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

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A comment on HfP earlier in the week about ‘how do I use Matrix?’ made me realise that it is a while since I talked about the ITA Matrix online tool.  This allows you to very quickly discover how you can save money – a lot of money – on British Airways Club World (or any other airline) tickets by starting outside the UK.

With British Airways, Dublin and Germany often provide good pickings.  With Qatar Airways, good deals often involve starting in Scandinavia.  ITA Matrix can crawl various starting points in one search.

Using ITA Matrix

The key to finding cheap ex-Europe 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;OTP;PAR;PRG;PSA;SOF;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.  I’ve added some smaller Qatar Airways favourites such as Pisa, Bucharest and Sofia.  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.

For a Qatar Airways search, replace BA+ with QR+.

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 when searching for BA.

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

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;OTP;PAR;PRG;PSA;SOF;VIE;WAW :: BA+

(Delete any 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:

How to use ITA Matrix

As I would have guessed, a Dublin fare is at the top at £1,305.  Only a little more expensive is an option from Warsaw which may be of interest if you wanted to wrap a short break around your US trip.

Note that you cannot stopover in London for more than 24 hours for free – it would trigger Air Passenger Duty.  You could, for example, go to Dublin for the weekend, fly back to London for 5pm Sunday on the first part of the ticket and head back to the airport for a 4pm departure to New York on Monday.

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, stopover 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 £1,305) and then on the underlined ‘rules’ word under ‘How to buy this ticket’.

For the £1,305 Dublin to New York fare, for example, you will see that:

you can stopover in London for €150 – but it would trigger Air Passenger Duty as well

the ticket can be changed for €300 plus any fare difference

it cannot be refunded

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 (35)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • anon says:

    The £1305 fare is an open jaw – outbound is DUB and return is WAW, so it is not simply a DUB fare.

    • Rob says:

      I know, but it would have unnecessarily complicated the example to go into that especially as most would jump out at London.

  • Mike says:

    Anon, do you ever sleep ? I’m 2 hours ahead of you (Cyprus) and thought I would get the first post in – wrong. This was the point I wanted to raise too but that said, it’s a good article. It’s one of those tools we should all be aware of and have some confidence using it. Looking forward to reading the comments from other more experienced users of this software.

    • anon says:

      I’m actually several hours ahead of you…

      • Anon says:

        That’s the other member of the Anon secret society, not me… 🙂

    • TimS says:

      Some of us are much further west that Cyprus!

      The sun is well over the yardarm here in the Colonies. Nearly the end of the working day in fact…

  • Aaron says:

    Worth also using

    NYC :: /alliance oneworld

    which will enable you to see all bookings with multiple OW airlines – these will need to be booked with an OTA but I’ve found they can be cheaper than booking a codeshare itinerary with one airline directly.

    Learning to use ITA will help you in the future in some way, shape or form, particularly when cheap fares come around and you want to scout multiple dates quickly. Worth also noting that QR R fares don’t show up on matrix by default.

  • Nick says:

    Im sure I read that the ita app ceasing to work this year? I use it all the time so it’s a pity if it is

    • AmandaB says:

      Are you referring to On The Fly? I also use very regularly so would be frustrated to loose it. I suggested a friend downloaded it recently and it does not appear in the app store. Sugests you might be right.

    • Doug says:

      You can’t get on the fly anymore, if you have it then it’ll work until the end of 2017.

  • MattyB says:

    So why can ITA not see the approx £500 Premium Eco flights from CPH to NYC in Nov/Dec but Google Flights can? Cant work it out.

  • Richard says:

    ITA matrix and many other sites can’t correctly price premium economy trips if the route includes a mix of economy + premium economy (eg CPH-LHR-NYC). They want EVERY flight to be premium economy or better, and so they pick business class instead (since there is no premium economy inside europe).
    You need to force the booking class in the advanced routing codes field and leave the cabin as “cheapest available”.
    premium economy codes on BA are WET, so use the following for BA premium economy

    BA+ /f bc=W|bc=E|bc=T

    This will work for CPH-LHR-NYC but not CPH-LHR-HKG-TPE since the BA+ means one/more BA flights and the Taipei routing includes a CX flight. So for that you’d need BA BA CX instead of BA+

    Since the booking codes for premium economy are different for different airlines, you’ll need different strings for different airlines

    eg
    JL+ /f bc=W|bc=E
    BA+ /f bc=W|bc=E|bc=T
    CX+ /f bc=W|bc=R|bc=E
    SQ+ /f bc=S|bc=T|bc=P
    LH+ /f bc=G|bc=E|bc=N

  • Neil says:

    One limit of ITA Matrix is it cannot find private fares – only published fares.

    Yesterday I was looking for flights to NYC. ITA found the published BA fares at approx £540. I found the same flights via a Kayak search with an OTA, presumably that has a private fare for that route on those dates.

  • Debbie says:

    Can you do it the opposite way? I have cruises & need Business flights that start in Barbados to Rome and other Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona.

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