How to Find the Lowest Price for Holiday Air Travel

Travel Airlines

In a perfect world, we’d all already have our plane tickets for traveling during the busy holiday season.

But we get busy and distracted.

If you don’t yet have plane tickets for your upcoming holiday travel, then this would be a perfect time to start researching fares.  In order to help you get the best price on your plane tickets, you should learn how to use the ITA Matrix website.

Beginners Introduction to the ITA Matrix

  1. ITA Matrix is not a booking engine.  It is a backend software that is used to power some of the best known travel booking websites.  These include sites like, Orbitz,com,,,, and more.  In other words, you can research flight prices on the website, but you can’t actually buy anything from them.  The good news is that they are unbiased in the information they present, as they have no incentive to ‘push’ specific airlines.  The bad news is that after you find your fare you’ll need to visit a booking website to actually make the purchase (typing in the same credentials you found on ITA).
  2. Not all airlines are included.  For example, Southwest Airlines will not allow their flights to be searched on ITA.

Matrix Overview

The homepage is very similar to many travel websites.  There are a few things you can do to customize your searches that will produce the best results:

  • Beside the “Dates” section, you should click on “See calendar of lowest dates”.  When you select this search option, you’ll be able to search the lowest fares for up to a month at a time.  This is a huge time saver if you’ve got some flexibility on the days you can travel.  It is also a fantastic money saver because you can know the exact financial implications of leaving days earlier or later than you had planned.
  • Length of stay: In this section, you can put an exact number of nights that you’d like to stay (i.e. 5), or you can enter a range (5-7).  When you search for a range of dates, the ita software will show you the cheapest fares with either a 5, 6, or 7 night stay.
  • Other: If you check “Allow airport changes”, the software will show you flights into one airport and out of another.  If you want to be sure you fly into and out of the same city, then uncheck “allow airport changes”.

How to Maximize Your Potential for Finding the Lowest Price

If you’re flexible and willing to do a little extra driving, you can really open up the door for possible savings on your flights.

Let’s say two people were flying from Denver to Washington DC (IAD) sometime in December for a minimum of five nights.

They would enter DEN – IAD, and they would get the following results.

If you click on any of the dates displayed, you’ll get more detail on how many nights you need to stay to get that rate.

For example, when I click on Dec. 10th, if I were to stay 5, 6, 7, or 8 nights, it would cost $302. But if I were to stay 9 nights, it would cost $349.

If I wanted to be sure I could be there for Christmas for the lowest fare possible, I’d need to fly out on the 24th and stay for 7 nights.  I get that information by clicking the 24th.

However, since there are multiple airports around Washington DC, if I could fly into either IAD, BWI, or DCA airports, I’d enter “IAD; BWI; DCA” into the destination city.

I now have the opportunity to see even more price options if I’m flexible to change my arrival city.

You can enter a bunch of different departure cities and arrival cities, so if you’re just thinking about going somewhere on the West Coast for Christmas, you could just enter a bunch of different airports in the destination section. The result is that you could decide to fly to the cheapest West Coast city.

How do you get more specific and more customized flight information?

On the home page, you can click on the “advanced routing codes” under the destination search field.  Two new search boxes will open up under the “departing from” section and “destination” section.  Click on the question mark beside either of the new search boxes, and you’ll get a list of syntax you can use with examples.  The coding can get complicated, but for basic users you shouldn’t need to learn all the advanced tools.

Using those features, you can search only certain airlines, direct flights, number of stops, and a whole multitude of other things.

What do I do now that I have this information?

Remember, you can’t book flights directly from ITA Matrix.  From there, you’d go to your favorite booking engine (Orbitz, Travelocity …) and type in the same parameters as you found on ITA.

To get even more value, you might want to consider going through a cash back booking site like Ebates, TopCashBack, or even the Ultimate Rewards Mall.

Of course, if you’ve got to book hotels or rental cars, you can find lot of other helpful websites to use when planning your travels.

With this information in hand, I wish you the best of luck finding rock bottom prices for your holiday travel!

Have you used ITA Matrix before?  Do you have any other good tips for finding low fares?  Do you have any questions?  Leave a comment!

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  1. JP

    Craig – solid post my man. Didn’t even know about Matrix. Great features that none of the other sites have.

    Tomorrow is “JP books his flights for the Holidays day”. I’ll be referring to your post often.

  2. [email protected]

    Excellent post. I enrolled in the Amex Travelocity Card I get 10% back on trips booked with the card. It’s a great tool.

  3. Walt

    Very informative and helpful especially like us, we used to spend 30 days vacation annually. We are 3 adults and 2 children, this is a big savings to us. All agents charge higher than what the price is shown on the website of ITA Matrix.

  4. Jon @ MoneySmartGuides

    I’ll have to check out the site when I book my next trip. I currently use Kayak but use the tips you mention. I’m flying to Florida for Thanksgiving and we are flying into an airport a little further away than where we are staying and we adjusted our travel dates to lower the fare some more.