Yes, this does sound intimidating, but it is by far the BEST tool to use when trying to book the cheapest possible airline ticket.
The ITA Software is the program that runs behind Google flights and I can’t begin to explain how powerful it is. Yes, there are limitations, but for now, we’ll focus on the valuable uses of the too in order to help you book cheaper airfare.
When you open the website, it looks like a traditional booking website. The Concept is pretty simple. Type in your Departing Airport, then your Destination, and then the specific dates you are looking for. When you hit search you will see available flights, sorted by price, lowest to highest. If you are searching for “Complete Trips” you will see all of the flights that make up that price and if you search by “Individual Flights” you can piece together an itinerary that works for you.
When you get the flights you want, you get a detailed breakdown of the itinerary. This shows you the times, flights numbers, type of plane, and most importantly, fare class. ITA allows you to better understand fare class and how it impacts the price of an airline ticket.
In the little blue box below the itinerary, click the “rules” button for each “Fare.” These are the FARE RULES and they determine the base price you are paying. Fare Rules are a bit intimidating at first, but there are key things to look for within the rules:
Category 5: Advanced Reservations/Ticking Restrictions: This section will tell you how many days prior to departure you must purchase the ticket to get this price. There is still a good chance that the airline might sell out of this fare class, but at least you know what the rules are.
Category 2: Day/Time Restrictions: This section will tell you what times you are allowed to fly on this fare class.
FROM CHI - PERMITTED 1201AM TO 930AM OR 630PM TO 1159PM DAILY. TO CHI - PERMITTED 1201AM TO 930AM OR 400PM TO 1159PM DAILY.
The example above shows you EXACTLY why you are unable to get the lower price for the flight at 4pm on a Friday.
(Tip: Once you have even the lowest tier status with an airline, book the cheapest/latest flight and standby.)
Category 10: Combinability: This might not mean much to you today, but it is the end all be all for “travel hackers.” This section will tell you if you are able to add “legs” to a trip or if you can fly into a different airport.
Learning and reading fare rules is one of the more tedious requirements to get the cheapest price on airfare, but can pay off in the long run. For example, when booking a trip, I will glance at the price available on the day that I first think about taking the trip. I will see what the fare code is and how many days in advance I must purchase the ticket before I travel. If I have several days or weeks, I wait. If I am closing in on either the 21st, 14th, or 7th day until departure, I will make the purchase that day.
The ITA software matrix can be very powerful when trying to book cheap airfare, but there are many resources out there to help guide you to using the tool. Flyertalk.com has an entire thread dedication to the advanced uses of the ITA Matrix. I encourage all of you to take some time to use the tool and see if it helps you when trying to book your next trip. Lastly, the tool does not allow you to book flights directly, but you can go back to google flights and type in the same criteria and usually get the same price.