As the first of my Advanced Course subjects we should start with searching for that great flight you are looking for. Most people are familiar with looking on their favorite airlines website or one of the consolidated websites such as Orbitz or Expedia. Nothing wrong with booking through the airlines, but are you seeing all the possibilities? Probably not. And booking through Expedia, Orbitz, etc. show you a lot of choices, but make it much harder to make changes and the airlines often make sure that you are missing out on some benefits if you don’t book through their site.
For most of the savvy FF’s, the search site of choice is ITA. ITA is now owned by Google and is actually the engine used by several of the airlines. Importantly, ITA cannot book a flight for you. What?! Then why am I looking here? Remember what I said about possibly losing some benefits if you do not book through the airlines website? By all means, I recommend that you book through them, just use ITA to find all of your possible flights. For example, you may find that another airline in the same alliance has a cheaper fare allowing you to fly for less, but still earn the EQM and RDM for your preferred airline program.
Let me walk you through a simple search and then we’ll see what you can do from there. OK, let’s say you decide to fly from LAX to Buenos Aires (EZE) for a vacation of five days and want to go sometime in July. Here is what you would input on the search page:
Note that I did not guess on dates, but simply input July 1st and the program will find the various fares on each date over a 30 day period assuming that the flight leaves on the date shown and returns five days later. Here what we get:
So several hundred dollars difference depending on which date you choose. Note that they highlight the lowest fare, but the timing of this may not be convenient. I’ll pick Saturday the 13th as it is only $30 more than the lowest fare and Saturday is a convenient day to leave. And from there, the results come up as this.
Note that they list all the possible flights even some ridiculous ones! Beneath that they start listing the individual flights starting from lowest to highest fares. Click on details (as I have shown) and you see all the flight specifics including the fare bucket in case you need to find something of a specific fare or higher. For example, if I was trying to apply a United Global Premier Upgrade (GPU), you need to book into a W fare or higher. In the example shown, both the G and K fares would not qualify, so you may need to ask for a more expensive fare in order to fly in Business Class.
You have now learned all you need to to fully use this great search engine and most of the time that is all I use. However, there are many parsing rules that you can use in the search function to narrow your search or find specific flights that give you flights only for a specific airline or routing. The authoritative thread from Flyertalk can be found here.
For an example of how this works. Let’s say that you want to take the flight we discussed previously, but you do have a United GPU that you really want to use. After all, who wants to fly in coach? Isn’t that the point of this and my fellow BA blogs?
We start the clicking the Advanced Routing Codes underneath the Destination Bar. This exposes an additional line where you will put certain codes to narrow your search. Start the new search with specifying “UA+: LAX” in the first field. While you could put “/alliance star-alliance” instead and get any flight that would credit miles to UA, the upgrade is only good when you fly United metal.
I am running out of room for this post and rather than duplicate what a friend of mine wrote on the subject, I will encourage you to go to my friend Scott” Hack My Trip post which goes through the subject in a very helpful manner. Try ITA and experiment with it’s capabilities. Let me know what great trips you find there!