Challenge. Best fares to Australia (in economy). And how to use ITA Matrix to find them.

From time to time on the blog, I get a challenge from a friend to see if I can solve a travel problem for them.  That’s what today’s post is about, as well as a tutorial on how to use ITA Matrix, arguably the most powerful flight search tool on the internet today.

Like most reasonably insecure modern gay men, I try and go to the gym fairly regularly and have been doing my best to improve my diet cutting out the carbs.  This is of course a travel blog, not a personal lifestyle one, however I must confess to having a PT, who is the utterly lovely Rory.  He’s only 23 and from Australia (for the ladies newly single too) and was asking me for some help in finding a flight back home to Melbourne for a week in the northern hemisphere summer.

Price wasn’t his sole consideration but finding a balance between a reasonably decent carrier for travel down the back, plus overall shorter journey times as he only wants to head back for a week.  He also has a Singapore Airlines frequent flier account, so Star Alliance would be marginally preferred, but not the decisive factor.  That means a Friday evening or Saturday morning departure and getting back the following weekend to the UK, in order to minimise any annual leave commitments.

I headed off to my favourite tool, ITA Matrix, which I’ve written about a bit previously to see what I could find.  I started off with a pretty straightforward search – just trying to get a calendar view of what was available.

In terms of a tip using ITA Matrix, I find that if you constrain the search as much as possible, it’ll show you the best results.  For example, by restricting it to search for Star Alliance airlines only, it actually found a flight that it didn’t when I left it blank.

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So the cheapest I found was this combination of Air China flights, with a single connection in Beijing.  There were also some relatively cheap China Southern flights too.

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As you can see, it’s under £500 and Star Alliance, leaving on a Friday evening and returning the following weekend.  However the transit times in Beijing are pretty rubbish coupled with Air China having a less than great reputation for customer service, means that it’s probably worth looking at alternatives.

The next cheapest Star Alliance carrier was Singapore Airlines at £750rtn, so decided to look at other searches instead.

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Changing the search to oneworld airlines, meant the best combination I found was these flights with Cathay Pacific.  They’re an excellent carrier, and the short connection times in Hong Kong mean the overall journey time is less than 24 hours each way, coupled with evening departures minimising annual leave.  There’s even the new A350 on one of the outbound segments.

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I next decided to look at three major Middle Eastern carriers of Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad.  In order to use Matrix to search for these carriers, I used the routing codes box, and typed in the airport codes for their three hubs, Doha (Qatar Airways), Abu Dhabi (Etihad), and Dubai (Emirates).  Using commas, means it will search for flights connecting through any of these points.

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This returned this combination of Emirates flights, departing from London Gatwick, but with just as good times as the Cathay Pacific ones with the added benefit of being all A380 and £50 cheaper.

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Again there were relatively short transits both ways with the overall journey time being pretty much 24 hours.

Another tip in circumstances like this, is to use the very helpful time-bar view.

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What makes this even better is that you can then filter the results, for example by getting rid of two stop connections, removing itineraries with long-layovers, and only showing departures in the afternoon and evening.

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We get a cool display like this, which pretty much shows all of the options that we’d already talked about above.

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However it’s great being able to visualise how long your journey will take, coupled with a price comparison at the same time.

Conclusion

ITA Matrix is one of those powerful tools that takes a bit of getting used to as it’s not as immediately obvious as sites like Google Flights (which it shares data with) or Kayak.  However, if you’ve got a list of requirements as opposed to just wanting the cheapest regardless, I’d argue it’s the most powerful and effective way to narrow down all of your preferences.

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