I was recently contacted by Amber from CreditDonkey regarding my post a few years ago regarding the mobile app OnTheFly and the ITA Matrix which it interfaces with. Amber reminded me that with both Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching, it might be helpful to remind folks about these handy tools to navigate the complex task of finding cheap flights.
CreditDonkey recently posted a very friendly refresher article on using the ITA Matrix website to find the flight you want. The article goes on to explain how to use flags to designate a carrier, allow or disallow long layovers, even the airport changes (for cities like New York where there are multiple airports in relatively close proximity).
To give you an idea of just how powerful this application is, Google went out of their way to purchase it and use it as the underlying engine for their Google Flights website. Though Google Flights is much faster, and in many cases allows for direct booking of flights, there are certain features that are only available in the original application. The good news is that you can still access the ITA Matrix to get exactly what you want out of your travel.
Amber also pointed out that while you can’t book the flight you find from the ITA Matrix website, you can leverage tools like OTAs (Priceline, Kayak, Flight Network, and so on), or use BookWithMatrix. BookWithMatrix offers not only a website, but a handy browser add-on (I have used it with both Firefox and Chrome).
What’s your preferred search option to find the flights you want at the prices you want?
Though many savvy travel hackers are familiar with the ins and outs of Google Flights and its underlying engine (ITA’s Matrix), not everyone is aware that you can use ITA’s software on your mobile device! The app, OnTheFly, is in both the Android and Apple app stores and is surprisingly easy to navigate.
Though you don’t have the ability to use the advanced routing codes that you would when using the web interface, you still have a fair amount of control. You can see these options below.
Unfortunately, you also are limited in the way the flight results are displayed, simply because of the limited screen real estate and functionality limitations of a mobile device. The information is presented in a clear manner, though, and the search is quite fast.
My only real complaint here is the fact that you can’t see time-bars. It is my preferred method of search result display for flights. That said, Hipmunkwill give you this information, and it pulls its information from ITA as well. Small world, right?
Once both outbound and return flights are selected, you are shown the fare details, as well as the total trip distance (for those that are conscious on qualifying miles and cents-per-mile!). Naturally, you are shown the fare class, and are even given a breakdown on where the fare price comes from.
For more on ITA’s Matrix, check out Scott Mackenzie’s guides on Travel Codex. It’s very important reading for the aspiring travel hacker!