There are three main considerations for me when booking flights – what is the price, what are the timings and how can I maximise them for miles and points?
Sometimes, booking with a low cost carrier is the best option as they can offer great value for money, particularly on one way flights or to more obscure destinations away from major hubs.
Other times, the timing might be most important, such as leaving after work or not wanting to get up at the crack of dawn to catch an early flight.
Then, there are the routes that can maximise miles and points – such as adding in a stop. For example, you can fly from London to Barcelona direct, but you can also fly via Madrid. In Business, the former would earn 80TP, but the latter would earn 120TP for the same price but a bit more time.
In each of these cases, knowing where to start can be a minefield – it can take hours to search through a number of different websites looking for the optimal route depending on your circumstance. This is where ITA Matrix comes in.
At a simple level, you can put in your starting point and destination, along with travel dates, and in a few seconds it will give you a whole range of options.
Let’s imagine that I am going to Las Vegas at Christmas 2016 from London. All I need to do is put in my details as above. Assume I want 6 nights and am somewhat flexible on departure dates; I enter this information into the boxes below. You can select your cabin; Business or higher, thanks very much. It is worth selecting GBP as the currency for ease of comparison. Put all these in and you get a range like this showing the cheapest price.
LON-LAS return in business would cost be £2643 earn 280TP and 15666 Avios, assuming I am a Blue Executive Club member.
But I want to save a bit, and am wondering what these exEU things are about.
If you start outside of the U.K., the tax paid on the ticket is applied differently resulting in potential savings. Popular (read cheap) places for this are Dublin, Olso and Copenhagen.
So, I enter DUB, CPH, OSL into the Departing from box. I want to maximise my miles and points so I click on Show Advance Routing Codes and enter LHR /alliance oneworld. This will route me via London and only give me oneworld options, like British Airways, Finnair, Iberia and American Airlines where I can earn Tier Points.
You can see that the overall price has fallen by almost 50% to £1348 yet I have added a flight. In this case I am still flying on exactly the same plane as before in the same cabin. I’ll also earn another 80TP for the DUB-LHR legs which will put me into Bronze, earning a few more Avios on the last leg.
The final part to the puzzle is knowing that flights of more than 2000 miles on American earn 210TP. JFK-LAS fits that bill as does JFK-PHX. PHX-LAS is less than 2000 miles so earns 60TP. Armed with this knowledge I enter LHR JFK PHX / alliance oneworld into the advance routing codes, swapping PHX and LHR round for the return.
Now, obviously this routing is far more complex:
It still leaves the UK on Thursday 22nd December and arrives back on Wednesday 28th December. It costs £1333, even cheaper than the last option, but it does earn more miles and points. It will earn 900TP and 23,108 Avios, and get Silver status from scratch.
For me, it would make sense to do this if I were travelling on my own; I wouldn’t want to do this with someone not as keen to travel and who had the time to spend on a plane.
If I were pushed for time, I would still do the exDUB trip because of the huge savings possible. Positioning to and from Dublin can be done easily using Avios – a Reward Flight Saver will cost 9,000 Avios and £35 at peak times. I could fly LHR-DUB-LHR the night before the LHR-US Flight to remove the need for a hotel, or it can be built into the trip.
A couple of words of advice:
Firstly, don’t be tempted to arrive back into London and not take your flight onward to DUB at the end; if you do it once or twice it is hardly likely to be an issue, but make a habit of it and so it all the time, and you could draw attention to your account, which could be suspended. Let me be clear, there is absolutely no issue buying a ticket starting in Dublin routing through the UK, but my advice is to take all the flights you book.
The second point is to remember that you cannot book the ticket through ITA Matrix. I have always phoned up to book. Just explain you have a specific routing you want and offer the flight numbers. The agent should be able to price it up to within a few pounds of what was shown on ITA Matrix. The first time I did this, the price was 4times the expected, so the agent went off to look at it and called me back. I think I ended up paying £150 more that I had intended, but this included First on American Airlines A321T – a proper lie-flat seat as opposed to the usual recliners in American domestic First – and JFK-LCY on the BabyBus. It is worth checking the booking class flight by flight before you pay as this will affect your earnings and can make a difference to the price.
When booking my European trip with my Mum for the summer, the agent wanted to put me onto a specific flight as it was coming up as ‘the connecting one’. I had to ask her twice to book me onto a later one so that we would be on Iberia’s wide-body jet as opposed BA’s Airbus. It is also worth asking them to try different flight code share numbers; the price of my trip dropped by £30ish when she switched from a BA to an IB number – of course, this is madness as it the same plane, but every little helps!
Have you used ITA Matrix to help plan a trip?
Do get in touch if you would like help in booking your next trip to maximise your miles and points.