How to use ITA Matrix to find cheap British Airways flights from Europe

I have run many articles over the past year on how you can save money – a lot of money – on British Airways Club World tickets by starting outside the UK.  At present, Dublin and Oslo are providing the best results but this can change.

Using ITA Matrix

The key to finding cheap ex-Europe BA long-haul flights is a nifty bit of software called ITA Matrix, which is now owned by Google.

Once you’ve got your head around ITA Matrix, you can very quickly do your own fare searches and find your own deals.

When you go to the ITA Matrix home page, you will see what looks like a more complex version of Expedia etc.  Unfortunately, it likes to work in code and not in plain English!  This is how you get it to work.

Under ‘From:’, cut and paste:

AMS;ARN;ATH;BRU;BUD;CAI;CPH;DUB;FCO;FRA;HEL;IST;LCA;LIN;

LIS;MAD;MLA;OSL;PAR;PRG;VIE;WAW :: BA+

(Delete the gap between LIN and LIS when you cut and paste)

This is a list of major European airports by airport or city code.  Some of these starting points are a long way from London, so you will need to sort the results to find somewhere you would be happy travelling to in order to start your trip.

Under ‘Destination:’, enter:

[the airport or city code you want, eg NYC for New York] :: BA+

eg NYC :: BA+

Under ‘Dates:’, enter rough dates that suit you.

Under ‘Sales city:’ enter LON.

This is important, it ensures pricing is in £ and that you are only shown tickets that are bookable by a UK resident.

Make sure ‘Allow airport changes’ is ticked so that you see connection flights into Gatwick and City as well.

Under ‘Cabin’, select the cabin you want – let’s assume ‘Business’. 

If you want World Traveller Plus seats, you need to add ” / F BC=T” to the end of the ‘From’ and ‘Destination’ lines as this is not an option in this box.

Under ‘Only show flights with available seats’, decide whether to tick or not. 

If you MUST travel on a certain date, tick it.  If not, leave it unticked as you will get an idea of prices even if they are not available that day.

You’re done!  Click ‘Search’.

When you get your results, re-order by price as it does not happen automatically all the time.

An example

Let’s try to find a good New York fare.

Under ‘From:’ I use the first line of code above:  

AMS;ARN;ATH;BRU;BUD;CAI;CPH;DUB;FCO;FRA;HEL;IST;LCA;LIN;LIS;

MAD;MLA;OSL;PAR;PRG;VIE;WAW :: BA+

(I delete the gap between LIS and MAD when you cut and paste)

Under ‘Destination:’ I use NYC :: BA+

Under dates I use 3 July to 12 July (note that a 7-day minimum stay applies to a lot of very cheap fares).

Under ‘Cabin’ I select Business.

Under ‘Sales city’ I type LON

Under ‘Show available seats’ I tick, assuming I must travel that day

And this is what you get from ITA Matrix:

ITA3

As I would have guessed, a Dublin fare is at the top.  Only a little more expensive is an option from Milan which may be of interest if you wanted to wrap an Italian break around your US trip.

Because we left ‘Show bookable seats’ ticked, it SHOULD be possible to book these seats via ba.com or even Expedia.  It is a case of trying to get the exact same flights to show up.  At worst, if you ring BA and give them the exact flights that come up, they should be able to pull up the same price.

Fare rules

One upside of these fares is that cancellation and change policies are often more generous than they are from the UK.

ITA Matrix can show you the full fare rules if you click on a price (eg £1,159) and then on the underlined ‘rules’ word under ‘How to buy this ticket’.

For the £1,159 Dublin to New York fare, for example, you will see that the ticket can be changed for €300 plus any fare difference.  It cannot be refunded, however.  Stopovers are allowed in Europe for €75 which may be handy if routing on Iberia via Madrid.

This is obviously a very brief overview to a very complex issue.  I also do not claim to be an expert on this!

I haven’t considered, for example, which cities earn higher European tier points.  Start in Athens for example and you get 80 tier points instead of 40 tier points for the short-haul sectors.  This could be worth paying a little more for if you are chasing status.

And you must remember that you MUST take the first flight.  You CANNOT get on the long-haul plane at Heathrow.  Your ticket will have been cancelled as soon as you were a no-show for the European flight.

Coming back, you have to fly the last leg unless you have hand baggage as there is no guarantee that BA will tag your case just to London.  One way around this is, if possible, to have your final flight leaving from Gatwick or City – BA is then forced to tag your bag just to Heathrow.

Legally BA is entitled to pursue you for the fare difference but is unlikely to do so.  It may (and occasionally does) pursue a travel agent who books such a ticket for you – the agent is legally liable as they make the contract with BA – so if you plan to skip a final leg then make sure you make your own booking and do not involve a third party.

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Comments

  1. display tier points in ITA matrix? says:

    Is there a way to get the ITA matrix to display BA tier points in the search results? And yes I know about the BA Avios and tier points calculator, just wondering if there was a way to get the matrix to do the same…

    • Nope, ITA doesn’t know anything about TP/Avios. Do you know about Owen Rudge’s excellent calculator? Much quicker and easier than the BA one – http://www.owenrudge.net/utils/bacalc/

      • display tier points in ITA matrix? says:

        Thanks, Alan. I wasn’t aware of it, looks handy indeed. Is it 100% accurate though? For instance, when plugging in the details of an upcoming trip, Owen’s calculator suggests I’ll be earning 0 tier points for a TAM flight from GRU to EZE in W, when BA’s own calculator tells me I’ll actually be getting 25 tier points…

        • Generally I’ve found it pretty accurate but it can make mistakes – I’m sure Owen would be happy to update if so. Worth double-checking the partner earning page on BA.com to make sure that the BA calculator is correct though, IME it mucks things up more often than he does! :)

  2. Tried this, then checked prices individually from various airports using Skyscanner – doesn’t always show the cheapest fare.

    For example I wanted to go to Taipei, Taiwan for the cheapest business fare on a oneworld carrier in August – cheapest ITA found for the selected dates was from Frankfurt with CX but on my own search I found a fare £700 cheaper from AMS again on CX, in business, on the same dates. This would also be in the cheaper miles band for RFS.

    So overall not convinced, no shortcuts to these things – if it was easy everyone would start doing it.

  3. So many experts on here ! What I could do with, is somebody or maybe some Company, that could really help me pull the best deal together using my Avios, KL miles, and a bit of cash, to either go around the world, or NZ and back taking in whatever recommendations are out there. I liked the idea of the guy who went round the world for minimum cost and miles. Trouble is maybe , it has to be minimum Business Class for me and Mrs T ! Any advice, suggestions welcome !

  4. Had a look at Matrix. How do I search for all OW carriers in a single search, eg LON to MEL or SYD?

    I also checked LON to Seoul as I know AY have a really good fare in J from LON/HELSeoul at present. It did not show up. Only flights ex-Europe.

    Oddly enough, when I searched LON to NYC, DUB did not appear in the early (cheap) results!

    What am I doing wrong?!

    • enter “/alliance oneworld” (without quotes) in the advanced routing codes boxes if you only want to see results for Oneworld carriers

  5. just read on The Economist website that you can use ITA Matrix to search for hidden-city/throwaway tickets (all the usual warnings apply) … although had a quick look, and no sure it works so well in europe as it can in the US.

    click on “One-way” tab – click “Advanced routing codes” below Destination
    enter Departing from e.g. LHR
    enter routing code as X:ABC – where ABC is your destination e.g. VIE
    enter Destination as somewhere central in Europe (e.g. FRA) and then click on Nearby (the option only shows once you have entered Destination) change to Within 2,000 miles – click on Select All – click back to the main screen
    Enter Dates and further info – and click Search