- Matrix ITA Software Logo
Google’s Matrix.itasoftware is quite possibly one of the best tools to use in order to find cheaper airfare than what you would find on Expedia, Orbitz, and other large Online Travel Agencies (OTAs). Matrix is the backbone for Google Flights and offers more options than the latter. Matrix first surface back in 1999 and has been my go-to source for looking for flights ever since I stumbled on it.
Matrix is great due to the following reasons:
- Nearby airport search functionality
- Ability to be flexible
- Advanced routing options
- And even more
This is the feature that, in my opinion, sets apart Matrix from the other Online Travel Agents (OTAs). Being based out of Pittsburgh, finding flights for cheap is usually a difficult endeavor. But, with Matrix, you can set Pittsburgh as your origin, click nearby airports, and add all/any nearby airports to your origin. This functionality can also be used for your destination location as well.
Flexibility in Matrix
Being flexible is one of the best ways to save money on travel. Even if it is the day before or after you want to originally leave, you have the potential to save hundreds. My favorite part of the flexibility feature is that you can search for how many nights you are looking to stay over a 30 day period. being able to search for that large of a span, you might be able to see how the rates will fluctuate over seasons.
Advanced Options in Matrix
The advanced routing options is where Matrix flexes it’s muscles. With advanced options, you can search based on airline alliance, where to have a layover, and more that you can view here. To open the advanced options, just click on the ‘Advanced routing codes’ that I outlined in red on Matrix.ItaSoftware.com
Now on to the most important part – how to actually use Matrix to find airfare deals!
PIT to MSY Example Matrix Search
First off, open up Matrix
in your browser. Now, let’s use really specific dates first and then price compare to a more flexible itinerary. For my specific flight (above), I am looking at going from Pittsburgh (PIT) to New Orleans (MSY) on American Airlines (One World alliance) for the 2nd weekend in March (March 13 – March 15). The results I have found are in the photo below.
Pittsburgh to New Orleans Matrix Example
As you can see, this very specific date leads to an airfare in excess of $440 for the cheapest option. I certainly don’t ever search this specifically for airfare, so, let’s get a little more flexible. I’m willing to drive within ~100 miles to another airport in order to save money and book within a +/- 2 days when I want to go. As you can tell, at this point, I cast a wide net and then narrow down my results with the filters on the results page. Looking at my new search below, you should be able to tell some differences immediately. I am not searching for just one airport for departing & arriving, there is no alliance filter, and the dates are set to +/- 2 days.
Flexible PIT to MSY Flight
After giving Matrix a little bit to search for all the flight options, I’m presented with flights in the $275 – $320 range. Just by making the dates flexible by +/- 2 days, I would save ~$130 round-trip ($311 for the total flight). This flight is still from Pittsburgh to New Orleans too! Getting even more flexible, I can trim a little bit more fat off the fare by flying from other airports close to me (like CLE, CAK, MGW, LBE, etc…). This gets the fare down to $307. Looking now at alternative arrival airports, I can trim the airfare down to $277. However, I would have to drive to a different departure and be picked up from a different arrival airport. In my opinion, just being flexible with my dates save me a TON of money. You can see the sample flights below.
Sample Flexible PIT to MSY Flights
This is already much better than the $440 I’d be spending to fly on very specific dates from Pittsburgh. Now that you have your specific flights up, be sure to read all the information pertaining to that price. As you can see in the sample flights above, there are various dates I would leave & depart in order to get the cheapest fare. From here, you can click the price bubble and Matrix will drill down what flight numbers and other information in order for you to book the flight(s). You will have to go to the airline’s website or to Orbitz, Kayak, etc to book the flight.
Learning how to find airfare deals on Matrix is an art. Like most things, this will take time and practice. I’ve easily searched hundreds of times on Matrix without actually booking a flight. These searches were more or less to see if I could find a great airfare.
If you want to get more flexible, you can even select the ‘See calendar of lowest fares.’ This will allow you to search by a range of the number of nights you are willing/able to spend. This is a great feature because sometimes (according to the airfare rules) the prices will change. So, if you are lucky, you might save some money by traveling a week or two earlier than you planned. However, with my sample airfare from above, there is no price difference.
Calendar Search for PIT to MSY
Another feature that some people like to play with is the ‘Sales City’ option at the bottom of the main page of Matrix. This field allows you to specify where the ticket is being sold from. Believe it or not, sometimes when an airline makes their airfare rules, you cannot actually book a ticket if you are in one of the 7 airfare zones. There will be a post later on about how to decipher (at a basic level) airfare rules.
Hopefully this guide helps you.
- Some ‘budget’ airlines do not show up on Matrix. These include Southwest, Allegiant, IcelandAir, RyanAir, and other smaller regional airlines.
- You cannot actually book airfares on Matrix, however, you are afforded more flexibility & power when it comes to finding cheaper airfares over any other Online Travel Agency (OTA).
- If you add too many options, Matrix will time-out after 60 seconds of searching. There is a delicate balance with searching nearby airports. I’ve found 500 miles and below works well.
- If you are not flexible with your travel plans, this guide is not meant for you.