Flight search engines like Hipmunk have made travel incredibly easy in recent years. With a few keystrokes and clicks, we’re off to the races and we get an incredibly comprehensive list of flights that meet our criteria. What most people don’t know is that there’s a way to get even better and targeted search results to find that exact route you’re looking for or that mistake fare someone posts on Facebook.
What is ITA?
Before we begin, we should probably talk about what ITA is. ITA is essentially the core technology that powers every single flight search engine. Guys like Hipmunk essentially pay a fee to feed all search queries through ITA and when they receive the results, theme and format it to look like their own.
The big rumbling in the industry was a few years ago when Google acquired ITA, further cementing their position in anything related to search. That is how Google Flights was born.
Harnessing the Power of ITA Routing Language
As part of the platform that they’ve built, there are a lot of hidden “easter eggs” so to speak that give you unlimited searching power at your fingertips. These come in the form of ITA’s own routing language that is essentially short form that allow you to apply very specific filters.
At first glance, the language might as well look like Greek. And if you didn’t know how it worked, it might as well be. This ITA routing language (or routing codes) is a super short form to specify the exact flights you want.
Here is comprehensive list of ITA codes:
This is a helpful listing of examples:
What is not so clear from here is that when you type in your search, you separate the airport code with ITA routing codes by doing a double colon (::).
Routing Codes In Practice
Let’s try to learn the codes by using ITA’s own tool called ITA Matrix. This is a native tool built by ITA that allows you to search for flights in a much more raw kind of way. It’s not a tool I normally use as I much prefer Hipmunk but it is a very clutter-free interface that’s right to the point.
So let’s say you want to do a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles on Air Canada with a stopover in Denver, you’d type this in the Departing From field:
Returning back from Los Angeles, let’s say I want to take any Star Alliance flight but direct only. I’d enter this into the
The beauty though is that these ITA
The final search in ITA Matrix looks like this:
The beauty of all this is that you can find some pretty unique routes using this method that other search engines like Kayak, Expedia and others just aren’t able to do without a lot of work. Leveraging your knowledge of these codes, you can turn into a serious travel hacker.
Want to learn more?
Steve Huff from Hipmunk actually put together a video explaining two different examples of how ITA routing language can work for you. He also shares some unique codes that aren’t even provided by ITA such as the alliance piece that I used in my example above.