I find most of my tickets using ITA Matrix
It is a web interface for widely used airline ticketing solution used all over the world. It is very powerful, but also has a learning curve. Also – and this is important – it can be used only to find prices, it is not possible to buy any tickets through ITA Matrix. If you find anything, then note the name of the carrier and try the same search on their website, you will almost always find it there as well.
So, how do use it? First page has your typical choices: round trip, one way and multi-city (the latter being useful if you want to price out a longer route through multiple cities). I went for one-way tickets this time, but very often buying a round trip ticket is cheaper than buying 2 one-way tickets.
Every airport in the world has a 3-letter IATA (International Air Transport Association), and this Matrix relies heavily upon these. You dont have to remember them, just entering city names will work just fine, however they are actually very easy to work with, once you start remembering the ones you need.
Enter your depature and destination points, choose “see calendar for lowest farest” and select your starting date. Then pay attention to these “Nearby” links next to departure/destination.
Clicking it opens a map in popup window. The main feature here is the ability to extend your search area – in this example I included all airports in the 300km radius of Amsterdam (its relatively easy to move around there with buses or trains). Also, make sure that after selecting radius you select the airports you are interested in or just go for “select all” at the bottom.
Do the same for destination and now you are back to slightly different search form:
Notice how the city names are no longer visible, all you see are IATA airport codes – and there are lots of them. Now the main feature of Matrix is obvious, it is capable of finding all flights between these airport combinations – and often it is possible to find very good deals this way.
Next step is fare calendar, where the cheapest price is helpfully highlighted
Choose that or any other date (sometimes the difference isn’t all that high) and then the next screen is the most complex one
You have all your choices here, prices, departure airports, destination airports, stopovers, airlines, timings – in short everything you need to get good overview. If the IATA codes dont tell you anything, then just move your mouse over the colored bad and you get the exact details about airline, used plane, etc.
And finally you get the overview screen with the final price. And again, you cannot buy any tickets from Matrix. Check the website of the airline for any of the legs (or use any other booking engine – like kayak, skyscanner, etc). Or if you happen to have a travel agent, then you can just send the routing code (long string at the bottom) to him and he should be able to get the tickets for you.
Matrix is not some kind of magic bullet to find the cheapest tickets out there, you will have to do quite a lot of research – trying different departure points, different destinations – and most importantly different dates. Also, it is worth to perform new searches on different days, airline ticketing is quite a rocket science and prices to fluctuate over time. Finding good deals requires dedication and flexibility.
I barely scratched the surface of all Matrix features, sometimes you can find fantastic deals using the multi-city feature, but even this should be enough to get started with it.