only difference being the 'length of stay' field is removed. Besides that, the search box is identical.

Just click 'One-way' - the middle tab visible at the top of the ITA Matrix homepage - to get started.

If you need to book a series of up to six flights, you’ll want to use the third tab shown on ITA Matrix - labelled ‘Multi-city’.

The downside is that it’s not possible to see calendar results for a search of this nature - there would just be too many results for the system to compute. Instead, you can select plus or minus two days for each flight in the multi-city search.

In the example shown below, I would like to find business class flights from India to London or Manchester (UK), but I want to return from Frankfurt or Munich (Germany).

The results are displayed in the same way as ITA’s Round trip and One-way searches. As we can see, my cheapest option is with Finnair.

If I click on the price button, or ‘details’ on the right hand side, I can get more information about the fare.

You’ll notice that ITA Matrix helpfully saves your recent searches, allowing you to easily go back to your earlier results without having to enter all the information again. Just click on one of the saved searches and the fields will automatically fill with the data you provided last time.

Sorting and filtering your results

Once you've generated some results, it's possible to sort and filter according to your preferences. In the example below, showing flights from London to Mumbai, you can sort the results by clicking on any of the various "arrowed" tabs.

For instance, clicking 'Stops' will sort my results by the number of stops in the itinerary. As you can see, you can also sort by a number of other criteria, including departure time, arrival time and flight duration.

You'll also notice that some results, like this itinerary with Egypt Air, include some advisory icons (in this case, indicating a long connection and a red-eye, or overnight, flight).

Here's a key to the icons you might come across:

How to use the advanced controls

Up until now, we have focussed on the basic search fields - which are enough to perform straightforward searches. If, however, you have specific requirements, you can make use of the ‘advanced controls’ shown on the ITA homepage.

By clicking advanced controls, four additional boxes appear on the search screen that aren’t usually visible. These fields allow you to enter 'routing codes' and 'extension codes'.

Perhaps most useful are the routing codes fields which, for example, allow you to tell ITA Matrix that you only want flights with a certain carrier. When you click the question mark next to the routing codes boxes, you’ll get a pop-up which guides you as to the information you can enter into those fields.

Following that guide, if I only want direct business class flights from London to Bangalore with British Airways (code ‘BA’), I’ll enter C:BA into the routing codes fields and make a search that looks like this:

I will now only see search results from British Airways:

Similarly, you’ll get guidance as to what information you can enter into the 'extension codes' fields if you click on the question mark next to those boxes. The pop-up explains what codes can be entered in order to state preferences relating to the itineraries you’d like to see...

And to the fare you'd like to find:

As an example, these fields come into play when you’d like to only see flights from the airline alliance you collect miles with. For instance, members of British Airways Executive Club might want to restrict the results to flights operated by oneworld member airlines.

To add that condition, follow the guidance given in the pop up and enter ALLIANCE oneworld into the extension codes fields.

As per the terms of our search, we will now only get results from oneworld member airlines Royal Air Maroc, American Airlines, Finnair, British Airways and Iberia.

As you can see, there are a lot of options when you start using the advanced controls. If you’re happy to keep things simple and see a fuller range of search results, feel free to just leave the advanced controls fields blank.

How do I book the flights I find on ITA Matrix?

As mentioned above, it isn’t possible to book flights directly on ITA Matrix. However, once you are armed with all the details of your perfect fare, you’ll be able to search online in the usual way, on Google Flights or Expedia, for example, where you’ll be able to book.

For more complicated itineraries, especially those with multiple flights and different airlines, you may need to contact the airline or a real life travel agent. As long as you have the details, what you see on ITA Matrix should be bookable by the usual channels.

Summing up

Though not quite as useful as it was in years gone by (when one could search airports in multiple countries in the departure and destination fields), ITA Matrix remains a powerful tool - and we continue to recommend to help you fly in luxury for less.

While the advanced controls can seem a little intimidating, you don't need to use them and it's very easy to master the basics. With ITA Matrix, you'll soon be finding some excellent deals on business class and first class flights, just as we do.

Have you used ITA Matrix to find great-value fares?