How I use ITA Matrix to find the best value flights (Part 2)

( … continuing from Part 1 : How I use ITA Matrix to find the best value flights)

Step 3: Looking for a cheaper starting point

Admittedly this isn't the obvious next step for most people, but this is how I do it. You can swap step 3 and 4 around if you wish.

Rather than London, how about other cities as a new ‘origin'? Since I know I can get to most places in Europe for less than ?30 with the advent of British Airways cheap air miles redemptions, including the cost of getting those air miles.

The way to do this is to return to the ITA Matrix search page, click on the “nearby” button near the “departing from”  or “destination” boxes. I only want to change the “departing from” box for now.

This will load a small new box to search all airports within a certain radius from another airport. So the combination I use which gives a decent coverage is 1000 miles near Frankfurt (FRA).

Don't forget to tick “select all”!

This covers pretty much all the major cities in Europe, except for Athens and Istanbul which we can manually add later if we want. Click OK and this will populate your search boxes with the extra airport codes.

Click Search and hope the calendar listing shows up a cheaper price than your original search from step 2. (For the search below I've done it in Euros for convenience of my Mainland European blog readers). Don't forget to factor in the cost of getting to the new airport!




The cheapest Europe to New York example this time starts in Dublin

Notice that the base fare is roughly equal to the ex-LHR example from step 2. It’s the taxes that make the difference on this one.

Step 4: Looking for the open jaw

This step can be interchanged with step 3.

Since I want to return home eventually, I can work this fare into an open-jaw journey. Returning to the original search page, I can use the multi-city tab, plug in the dates and modify my return leg to LON to see the extra cost (if any!) to get back to my original airport.

Notice that you cannot use the “calendar of lowest fares” feature. You have to use select your dates which you found in step 3.

Going ahead with this search yielded the follow matrix:

Try to observe how much this changes your fare from step 3. For this example it changed the American Airlines fare by €10, and gets you your DUB-NYC-LON fare.

As a side effect, which also undermines ITA Matrix slightly, it has also yielded a €409 DUB-CDG-JFK-LHR trip on Air France which didn't show up in Step 3 (and ironically you would have found it quicker had you swapped step 4 and 3 around). This won't always happen. This is because we used a very broad search term (i.e. anywhere near Frankfurt to New York and back to the same airport near Frankfurt), which sometimes omits these cheaper fares. But by being methodical and altering things slowly we were able to pick up on this – this patience is very important for playing the air miles game. This Air France is clearly a far better cash deal (if you don't mind all those transfers!), but you will need to check how many air miles you get back from it.

Let's say I'm happy to book this particular American Airlines fare. (The principle also works with the Air France fare.) I would now go to the marketing carrier's website and look for the “multi-city” booking engine and type in my flight details which I gathered from  Matrix.

Don't worry about filling in all the flights. Just type in the segments you need.

If all things worked well, then you should be able to find the corresponding flights on the marketing carrier's website.

The price here might differ slightly due to currency fluctuations. It'll essentially be the same ticket as you found earlier in Matrix though.

Now all that's left is to book it. And this will then conclude this step. For some this might be enough if you just want the cheapest available flight. So now it's about finding the lowest price to get you from your home airport to the new start airport and comparing how much you save. If you don't save anything, then repeat steps 3 and 4.

A couple of forewarnings though:

  • Don't skip any segments of your ticket, even if it is more convenient to skip a sector than to take it. Airlines WILL cancel your ticket once you skip any part of your ticket.
  • Do ensure plenty of time for the connecting flight between your first ‘positioning flight' and the main journey. If you are on separate tickets and arrived late from positioning, then airlines aren't obliged to fulfil your main journey.

If you're interested I'll be moving onto advanced routing codes in the next part. There I will concentrate on finding specific airlines, particular transfer cities and other ways to narrow down my search. This is only really of help if you are making a proactive effort to get air miles or need to force transfers or stopovers and might not be applicable to all.

If you end here, I hope you found this guide useful. Otherwise see you in the next part.

to be continued…