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Google Flights is great for its ease and speed, but when you have specific flight preferences, you can use ITA Matrix’s advanced routing codes to find just a few flight options that meet your criteria — today, TPG Contributor JT Genter shows you how.
The bulk of American travelers fly only once per year, making it easy for them to conduct a basic search for flights via Google Flights or an Online Travel Agency (OTA) like Expedia or Orbitz. However, some travelers have more specific needs/requirements/preferences that can’t be effectively served by these flight-search methods.
For example, you could be a United Airlines elite and need to book a specific fare class with a Global Premier Upgrade, or you’re a die-hard “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going” flyer. Perhaps you’d like to build an extended layover in a city where you have family/friends, or you simply want to ensure at least an hour between connecting flights. In situations like these (and more), you’ll find a lot of value in the ITA Matrix and its advanced routing codes.
A short list of “basic” advanced routing codes are found right on the ITA Matrix website. These include options like “AA+” to search only flights booked through American Airlines. This type of search is particularly useful if you are concerned about earning Elite Qualifying Miles, since American Airlines has recently devalued the number of elite-qualifying miles you earn when booking through certain partners.
However, I’d like to focus on some of ITA Matrix’s more obscure advanced routing codes, which are listed in full on FlyerGuide. Here are a few flight-search situations where you might want to use these helpful codes:
1. Booking a specific fare class using “/ f bc=”
I’ll start here, as this is how I started using advanced routing codes. Back in February 2015, I learned about the American Airlines Platinum challenge through TPG and I wanted to see if we could book some of my wife’s (and fellow TPG contributor’s) upcoming international flights in a way that would satisfy this challenge.
As of January 1, 2016, American no longer uses Elite Qualifying Points (EQPs). Now, it uses Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs).
Currently on American Airlines, you earn 1 EQM per mile flown when you book discount economy-fare classes. Meanwhile, full-fare economy earn 1.5 EQMs per mile, discount first and business class earn 2 EQMs per mile and full-fare first and business class earn 3 EQMs per mile. This changed after American Airlines revamped its AAdvantage program in 2016, but higher fare classes are still rewarded.
My wife’s flights were being reimbursed by her work, so even cheap business- or first-class flights were’t an option. Full-fare economy flights are generally prohibitively expensive, and while discount fare classes can be cheap, they require flying 10,000 miles for Gold or 20,000 miles for Platinum. Meanwhile, the mid-fare classes (H, K, M, L, W and V) would require only half of these miles!
So, the question is: How can I limit my searches to just these “sweet spot” mid-fare booking classes?
If you search for flights on Google Flights, you can’t limit your searches by fare class. Heck, you can’t even figure out the fare class until you click through to AA.com and look select “Show Trip Details.” It’s only then that you find that the $959 option listed above is in O and S fare classes, both of which only earn 1 EQM per mile.
Trying to stumble across mid-fare flights using Google Flights could take hours and even then you might not be successful. Thankfully, there’s an easier way to search for these fares once you learn how to use advanced routing codes in ITA Matrix.
Using the FlyerGuide wiki, I learned that:
- The basic code for searching by fare class code is / f bc=
- You can use the “pole” symbol | to indicate “or”
Combining these, I used the following advanced routing code to search for mid-fare flights bookable through American: aa+ / f bc=h|bc=k|bc=m|bc=l|bc=w|bc=v
In this instance, you want to make sure to use the “aa+” code rather than the general Oneworld code of “alliance oneworld.” Different airlines use different fare-class codes for different fare levels. Searching for H/K/M/L/W/V fare classes on all Oneworld carriers may return options that don’t earn 1 EQM per mile. For example, V fares on Cathay Pacific would earn you zero EQMs toward the American Airlines challenge.
After a couple weeks of searching with this code, I found a surprisingly cheap V-fare itinerary using these codes. We had to call American Airlines to book the V fare class, but it was worth the trouble: my wife returned from this single trip as a newly-minted American Airlines Platinum member!
2. Building a long layover — or 24+ hour stopover — into your travel plans using “/ minconnect”
Have a particular city along your route that you’d like to visit for a day? See if you can add a long layover or stopover to your flight. Not all fare rules will allow free stopovers, but it may be worth checking to see if the flights you’re looking at will allow it.
I used this option when jumping on a deal from Austin (AUS) to Lima, Peru (LIM). As the deal was on Delta, we knew that we’d be connecting through Delta’s hub in Atlanta (ATL), where we both have family. We were excited to be able to build-in an extended stay in both directions.
The code to use here is minconnect, and then include your desired layover’s length in minutes. In this example, we could use atl / minconnect 720 to require at least a 12-hour layover in ATL. In this example, the current cheapest fares are $812 round-trip, so we’d gladly pay only $18-$35 more for an extended layover in a city where we have relatives.
Beware that the minconnect code applies to every stop along the way, so it may return unwanted results if you have multiple stops.
Another example: While the British Airways deal from Houston (IAH) to Johannesburg (JNB) mentioned in my recent mileage run post has ended, there are still some deals on this route. I tested some dates with / minconnect 720 and found this option with an all-day layover in Frankfurt (FRA), where you can explore the city or the impressive airport. As an added bonus, you get to fly on the incredible Lufthansa A380 from IAH to FRA.
3. Removing stressful layovers using “/ padconnect” or “/ minconnect”
Airlines set their own minimum connection times for each airport and type of connection. However, some airport connections are set to only require 25 minutes between domestic flights. For instance, American Airlines has coded international arrivals into Nashville (BNA) to require only one hour before connecting to a domestic flight. Unless you have Global Entry, this could lead to a very stressful connection.
There are a couple of ways to search for flights that won’t rush you from one plane to another. You can use the minconnect option discussed above. For example, set / minconnect 90 to ensure at least an hour and a half between each flight. This might be especially useful when the airline has an especially low minimum connection time (I’m looking at you, Qatar and your 45-minute minimum connection policy!)
However, say you’re connecting through London-Heathrow (LHR) and don’t want a stressful layover. (After all, sometimes a full two hours isn’t enough when connecting through busy LHR!) If you’re making a domestic connection before flying through London, you probably don’t want to set your entire itinerary to / minconnect 120. In this case, using padconnect would be a better option.
Padconnect adds a certain amount of time to the minimum connection time. For example, using / padconnect 60 will ensure at least a two-hour connection time in LHR — where the minimum connection time can be as low as 60 minutes — without forcing other layovers to also be at least two hours long using padconnect.
As a final note, minconnect and padconnect can be used simultaneously. If you want to pad the minimum connection time by 15 minutes but ensure that you’ll have at least a 90-minute connection, enter / padconnect 15; minconnect 90. (Note that you have to enter a semi-colon between the criteria to avoid an error.)
4. Fly on — or avoid — a specific type of aircraft using “/ aircraft t:”
Is there a particular aircraft that you’ve always wanted to fly — your own proverbial “white whale”? Happily, you can use aircraft codes within the ITA Matrix’s advanced routing codes to find — and finally fly — the aircraft of your dreams.
Speaking of dreams, let’s say you want to find flight domestic flight options on the Dreamliner. It’s helpful to know that American Airlines flies the Dreamliner between Dallas (DFW) and Chicago (ORD), while United flies it from Houston (IAH) to/from Denver (DEN) and San Francisco (SFO).
These are some of these domestic airlines’ busiest routes, so manually digging through search results for them on the 787 could be a real pain. Instead, use ITA Matrix routing codes that include the aircraft code for the 787 to limit your search results to only those flown on the Dreamliner.
ITA Matrix uses IATA aircraft codes, which assign a specific code to each version of an aircraft. For example, while the 787 has three options — 783, 788 and 789 — ITA Matrix simplifies the Dreamliner-searching process by allowing generic “787” codes to be used for all versions of this aircraft.
Unfortunately, aircraft codes apply to all legs in a flight segment, so you can’t use it to specify a particular aircraft for only one leg of a multi-leg segment. For instance, if you’re looking to fly a 747 overseas, you’ll have to get more creative with aircraft codes by conducting either inclusive or exclusive searches.
For an ITA Matrix inclusive search, you can try to list out the possible short-haul aircraft types and add “747”: / aircraft t:MD9 t:320 t:717 t:737 t:747.
For an ITA Matrix exclusive search, you can use negation to try to eliminate your target aircraft’s competitors: / -aircraft t:777 t:330 t:340 t:380 t:767 t:787. (Simply enter a dash before the aircraft code to exclude the aircraft types listed.)
I’ve touched on just a few of the advanced routing code options listed on the FlyerGuide wiki. Hopefully, you can use the full array of these codes to make your future flight searches quicker and easier!
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