Here are our tips for becoming a flight search ninja.
1. Google “flights from X to Y”
As an initial step to finding the flights you want, a simple Google search is your first step.
Googling “flights from Kuala Lumpur to Perth” and expanding the results will give you something like the following… (Don’t forget to click “schedule of non-stop flights” to see all the results).
Flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL) to Perth, Australia (PER)
Non-stop flights: 2–3 per day, 5h 30m duration
Airlines: Malaysia, AirAsia
−Schedule of non-stop flights
Valid through Sep 30
12:05 am → 5:35 am KUL-PER S M T - T - S AirAsia 236
8:50 am → 2:20 pm KUL-PER - - - W - F - AirAsia 232
9:30 am → 3:00 pm KUL-PER S M T W T F S Malaysia 125
6:45 pm → 12:15 am KUL-PER S - - - T F - Malaysia 127
As you can see, you’ll learn all the non-stop flights and which days of the week they operate. If you have children and need to pick night flights so they sleep, this is an especially essential step.
2. Flexible Dates? Do a Calendar Search on the ITA Matrix.
If you have flexible dates, you can do a calendar search for either round trip or one way fares using ITA Matrix. Virtually all flight search ninjas use this search engine as a first step before going to booking engines.
3. Learn Advanced ITA Routing Codes.
ITA Matrix allows you to enter “advanced routing codes.” Make sure you enter these separately for both your outbound and return legs. Some of the ones I find most useful are the following. Omit the parentheses.
Specify your airline e.g., “AA+”
This means you want to travel on American Airlines flights with any number of segments. If you put “AA” it would search for a single AA flight. If you put AA AA it would specifically search for two AA connecting flights. If you are trying to maximize miles, you might choose AA AA AA AA for 4 segments.
Replace with the airline code you need. Pick “airline name” from the drop down here if you need to find the code, or just Google.
/ alliance oneworld
This will search any OneWorld carriers. Replace with skyteam or star-alliance (hyphen needed for star-alliance only).
Let’s say you want to fly NYC to LAX and wantto route through ORD and SFO (Chicago and San Francisco). You would just put those in the advanced routing fields.
If you wanted to travel on AA for all these flights, you’d put AA+ ORD SFO. You need to put the connecting cities in the order you want to stop in.
Do a radius search.
If, for example, you just want to fly somewhere on the West Coast of the US and you don’t care where, you can do a Radius Search. For example, all airports with 500 miles of LAX. You can then easily select the airports you’re interested in from the options provided, and de-select those you’re not (tick and untick).
There are all sorts of additional advanced routing codes here.
Specify the booking class you want.
/f bc=A (replace A with whatever booking class you’re looking for)
ITA will let you search for a particular booking class. My friend Bethaney likes to do this for finding cheap business class fares. You can also use this strategy to find the fares you’re looking for if you know there is an insanely low deal out there and it’s a particular booking class.
The ITA Matrix allows you to search flights but not book flights. For that you’ll need to use a booking engine.
One of the best features of ITA is that you will be able to clearly see the fare rules and that info can help you see things like stopover options you hadn’t thought of. These will be in “technical speak” but they’re mostly understandable.
4. Go beyond the big name booking engines.
Less well known booking engines, especially those that aren’t .com often will give you access to things like charter flights or highlight super low fare options. For example, Fly.co.uk is showing some 2 British Pound fares currently. Booking on non-US sites sometimes results in lower fares, so it’s worth a shot. Here’s an example half price Jetstar Australia flights booked through a Japan booking engine. This example highlights that it’s sometimes the local site that gives a cheaper deal and sometimes it’s specifically a non-local site where you will find great prices.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico - November 2013
I recently left my job to try out life as digital nomad, slow traveling my way around the world.
To learn my tips for traveling in comfort without a big budget, follow my journey here on our blog or on Facebook.