Travel Tips: Finding Flights

With a long weekend coming up in September and no plans, I wanted to see if there are any cheap flights. I’ll try to share some of the basics for planning trips and tools I use to find flights/routings to help maximize your trip and minimize your costs.

Basic planning criteria:

  1. Maximize your weekends/holidays/PTO: When leaving for a trip try to leave the night before your weekend/holiday/PTO begins. This way you don’t waste the entire first day of your trip in airports.  If you take a whole week off from work, leaving on Friday night the week before, and returning on Sunday is the optimal usage of your vacation time.
  2. Use red-eyes: I know they suck, but you can catch up on your sleep when you’re back at your desk at work
  3. If you have status, use it: Free checked bags, priority security lanes/boarding, lounge access, upgrades – all of those help you save money, time, and hassles at the airport.

Flight searching tools:

Before getting into the various tools we use to find flights, I will say that there is no one tool that does it all. You have to check them all as they each have their own advantages/disadvantages.

  1. ITA Matrix: This is one of the most powerful search engines for airfares. There is a bit of a learning curve to using it, and the major downside is that you cannot actually book the flights from here, only find them.
  2. Google Flights: This one is relatively new, but growing on me. The interface is fast, and it allows for quick searching of many dates.
  3. Kayak/Orbitz/Travelocity/etc
  4. Airline websites – usually a last resort, as without knowing the exact routing you want to take these search engines don’t normally come up with the best answers.  However, this is the best way to ensure you are credited your preferred program’s miles.

For the most part, we’ve all used #3 and #4, and #2 isn’t any different, so I’ll just go over #1.

ITA Matrix
When you first open up the page, click on “advanced routing codes.”  Those little boxes are what make all the difference. Advanced routing syntax examples:

  • “AA DFW AA LAX AA+” – American Airlines flights or codeshares with a stopover in Dallas, then LA, then onward to HKG
  • “N” –  non-stop flights to HKG
  • “CX” – direct flights on Cathay Pacific only
  • “AA+” – any combination of direct flights or flights with stopovers, but all legs specifically on American Airlines
  • There are lots of other codes with more examples in the help menu, but those are the main ones I use

The next great feature of ITA Matrix is the date searching flexibility. You can search for exact dates, or over a 30-day calendar based on a length of stay range.

Take the example for NYC to HKG, what I do know is that I want to fly AA, since that’s where I have status, and specifically on AA’s new flight that is direct from DFW to HKG so I can be in business class for a 16 hour flight. I want to go for an extended weekend, (3-7 nights), but I haven’t decided when, so I’d go over the calendar to see what makes the most sense.

From: NYC ( AA DFW AA), To: HKG (AA DFW AA), search by calendar of lowest fares, starting whenever for a 3-7 night range. and hit search.

Based on the results, we can see that the prices are pretty steady over summer and fall (extending out the search 30 days at a time, shows drastic increases in December). They also show you can save some money leaving Mon-Thurs. This would tell me an optimal trip might leave on a Wed/Thurs night, returning on Mon/Tues for a neat long weekend in Hong Kong.

So that was a primer on using ITA Matrix, now I will go over things to consider when looking into booking something over Labor Day weekend. Flights to HKG over that time were a little more expensive than I’d like, so I wanted to see if there might be other ways to get the price down, but still travel in that area. I know there’s a fare sale to Jakarta, but basic searching has me routing through Japan and that means I don’t get to try out the new DFW-HKG flight. I pulled up the ITA Matrix, and tried to force it to find the routing I wanted.

Matrix   Search

I searched for a 30 calendar, and forced all direct flights on AA through DFW then HKG to CGK. The results are below:

Matrix   Calendar

 So it looks like a success. Search results came back with the flights I wanted, a good selection of days to go, and quite reasonable prices (when considering the same flight stopping only in HKG were far more expensive). Now that the fare was found, the trick is finding out where to book it. I tried and entered the specific legs into a multi-city itinerary search, but the fares being quoted were outrageous. I tried and still no luck:

KAYAK Search Results

However, Orbitz seems to be the winner here. Even though the price was $30 more than ITA, thats not bad. It might make sense  to keep trying, but at least there is one option.   Flight Results

Moral of the story: not all airline search engines are created equal. I hope this will help you as you plan your next adventure.  Have a great time searching and drop us a comment to let us know if you found a cheap fare.


One thought on “Travel Tips: Finding Flights

  1. Pingback: Planning Australia | life after 9to5

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