Bet You Didn’t Know: Using Hipmunk to book ITA Matrix flights

By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate

 

I’ve already written a few times about how much I like using Google Flights when I’m booking a trip. But while Google Flights is incredibly fast, it still can’t compete with the power of its big brother: ITA Matrix.

If you don’t already know how to use ITA Matrix, then I highly recommend checking out Scott Mackenzie’s extensive guides over at Travel Codex. You can find his original 3-part series here or you can check out his entire library of posts on ITA Matrix here.

ITA Matrix has an incredibly powerful interface that allows you to specify all sorts of options that aren’t available on Google Flights or almost any other airline booking platform. Especially when it comes to creating extensive mileage runs, ITA can present options that you’ll find nowhere else.

But here comes the bad news: you can’t actually book a ticket with ITA Matrix.

Of course, for many itineraries, this isn’t a huge problem. If we’ve found what we want on ITA, then we can usually just go to Google Flights or an online travel agency such as Priceline or even the airline website itself to plug in our request flight-by-flight. If our routing isn’t too complicated, often one of these avenues will find the same fare that ITA did.

But what do we do when it doesn’t?

A real-life example.

I need to fly from San Francisco to New York next Sunday night, and I’d like to fly specifically on US Airways in order to take advantage of my newly acquired Chairman Preferred status.  A quick search on Google Flights shows I could get a 1-stop redeye routing for just $208.

However, I’m already considering going for the full 100,000 miles this year in order to get Executive Platinum status for 2016 as well. Since I’m not in a huge rush to get back to New York, this seems like a good opportunity to add in an extra leg to pick up a few more elite miles.

So I took the opportunity to fire up ITA Matrix and was able to come up with this itinerary for just $213…

ita matrix hipmunk

By adding a leg to Phoenix, I can snag some extra miles at just 3.9 cents per mile (which is a decent rate) and still get back to New York at roughly the same time. Whether that’s a wise use of my time is a subject for a different post. But for our purposes today, it sounds great.

Except when I plug the same flights into Google Flights…

ita matrix hipmunk

Uh oh. For the exact same flights, Google is coming up with $278 instead of $213. Yuck.

I got similar results when I tried to book this routing with other OTA’s, and I can assure you that when I suggested it to usairways.com, it laughed at me so hard that it turned blue in the face and fell down coughing.

So how can we book this itinerary at $213?

One very fashionable rodent.

ita matrix hipmunk

At first glance, hipmunk.com looks like a simple flight booking site not much different from all the others. In fact, when I first tried searching for my itinerary leg-by-leg on Hipmunk, the best it could find was $420 and nowhere near the flights I wanted.

However, the secret is that Hipmunk speaks a little ITA.

Now, much like a drunk guy trying to pick up a girl at the bar at 1 in the morning, Hipmunk claims to be much more fluent in a second language than it actually is. It’s not fluent, but it can accept some of the same basic ITA language in its main search box. Some people have claimed it can even find routes via flight number, but I’ve always gotten an error when searching that way so I don’t usually do it.

But I generally don’t need to because what does work is city-by-city routing instructions and restricting our search to specific airlines.

Translating ITA into Hipmunk.

The itinerary we found on ITA is on US Airways and our stopover cities are Phoenix and Charlotte. So let’s tell Hipmunk to restrict its search that way.

The way we do that is by going to hipmunk.com and clicking on “Flights” at the top to get the complete search box. Since we’re booking a one-way flight, we can choose that option. But then into the “From” box, we’re going to enter this…

ita matrix hipmunk

If you’re already familiar with ITA Matrix, then you recognize that code. But for those who aren’t, let’s break down exactly what it means. The first three letters “SFO” are obviously referring to San Francisco as our departure city. We then add two colons to signal to Hipmunk that we’re going to use some advanced language.

Then we get very specific and tell Hipmunk that we want a US Airways flight (the first “US”) to Phoenix (“PHX”) followed by another US Airways flight (the second “US”) to Charlotte (“CLT”) and finally a third US Airways flight (the third “US”) which takes us to our final destination. We leave our final destination in the “To” box, which you can see is LaGuardia (“LGA”).

Does this sound complicated? Don’t worry, because as you type all this in, Hipmunk translates it to English so you can see what you’re doing…

ita matrix hipmunk

All we have to do now is click “Search.” Guess what the very first option is…

ita matrix hipmunk

There’s our itinerary at $213, just as ITA promised. If we click on it, Hipmunk gives us a bright orange button that will take us to the US Airways website…

ita matrix hipmunk

And usairways.com, which was being such a total prima donna about all this earlier, now shows us our itinerary already assembled, priced correctly at $213, and ready for purchase.

ita matrix hipmunk

Unfortunately, trying other permutations on ITA language often returns an error message on Hipmunk. But it’s pretty good at airlines and connection cities, which is usually enough to get what you need.

If Hipmunk isn’t finding the flights you want, you can play with the Multi-city option and break up the flight legs into separate entries (yet still enter them using ITA codes). That often does the trick, though even then every once in a while you won’t be able to force the right flights. In that case you’re out of luck if you can’t get the itinerary anywhere else.

But more often than not, Hipmunk will find it for you… with a little help from ITA.

UPDATE: As of July 2016, there’s a brand new tool you can use to send your ITA Matrix itineraries directly to several OTA’s and airline websites. See “Bet You Didn’t Know: A New Way To Book Flights Directly From ITA Matrix.”

Did you know how to use ITA Matrix coding on Hipmunk?

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Other Recent Posts From The “Bet You Didn’t Know” Series:

Original routing credit (and a little extra)

Updates on US Airways MC, 1 point transfers and more

Prevent miles from expiring with 1 point transfers

Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.

About Devils Advocate

The Devil's Advocate learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director for World Wrestling Entertainment (and yes, of course it’s all real). He now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles and loathes New York winters only slightly less than Los Angeles traffic.

More articles by Devils Advocate »

Pingbacks

  1. […] ITA Matrix was originally created by computer scientists at MIT and was later bought out by Google.  It scans almost every available flight to find you the best deal.  You can set numerous parameters, such as flight time, specific dates or date ranges, and flight preferences (nonstop, one stop, multiple stops; multi-city; no overnights).  ITA is actually used by other discount booking websites such as Expedia and Kayak – and thus it is much faster and more comprehensive.  You can find a much more detailed introduction to ITA here.  The one drawback to ITA, is that tickets cannot be purchased directly – you must search the flight you found on Google Flights, call Priceline, call the airline company or use hipmunk (how to do that here). […]

Comments

  1. do you think hupmink works well with qatar? Try to book some J trips and qatar website is terrible at find more flight options in NA (AA flights).

    • I just tried a quick search on Hipmunk from Jakarta to Doha on Qatar. I put CGK:: QR in the “From” field and “DOH” in the “To” field and was able to find flights via both Priceline and the Qatar website. As always, I’d advise doing your research on ITA Matrix first — then after you’ve found what you want, go to Hipmunk to get it booked.

  2. Great! Wish the airlines would allow a little ITA code! Yeah right!
    I was able to use the Hipmunk Ipad App to do some basic ITA functions too. The website is more consistent with less errors.
    For a lot of use that travel for a living and and the mileage runners this is great! It saves some time! I did my search on ITA. But first copied my search code, to paste in Hipmunk. Then Hipmunik-Airline!

    Thanks for sharing the find!

    • Thanks for the info on the Hipmunk app. I haven’t explored their app much yet, but I’m not surprised to hear the website is a little more consistent. Hopefully Hipmunk will expand their use of ITA code to give us even more options in the future.

  3. Very helpful info. I’m not sure I can convince my equal half to reach for EXP again at the 100k requirement. I assume she is “good as gold” for 2016 having flown over 25k this year. Platinum is doable, too. Anyone have any experience at either of those levels regarding upgrades, etc?

    • Of course, the big advantage of EXP is not only more consistent upgrades, but also that they’re complimentary. At both Gold and Platinum levels, you have to use 500-mile upgrades to move up on any flight longer than 500 miles.

  4. Great post! I was always stuck trying to recreate ITA routes on the airline websites, so this new information is fantastic.

  5. Hi Julian, Just trying to do a matrix ITA search on Hipmunk : YYC-OGG July 11/2015. one way. ITA comes up with via YEG,YVR at $333/cdn. But cant get hipmunk to give same price with YYC:: AC YEG AC YVR AC OGG comes up at $455 cdn ? Could that be. When I call Air Canada, how exactly do I say this route for the $333 price ? thanks so much for your time, Susan

  6. looking at all the ones you mentioned

    sky scanner beat them all by $200 on international flight about 20%

    the rest were all the same about $1200

    I f I searched uring the day prices should be cheaper

  7. Hey,

    I did the same search as yours on ITAMATRIX, surprisingly the direct SFO to NYC flight yields almost the same air miles as this itinerary. So whats the benefit of doing this?

    I am sorry just new to mileage runs and want to learn everything I can 🙂

    Thanks

  8. Perhaps I am doing something wrong. I can’t get Hipmunk to recreate a routing I am seeing on ITA. Here is the routing for February 20, 2016. Richmond, VA (RIC) to Atlanta (ATL) to Santo Domingo(SDQ) on Delta for both legs. I am entering the following:

    RIC::DL1673 ATL DL686 and then to SDQ The price should be $180 for 2 people coach

    What am I doing incorrectly?

  9. I’m having no luck getting Hipmunk to find flights as per the article.

    Example:
    From: BUF:: DL JFK DL
    To: LAX

    Hipmunk can’t find any flights. I tried another example using the data from another ITA search — same problem.

    Help!

  10. I’m flying from NYC to Sao Paulo, but departing Rio de Janeiro. I’m also booking Business. It’s nonstop from JFK to GRU on AA. But, the return ITA is showing me a local carrier which is all coach (no issues there) from GIG to GRU on GOL, and then on AA all Business connecting in MIA. It’s an amazing airfare, ~$2,700. Any recommendation on how to get this airfare?

  11. I managed to find the exact same flights on Hipmunk as on ITA, however Hipmunk is quoting me a much higher price than what can be found on ITA. Any idea as to why this happens?

  12. I tried like this.(muti city)
    In from column:ORD:: EK DXB EK
    To column : BOM
    From: TRV:: EK DXB EK
    To: ORD

    I searched the flights, but the price is not same as ITA. Price is normal as like other websites.

    Request your help on this.

  13. Any tips for narrowing down on what cities may be allowed for stopover and circle trips on a ticket?

    Stopover: The farecode doesn’t specify stopover cities.

    Circle trip: The fare code specifies what airlines can be combined, but how do you search potential flights based on that?

  14. Hipmunk doesn’t seem to work this way anymore. Any other tips? I am trying to book LIS to HKG in Premium Economy but want the short leg in business as I need to stretch my legs. Is there no OTA that can price this? Really don’t want to go to an offline traditional TA.

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