Challenge – Jo’burg at less than two weeks’ notice.

A friend dropped me a WhatsApp saying that he wanted to head off to Jo’burg in less than a couple of weeks time and what was the best way of getting there (in Business) from Europe.  Challenge accepted.

He needs to travel out on the 21st July and return either on the 26th or the 27th July.

So, over to our best friend ITA Matrix to see what I can find as a first pass.  As a starter for ten, I used a very broad query, starting in a bunch of European airports, but with fixed dates as specified by my friend.

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This came back as the result set – not the most appealing selection I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Whilst I’ve heard ok things about Ethiopian in business class, I figured that a oneworld option would be better, so decided to constrain the search by that alliance.

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This, rather surprisingly returned some lower prices than my first search.

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Similarly, restricting to Star Alliance carriers only, also returned lower pricing.

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My guess as to the reason for this is that only a limited amount of computing time is allotted for the search by ITA.  There are so many possible permutations, that it simply doesn’t have enough time to go through them all, so returns the best result set it has in the time allowed.

These really interesting set of slides go into some detail on to the underlying mathematical challenge around computing airfares.

This also speaks to the crucial difference between Google Flights and ITA Matrix.  Despite being the same company, Google Flights uses cached data, meaning it’s able to return results much more quickly.  ITA remains real-time in that it’s interrogating the GDS for live flight and fare availability.  If you’re looking to travel at short notice, then that can make a big difference in seeing if a fare is there, especially when you may be down to the last few seats.

So if you’re using ITA to search for good fares, try and be as specific as possible.  If you know that you would rather travel with a specific alliance, or on a specific airline, add those constraints into the search.

If you know that your dates are also constrained, make sure you’ve specified those as well.

Cross reference this against Google Flights, however this can only accept up to five airports at once.  For example, now that I know what to look for based on my searches in ITA, Google flights has found both the Qatar and EgyptAir deals highlighted above.

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Essentially the moral of the story is tweak your search parameters where you can; there may well be a great deal out there lurking so don’t give up if you don’t find what you want immediately.

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