We like Matrix by ITA Software a lot. It is what we use to validate 99.9% of the deals we have posted to make sure there’s availability. For most itineraries that ITA shows, the ticketing process is pretty simple:
- Find the dates and the carrier
- Go to the carrier’s website or an online travel agency
- Enter the dates, and the origination and destination
- 95% of the time, the carrier’s website or online travel agency will give you exactly the itinerary found on ITA
But there are times when the above fails and it’s hard to book the itinerary found on ITA via the carrier’s website or online travel agency. Under those instances, here’s how we try to book those itineraries:
Use Multi-City Search
Often, the carrier website or online travel agency cannot easily find the fare combination. Tickets are complex. To simplify, tell it what you want. For example let’s look at an itinerary from Los Angeles to Muscat on mostly United metal. Here’s what we found on ITA:
ITA priced this itinerary at $747 via Washington D.C. and Dubai. Let’s see what United.com gives us using just a simple roundtrip search:
United priced this out at $752 via Newark, Zurich and Dubai. Not exactly what ITA gives us. In these instances, we would use the Multi-City function to see if we can replicate the pricing and routing.
When you select Multiple Destinations, it will lead you to the Multiple Destinations Flight Search Page. United calls it Multiple Destination; some call it Multi-City, but you get the idea:
Once here, you will enter, flight by flight, exactly as ITA displayed it. Here’s what United.com yielded:
This is a massive fail for United.com. It did not price it out correctly at $747 and instead, it decided to price the itineraries at 1,362 Swiss Francs or $1,435. In most instances, the itinerary would’ve priced out, but United.com is not cooperating here. So what do we do at this point?
A few months ago, Hipmunk introduced a limited set of ITA commands to its search and booking functionality. Let’s see what Hipmunk produces:
Noticed that we have inputted connection cities directly into the From and To field using ITA syntax. The syntax is to separate the Origination or Destination Airport Code with two colons like we did above. Commands that you can use after the two colons include:
- Specific airline, e.g., “LAX::UA UA” for two flights on United
- Specific connection city, e.g., “LAX:: NRT” for the flight to connect in Tokyo – Narita
- Mixing those two set of commands, e.g., “LAX:: UA NRT UA” for two flights from Los Angeles, connecting in Tokyo on United
Hipmunk directly linked to the carrier website and online travel agencies. In this instance, it linked directly to Priceline and priced it out at $754 — which is correct. Priceline charges a $7 fee for multi-carrier itineraries, which this itinerary is.
Yes, this is $2 more than what United gave. But this itinerary will earn more miles.
Using Hipmunk with ITA commands, you should be able to book about 99% of the itineraries that ITA finds. There are some caveats:
- You cannot specify class of service or fare class — for example, you want to avoid all Lufthansa K class fares because they are not mileage earning with United
- Itineraries with more than 3 segments will generally fail
- It isn’t perfect (that’s where at 0.01% comes into play)
This is how we book complex itineraries and we hope this is helpful. Let us know how you book yours.
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