Planning to travel by air soon but not sure of the best way to find a flight? Look no further than Google. But instead of using the standard web search engine you know and love and coming across numerous advertisements and sponsored results to sift through, try using the advanced flight search engine created by Google’s very own travel information software company, ITA Software.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the ITA Flight Matrix, it’s probably because you’ve been using one of the many search engines powered by its groundbreaking technology.
Though the ITA Matrix functions as its own entity and can be used to search flights, the software behind it is actually used by countless other flight search engines. If you’ve ever visited search platforms and online travel agencies (OTAs) like Google Flights, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, or Kayak or airline sites like United and Delta to find flights, you’ve indirectly used the ITA Matrix.
In this post you'll learn:
How Google Acquired ITA Software
Google and the ITA Matrix were not always the power couple that they are today. Though the company ITA Software was created by MIT grads in the 90s, it wasn’t until 2010 that Google announced plans to absorb the online air travel broker and its Matrix for a cool $700 million.
After this smart business move on Google’s part, the original Matrix tool was reimagined into Version 3.0, a more convenient and up-to-date translation of the original. The software that started it all, called QPX, was kept intact for use by corporate customers, but it was also rolled into Google’s own separate airfare search entity created in 2011, Google Flights
Google’s all-in-one flight search engine might sound like science fiction, but it’s a very real and very useful tool that also happens to be free to use. By extending its business to include cutting-edge search software, Google made finding travel information easier than ever for flyers and airlines alike.
Google’s ITA Flight Matrix is the most robust flight search vehicle on the market today. Using the Matrix, users can select for flights by route, price, airline, and any other detail they desire in mere seconds. Here’s how to use the prolific but surprisingly accessible search engine to find your next flight.
How To Use The Flight Matrix For Best Results
Before Google’s acquisition of ITA Software, the user flight-shopping experience was messy and confusing with a single flight search resulting in pages and pages of competing outputs to choose from.
Fortunately for consumers now, it doesn’t get more user-friendly and customizable than Google’s ITA Flight Matrix, which allows travelers to tailor every aspect of their flight to fit their specific itinerary needs and search for the most affordable travel options. Plus, the ITA Matrix is straightforward and un-intimidating to use. Here’s how to build your whole search using the Flight Matrix search engine. See the empty search page below.
Selecting for Round-trip, One-way, or Multi-city Trips
To begin your search, simply toggle to select for your type of trip at the top of the Matrix site, where 3 options are organized into separate tabs: round-trip, where you purchase one ticket for both departure and arrival; one-way, where you purchase one ticket for only your departure; and multi-city, a round-trip option where you can choose separate cities for departure and arrival.
If you’re not sure what type of trip you want to take before you start your search, no need to worry. The search tool will auto-populate most of your selections between tabs so indecisive users don’t have to keep starting over.
Choosing City of Departure
The Google Flight Matrix allows users to specify exactly which airport they’d like to depart from using either a city name or airport code and filling in the Departing from search box. If you don’t know your desired airport’s code, find it at https://www.world-airport-codes.com/.
Searching a city that contains multiple airports will show all airports when you type the city’s name into the search bar. Choose “All airports” at the top of this list if you don’t have a preference.
Travelers can even use the name of a state for this search and see every airport in that state. This might be a good option for anyone that wants the cheapest flights and has some flexibility as to where they can go to take off.
Choosing Destination City
Choosing a destination city is no different than choosing a departure city in the Google Flight Matrix. Using the Destination box, just search the airport you’d like to land in, again by either a city name or airport code.
The “Nearby” option to the right of the Departure from and Destination boxes lets you search airports outside of the city you’ve chosen within a specified radius than ranges from 25-2000 miles—you can even select all of the options that pop up.
Users looking for round-trip flights can choose separate departure and destination cities/airports or opt to use the same. The “Reverse route” option swaps the destinations of arrival and departure.
Optional Advanced Routing Codes
Airport routing codes might sound a little intimidating, but they are just an advanced flight search option in the Matrix that you may or may not want to use to quickly specify your exact preferences.
Using only routing codes, you can indicate how many stops you wish to make, which airline you’d like to use, where you’d like to connect, your itinerary duration, and more. Find out how to determine the routing codes for travel searches below.
Specifying Dates In The Matrix
There are a few options you’ll want to be aware of when inputting your flight dates into the Matrix. First, in the Dates section, you’ll want to select either Search exact dates or See calendar of lowest fares.
When you toggle the mm/dd/yy Outbound Date o r Return Date box, a calendar will automatically pop up. Use this to find the dates you’re looking for.
Outbound Departure Date
For every date you select in the Google Flight Matrix, you have the option of also stipulating your preferred time of departure. These time brackets include:
● Early morning (before 8:00 AM)
● Morning (8:00 – 11:00 AM)
● Midday (11:00 AM – 2:00 PM)
● Afternoon (2:00 – 5:00 PM)
● Evening (5:00 – 9:00 PM)
● Night (after 9:00 PM)
You can select as few as one or all of these boxes. Don’t mind getting up early? Let the Matrix filter for early morning and morning flights to avoid airport traffic. Fares tend to fluctuate according to flight time, so if you’d like to see all of your options, check each time box or select “No preferred times” below.
When choosing your return/arrival date, you can specify your preferred time of arrival just as you could specify your preferred time of departure. Another handy feature of the entire dates section is the On this day only drop-down box. As you might guess, this lets you decide whether to open your search to include dates outside of your given range in your search results. These options include:
● On this day only
● Or day before
● Or day after
● Plus/minus 1 day
● Plus/minus 2 days
Take advantage of any flexibility you may have here to save money.
Filling In Number of Adults
When you get to the Adults section, be prepared to give the exact ranges of all passengers you anticipate being in your party. Those flying with adults only (between the ages of 18 and 61 years old) can just choose the number of adults from the menu and move to the next section.
Click Children, seniors if you’ll be taking anyone under 18 years old and/or above 61 years old with you because this will open up age selection options. Just like other flight search engines, the Google Flight Matrix wants to know how old your party’s passengers will be. Why? Because some airlines have certain age restrictions. For example, some require you to have tickets for passengers under the age of 2, others don’t. Some define adults and children differently.
Let the Matrix do the dirty work of weeding out the flights that won’t work for your party. All you have to do is select the appropriate number of passengers in each age bracket:
● Adults (18 – 61 years)
● Seniors (62 and over)
● Youths (12 to 17)
● Children (2 to 11)
● Infants in seat (under 2)
● Infants in lap (under 2)
Many airlines will ask that you either purchase your infant a separate seat or keep them in your lap for the duration of your flight.
Cabin Type Options
The Cabin section asks you to pick your flight type. Most airlines offer four classes of cabin types, and the Flight Matrix uses these as well: cheapest available (economy), premium economy, business class or higher, and first class.
Each flight class offers different services and accommodations to its passengers. Economy class—also known as coach or standard—is, of course, the most affordable option and first class is on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Economy flyers can expect only the most basic amenities, narrow seats and walkways, and minimal snack and beverage selections. Premium economy is a step better and business class a step better than that.
First class flyers usually enjoy spacious seating, luxury entertainment, privacy doors or even rooms, and fine dining. The Google Matrix is interested in your cabin preferences primarily so that it can cater your results to your budget. After all, you don’t want to see first class flights if you have a premium economy budget, do you?
Choosing Your Desired Number of Stops
Choose the number of stops ideal for you using the Stops box and selecting from the following:
● No limit
● Non-stop only
● Up to 1 stop
● Up to 2 stops
You will notice that the stops selection alone drastically changes your search results.
Extra Stops Allowed
Remember that the Matrix is designed to search all possible options for you, and if you allow it to hunt for even better deals, it will. Essentially, the difference between Stops and Extra stops is just is the difference between what you’re okay with and where you absolutely put your foot down.
If, for example, you’d prefer to keep your itinerary to 1 stop but you’d go as high as 2, choose 1 stop for Stops and up to 1 extra stop for Extra stops. This will guarantee that you aren’t passing your limit while also showing more flight choices.
Selecting Options In The Other Section
Toward the bottom of your Matrix search, you will see boxes to check in the Other section. These are “Allow airport changes” and “Only show flights and prices with available seats”.
Both of these boxes are automatically checked in the interest of saving you money, but you can uncheck “Allow airport changes” for a simpler itinerary or “Only show flights and prices with available seats” if you’re willing to risk not getting a spot on your flight.
What To Do When You Get To Currency
The Currency box search page is an optional advanced feature, but you can use it to show flight fares in a different currency. The currency you will see defaults to the currency of sales or departure city, so if you’re leaving from the United States, flight prices will be shown in USD or U.S. dollars.
When would changing this box come in handy? Say you have been on an international trip in Europe for a while and are ready to book a flight home to the United States. Your fares in the Matrix will be given in euros unless you change them to dollars, which you might prefer if that is the currency you are most comfortable using.
What Is The Sales City?
At the very bottom of the Google Matrix search box is the Sales option. The default for sales city is departure city, but international flyers might find cheaper flight options by changing sales city.
Sometimes, due to currency exchange rates, flight prices are different in different cities for no apparent reason. If you play around with currency and sales city, you might get lucky and find slightly lower fares.
Flight Search Example: Understanding and Filtering Results
To understand what your search and results will actually look like when you use the ITA Matrix to find a flight, take a look at this example.
This is the search page for a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. The results page is shown below.
Look at the different drop-down menus above the results. Filtering options include Price, Airline, Depart, Arrive, Duration, From/To, Stops, a nd Advisory. These choices will allow you to not only sort your results in various ways but also change aspects of your trip without having to go back and edit your whole search.
Want to change your departure time window? Simply select Depart and click the boxes you’d like to see results for.
Want to see the shortest or longest possible flights? Select Duration and toggle the sliders as needed.
You will notice that the Matrix automatically filters prices by low to high, showing the cheapest flight options first in orange type. If you hover your cursor over the prices for any of the flights, a box showing the exact price per passenger and the total cost will appear. Click on a price to see that flight’s itinerary.
Comparing Airline Options
Using the Airline menu, you can select for and/or delete airline options from your search. “All airlines” is automatically selected, but you can check and uncheck boxes as you please. If for some reason you prefer not to fly through American Airlines, for instance, uncheck its box and these flights will no longer appear in your search.
Because different airlines price their flights differently, analyzing all fares across airlines might be smart. Some frequent flyers through a particular airline can use this feature to ensure that they can put miles and points toward the price of their flight.
Saving Money Using The Google Flight Matrix
There are a few simple rules you can follow to save more money using the Google Flight Matrix before you’ve even gotten to the results page. Use search strategies such as the following to make sure that your results only include the most economical options out there.
- Fly economy—select this option from the Cabin section.
- Be flexible—open up your search to include more days and times (choose “Plus/minus 2 days for Dates and “No preferred times” for outbound and return flights).
- Allow stops, airport changes, and connections.
- Avoid hidden fees (keep reading to see how).
- Take advantage of the See calendar of lowest fares feature.
- Try entering a few different currencies and sales cities.
Follow these steps in your search and use the hacks provided later in this article, you’re sure to get the best value on your next flight.
Price Differences Between The Matrix And Google Flights
So, are prices the same between across the Google Flight Matrix API (Application Programming Interface) and Google Flights? Not quite, but the Matrix is more accurate.
Until Book With Matrix, users could not book using the Matrix. And while they still can’t purchase directly from ITA using Book With Matrix, they can input their selected itineraries to find the exact flight they’re looking for. Because this redirects users to travel agency and airline sites, these prices are always up-to-date and what you see in the Matrix is what you’ll get.
Google Flights, on the other hand, doesn’t usually reflect changes when airlines update prices. Because of this, you might be shown a fare that’s no longer offered and you won’t see the true price of a flight until you prepare to check out.
As for other flight comparison sites, you can expect similar, if not the very same, fares between these and the Matrix. For the same round-trip premium economy flight from Chicago to L.A. shown in this article, the total price is $2639.40 across:
- The ITA Matrix
- Flight Network
- United Airlines
How To Use Routing Codes In The Google Flight Matrix
Routing codes can restrict your options so that you see only precisely what you want to see, but how do you know what codes to use? You don’t have to be a computer programmer or tech wiz to use advanced routing language, but it might take a little practice to craft coded queries. Here are all of the possible input options.
By clicking “Advanced routing codes,” you can input codes and narrow your search quickly and accurately. Every flyer is different and has different preferences, and the Matrix leaves room for all of these. Here are a few real examples for reference. (Note: Find an airline’s two-letter code using IATA’s code search tool.)
Routing Code Examples
These example queries came directly from a Google Help page devoted to ITA Routing Codes.
● A direct flight through American Airlines: [AA] or [C:AA]
● Up to three flights, at least one through US Airways: [F? US F?]
● Two connections or less: [X? X?]
● Two connections or more: [X X+]
● A flight on US Airlines followed by a flight on United Airlines: [US UA]
Keep in mind that you will have to input your codes into the right box for each part of your flight. If, for instance, you are flying round-trip and don’t want to make any stops on the way back (Destination flight), you will need to input this code into the Returning routing code box beneath your second flight as opposed to the Outbound routing code box beneath your first flight.
In addition to the standard routing codes shown above, users can use extension codes to sharpen their searches even further. These can limit the number of stops, establish minimum connection times, and even prevent overnight flights from being displayed. See these below.
You can have a routing code, an extension code, or both—just be sure to plug your codes into the right boxes.
Extension codes, like routing codes, are a helpful advanced feature of the search engine. Some flyers, for instance, might want a specific connection point so they can drop in a friend’s city for a cup of coffee—they would use [X:___] and fill in the blank with the code for the connecting city—and they could even specify a minimum connection of 1 hour using [/ minconnect 60] to make sure they have sufficient time to visit.
Think you’re ready to try coding for yourself? Try this example: You’re willing to make a single stop on your flight anywhere other than New York City, and you’d like to avoid this stop being either red-eye or overnight. What would the code be?*
Tips And Hacks For Booking Flights
In the past, tickets couldn’t be purchased directly from ITA Software. Now, however, there is the almost too-good-be-true BookWithMatrix tool (which is not affiliated with Google or ITA Software). This program redirects users to booking sites right from their search. If you thought building the perfect search was easy, wait until you see this part.
To book your chosen flight through Matrix, follow these steps:
- Select the flight you want by clicking its price. This will direct you to a page titled “Itinerary Details”.
- Highlight the entire itinerary page by clicking CTRL + A. Once the whole page is highlighted, click CTRL + C to copy.
- Input this itinerary into the BookWithMatrix toolbar by clicking CTRL + P.
This is how your page will appear once you’ve followed the above three steps. Now you should be ready to book your flight and all you have to do is navigate to the Book With… button and choose from a couple of flight booking sites that use the Matrix, such as Flight Network and Priceline. But before you do that, make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to.
Airplane tickets are tricky. Hidden fees and bloated prices can quickly overwhelm even the savviest travelers, but don’t let them trip you up or catch you off guard. When it comes to actually booking, there are many hacks for ensuring that you are getting the best possible fare using your search results. Follow these tips and tricks for best results.
How To Quickly Spot Hidden Fees
One money-saving booking trick is to know how to spot hidden fees. Most flights come with hidden fees and unexpected expenses that you often wish you’d known about ahead of time. For your next flight, you can. Save money by avoiding bogus charges associated with:
● Checking luggage
● Prebooked seats
● Reservation changes
● In-flight Wi-Fi
● Payment card type
Some flight fees are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared for them. Find out before y ou book what you will be charged for checked and carry-on bags (most airlines offer carry-ons for free, but not all), what payment types come with additional service fees, whether there is a cancellation or change charge (and what it is), and which in-flight amenities are not complimentary. Usually, important flight information is included in a detailed separate document or page attached to a ticket booking screen. Scan this thoroughly if you don’t want any charges sneaking up on you and look into the common ones listed above.
Identifying Economy Class Flights
Perhaps it goes without saying, but choosing economy class is often going to save you the most money and one of the easiest cost-cutting hacks to use. This, well, economical option is designed for people that are willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience for savings.
Economy class flights are denoted with many labels, including third class, coach class, steerage, standard economy, and budget economy. Airline booking codes for economy class include O, Q, N, S, G, V, L, M, K, H, and Y. If you see one of these, your ticket is an economy ticket, and you’re probably getting the lowest fare possible.
The Google Flight Matrix makes identifying economy class flights easy by allowing you to search for this cabin type exclusively (see section about cabins above).
Using The Full Calendar For Lowest Fares
Remember that See calendar of lowest fares s ection of the Matrix? Here’s how to take full advantage of that. The results page lists the cheapest options right at the top, but you can see even lower fares by selecting See calendar of lowest fares in the Dates section of your search. You will then need to type in your departure date and approximate length of stay.
What this does is show you fare prices for an entire month or more, with ticket prices for your trip displayed on each day. Select one of these days as your exact departure date and your arrival date will be automatically chosen based on the length of your stay. This feature lets users see fare fluctuations all in one place without having to edit their search over and over again to hunt for the lowest fares.
Comparing Two, One-Way Hacker Fees
One trick that’s trending among thrifty air travelers is known as the hacker fee or fare. This is the process of piecing together two individual flights on separate airlines to form a round-trip in order to save money.
To try this hack, pull up a round-trip flight in one window, one-way departure flight in another, and a one-way arrival flight in a third. Select the cheapest fare options for each and do a side-by-side comparison of itinerary prices. To ensure that you are actually seeing the lowest prices, use the calendar above.
Booking Flights Using Airline Points And Rewards
Loyalist flyers with miles to use and cardholders with airline points might want to know how to use the Matrix to book flights using their rewards. This process is simple.
First, if there’s a particular airline you must use to redeem rewards, filter your results or search to include only that airline. Next, find the best flight for your trip and input your itinerary into Book With Matrix. At some point during your booking and checkout process, there should be an option to use points and rewards.
If there is not an option to redeem rewards on the websites linked through Book With Matrix, just save a copy of your Matrix itinerary and show it to a travel agent or airline representative. They will be able to use the provided fare codes to find the right flight for you and walk you through cashing in on miles and points. This tip will guarantee that your hard-earned points aren’t wasted.
Should You Use The Matrix To Book Flights
The Google Flight Matrix can handle the most complex travel plans and navigate the entire scope of flight search data for you, condensing only relevant results into a useful and easy-to-navigate page. This powerful search tool can make tedious components of travel significantly easier to manage, and you stand to lose nothing by using it (it’s free, remember?). Soyes, youshouldbeusingtheMatrixtofindandbookflights.
If you’re like the 4 billion and counting passengers turning off electronics and fastening their seat belts for lift-off each year, odds are good that you’ll be taking to the sky soon. And if you do, save yourself the stress of endless searching by using the Google ITA Matrix. Once you learn how to use this search engine, you’ll never go back to your previous methods of finding flights.
*Answer: [~NYC / -overnight;-redeye] with ~NYC in the routing code box and -overnight;-redeye in the extension code box.