Following on from Part 1 of How to Use ITA Matrix Like a Pro, let’s take our flight-searching and bargain-hunting skills to another level with Part 2, which will cover additional Advanced Controls and ITA Matrix PowerTools.
More Advanced Controls
Remember the extension codes we discussed in Part 1? Well, there are a few even more advanced ones worth going over.
Last time, we mainly discussed fare codes in the “Itinerary” section, specifically focusing the most commonly used ones: MINCONNECT, MAXCONNECT, and MAXDUR, to specify the minimum connection time, maximum connection time, and maximum trip duration, respectively.
Now let’s talk about another section of extension codes, which pertain to the fare class (also known as a fare code or fare bucket) of specific airlines or alliances that we wish to fly.
The examples provided by ITA Matrix are all useful, but let’s focus on the “F BC =” code, which allows you to search for one or several specific fare classes even within the same cabin. For example, you might wish to book a specific fare code to optimize your Air Canada eUpgrades or to ensure you earn 100% miles on your ticket when credited to a given frequent flyer program.
Let’s imagine that we wanted to specify an Air Canada “H” fare – the lowest Flex fare that’ll require fewer eUpgrades compared to a Standard fare. To request a flight in a certain fare code, we simply enter “F BC=H” in the Extension Codes field.
The resulting search pulls up the Air Canada fare in the “H” booking class.
Something else that the savvy traveller might care about is the marketing and operating airline for a given flight.
After all, in the world of transatlantic joint ventures, codeshares are a necessary and common occurrence. However, whether you’re aiming for airline elite status or simply trying to maximize your mileage earnings, you’ll notice that most loyalty programs have different earning rules depending who is marketing and who is operating the flight.
For example, under the new Aeroplan loyalty program, tickets issued by Air Canada will be subject to fare-based instead of distance-based points earning, which will result in lower points totals for most travellers. If the flight is marketed by a partner airline like Lufthansa instead, even if it’s operated by Air Canada, you may come out ahead in terms of the number of Aeroplan points you earn.
To request a flight operated by an airline, we use the extension code “O:” followed by the airline’s two-letter IATA code. If we want a transatlantic flight operated by Air Canada, we would write “O:AC” in the routing code.
Now, if we also wanted to specify flights marketed by Lufthansa in order to avoid Air Canada’s new fare-based points earnings, we would input “O:AC” in the routing code and “AIRLINES LH” in the extension code, like below.
(Note: Entering “AC” as the routing code is not the same as entering “O:AC”. The former specifies a flight that’s operated by and marketed by Air Canada, while the latter only specifies the operating airline, allowing you to further specify the marketing airline in the extension codes.)
The resulting search pulls up the desired flight that’s operated by Air Canada but marketed by Lufthansa. Booking this flight on a Lufthansa-issued ticket would allow you to continue earning Aeroplan points based on distance flown, rather than based on the fare you paid under the new Aeroplan program.
As you can see, ITA Matrix’s advanced routing and extension codes are incredibly powerful and customizable. I encourage you to visit the website and play around with all the advanced controls we’ve discussed and maybe some that we haven’t to get started building the itinerary of your dreams (or nightmares…)
ITA Matrix PowerTools
The final piece of software we’ll cover here is ITA Matrix PowerTools, an add-on to ITA Matrix that supercharges its capabilities even further. This requires a little more technical know-how than the previous items we’ve discussed, but still nothing too extreme.
Before we delve into the rest of the article, here is the FlyerTalk thread by the creators themselves, in case you want to do a little more digging of your own.
Remember that ITA Matrix is great for finding fares, but doesn’t actually allow you to book anything through its native software. In Part 1 of this guide, we touched upon BookWithMatrix for booking ITA Matrix fares, but PowerTools provides a more streamlined solution.
PowerTools supports more online travel agencies (OTAs) than BookWithMatrix and appears to run more smoothly overall. In my experience, BookWithMatrix struggles a bit with itineraries of multiple segments, especially if there’s an open-jaw involved, whereas PowerTools can handle these types of itineraries with ease.
Furthermore, since PowerTools is user-created and updated continually by our faithful frequent flyer friends over at FlyerTalk, the software is constantly adding new features and OTAs all the time.
Now, if you’ve already checked out the FlyerTalk thread, it might all look a bit intimidating. There are multiple ways to install ITA Matrix, as well as an assortment links available for troubleshooting the installation process.
I daresay we should bypass most of that and stick to “Method 1: Browser Extensions”. You can access all of the various installation links here, depending on your browser: Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera.
If you’re using a different browser (say, Safari), you can check out “Method 2: As a Userscript”, but I’d recommend downloading one of the above browsers for simplicity’s sake.
From the links above, you’d download PowerTools the same way as any other extension, and it should look something like this (for reference, this is on Google Chrome):
Navigate to matrix.itasoftware.com, and you’ll know that PowerTools is active when you see the “Passengers (1a)” bar the top of the screen.
To book an itinerary, simply begin your search using the guidelines outlined above and in Part 1. For this example, let’s search for a simple Toronto to London itinerary as a non-stop only:
Looking at the options, our traveller decides to go with Air Canada rather than the British Airways codeshare options, since the price difference is so small and their status will come in handy for both lounge access and eUpgrade potential.
Compared to before, the page with all fare information is looking considerably more filled out. The entire right-hand side is powered by ITA Matrix PowerTools, showing the mileage, the cents-per-mile calculation, as well the list of booking options, each providing a direct booking link to the airline or OTA’s website.
There’s also a Where To Credit link underneath the booking links, which will bring you directly to the exact fare on the Where to Credit website, showing you how many miles you’ll earn when crediting this flight to all of the possible frequent flyer programs. This is very useful for putting together mileage runs, or simply for figuring out how many redeemable miles you’ll be earning before you book.
Let’s take a moment and admire the seamlessness of it all – it really fits right in.
Booking is as simple as it looks: clicking on your desired airline website’s or OTA’s link will bring up the corresponding booking page with all your fare options selected exactly as searched on ITA Matrix.
Let’s click on the Air Canada booking link, since it’s generally best to book directly with the airline whenever possible. Note that if you click the “+” sign next to Air Canada, there will be an option to add a promo code as well, in case you have any spare 15% discount codes lying around.
This brings us to the booking link on the Air Canada website, as if we had searched directly on the website itself. Clicking the “Continue” button leads us through the checkout process.
Let’s talk about PowerTools’s settings in more detail: at the top of the page, you’ll see the PowerTools script with selectors for Passengers, Settings, and Cabin.
Clicking on “Passengers” brings a drop-down menu where we can easily select how many passengers there are.
Now, remember that ITA Matrix also allows you to choose the number of passengers; however, PowerTools does not follow what you’ve input into ITA Matrix, and you’ll always have to select the correct number of passengers on the PowerTools script itself in order achieve the desired results.
You might be thinking that the above seems redundant. Why can’t we just simply search for one passenger using ITA Matrix, and then select the actual number of passengers in PowerTools and book from there?
Well, that’s because this may not always produce accurate results. In some situations, there might only be a single ticket available in a lower and cheaper fare class, so the second passenger could bump up the price significantly. Therefore, always select the correct number of passengers on ITA Matrix, and set it again on PowerTools before booking.
To briefly go over the “Cabin” selector on the PowerTools strip, you can use it to rotate through a list of fare options, but I’d generally recommend leaving it on the Auto since it won’t “overpower” the cabin you’ve selected on ITA Matrix.
Only change the cabin if you’re booking a rather complex mixed-cabin itinerary, since that can make it hard to auto-detect the “main” cabin (usually the cabin of the longest leg).
As for “Settings”, clicking on it will unleash the options below:
I’d recommend leaving most of the options alone, except for a select few that I’ll focus on here. Personally, I like to view departure and arrival times in 24-hour format, so you can go ahead and change that in Display Settings if you wish.
One thing to note under Feature Settings is the “Support this tool” option. If enabled, affiliate links will be used when available (without increasing the price of the ticket, of course) to support the creators of PowerTools.
The last section, Link Settings, denotes the country (and thus, currency) that the airline website will default to when we click to book. Here, we should all locate Air Canada and change the country from US to Canada by clicking on it and cycling through all the available countries. I’ve also gone ahead and changed British Airways to Canada, but for the ones that don’t offer Canada as an option, US is probably the way to go.
Settings are saved automatically in your browser, so you don’t have to change them all manually every single time you load up ITA Matrix PowerTools.
For the savvy traveller, ITA Matrix is one of the most all-encompassing tools out there for finding, understanding, and maximizing airfare, especially when combined with the PowerTools browser extension.
While ITA Matrix’s searching and filtering functions and advanced routing codes are already extremely powerful, PowerTools takes things to the next level by offering additional insight into the fares you find, as well as allowing you to book directly with the airline or online travel agency of your choice.
You’ll notice that the PowerTools sidebar offers a Great Circle Mapper integration, which shows you a nice picture of the route you’re flying and brings you to the website where you can work your route-mapping magic. Great Circle Mapper will be the exact subject of the next installment in our “Use It Like a Pro” series, especially as it has taken on additional relevance with Air Canada’s new Aeroplan rolling out all-new distance-based award charts.