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When I find a flight I like on the Matrix Airfare Search, it spits out a bunch of travel agent secret codes™. If I look for the same flight on the airline's web site, I often get much higher rates. As an example, looking at a flight from Cape Town (CPT) to New York (JFK), on December 31, 2013, I get the following from Matrix:

Cape Town (CPT) to New York (JFK) - Tue, Dec 31
Turkish Airlines Inc. Cape Town (CPT) to Johannesburg (JNB) - Tue, Dec 31
Turkish Airlines Inc. 41 Dep: 4:30PM Arr: 6:35PM 2h 5m Airbus A330 Economy (T)
Stop in JNB 1h 10m

Turkish Airlines Inc. Johannesburg (JNB) to Istanbul (IST) - Tue, Dec 31
Turkish Airlines Inc. 41 Dep: 7:45PM Arr: 5:30AM 9h 45m Airbus A330 Economy (T)
Layover in IST Wed, Jan 1 1h 55m

Turkish Airlines Inc. Istanbul (IST) to New York (JFK) - Wed, Jan 1
Turkish Airlines Inc. 3 Dep: 7:25AM Arr: 11:25AM 11h 0m Airbus A330 Economy (T)


Cost per passenger (including taxes & fees) $781.60
Total cost for 1 passenger $781.60


Provide this information to a travel agent to help them match the fares found. Make sure to provide the exact booking and fare codes shown.
Fare 1: Carrier TK TA2PXOW CPT to NYC (rules)
Passenger type ADT, ONE-WAY-ONLY fare, booking code T
Covers CPT-IST (Economy), IST-JFK (Economy) $406.54
USDA APHIS Fee (XA) $5.00
US Immigration Fee (XY) $7.00
US Customs Fee (YC) $5.50
Turkish Int'l Airport Service Charge (TR) $6.80
(YR) $278.40
US International Arrival Tax (US) $17.20
South Africa Passenger Service Charge (ZA) $32.40
South Africa Air Passenger Tax (WC) $18.70
South Africa Passenger Safety Charge (EV) $1.60
South Africa Passenger Services and Security Charge (UM) $2.00

Subtotal per passenger $781.60
Number of passengers x1

TOTAL AIRFARE & TAXES $781.60
Changes to this ticket will incur a penalty fee.
Fare construction (can be useful to travel agents)
CPT TK X/IST TK NYC 406.06TA2PXOW NUC 406.06 END ROE 10.146090 XT 1.60EV 2.00UM 18.70WC 32.40ZA 6.80TR 5.50YC 7.00XY 5.00XA 17.20US 278.40YR

For this search, I specified USD as the currency, but left the Sales City field blank.

When I try to book the same flight on the Turkish Airlines web site, I get a rate of €797 (~USD$1079), or a USD$298 difference.

By looking at the details of the two sites, I see that it is indeed selling me the same flight.

How can I take advantage of the Matrix-provided travel agent secret codes™ to book the flight at the lower price? Or must I go through a travel agent to use these codes?

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1  
Try booking on Expedia, Orbitz, etc –  Doc Nov 6 '13 at 19:42
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I've seen the opposite happen as well. –  gerrit Nov 6 '13 at 20:53
    
Try rome2rio. For me they seem always cheaper then the matrix. e.g $624 for one way CPT->NYC on nov 12th versus $7031! on matrix. –  andra Nov 6 '13 at 20:54
    
Matrix does not cover most low-cost carriers, but for your regular mainline IATA airlines, if the fare's not there you're unlikely to find it elsewhere. –  jpatokal Nov 6 '13 at 22:36
    
@gerrit: Yes, I've noticed that as well, but that doesn't frustrate me :) –  Flimzy Nov 7 '13 at 1:01

5 Answers 5

I'm not aware of any online booking engine that lets you book arbitrary fare constructions, so in practice you've got three options:

  1. Print out the fare construction and go to a travel agent in person. (This is what I do.)
  2. Call the airline and book over the phone. (Fiddly, because reading out and double-checking gibberish fare constructions is not much fun.)
  3. For heavy users and experts only: Sign up to a GDS and become your own travel agent, so you can issue any ticket you like. This is not a straightforward process, setup fees are considerable and you're looking at at least $50/mo or so for a subscription, but it might be worthwhile if you fly several times a month. Here's a (partly outdated) Flyertalk thread about the topic.
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Most likely where you are hitting issues is with the "sales city".

Your output from ITA shows a flight from South Africa to the US, but the price is displayed in US$. This means that within ITA you've changed the "Sales City" from it's default (which would have been CPT, your origin city) to somewhere in the US, otherwise it would have display the price in South African Rand.

Airlines frequently price fares differently depending on where you buy them - a trip bought in the US might cost more or less than the equivalent trip bought in the UK, Turkey or South Africa. In general, a travel agency in one location can not access the fares available for sale in a different location - and that includes online travel agencies.

When you book a flight directly from the airline they will often use the departure city as the "sales city", and that's what ITA defaults to if you don't change it. When that happens the price will be generated in local currency for that location, and using the pricing available for that country. By changing the sales city you can change the currency and the price, but you end up with something that can only be purchased in the country that you've set the sales city to.

Presuming you got the price you've quoted above with the sales city set to somewhere in the US, any US travel agent - including any US-based travel website - should be able to get you that price. As you haven't given dates I can't confirm that, however checking on Orbitz for a few dates in December I do see CPT-JFK available on Turkish Airways for ~US$790 - a few dollars more than you've got above, but in the same region.

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2  
As per my comment above I think you may have entered the wrong flight details - however the Qatar Airways (QR) flights you've entered can be booked on Orbitz for $770 on the dates shown –  Doc Nov 7 '13 at 2:31
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Very informative! This means we want to know the sales city, or at least country, for the various online travel agents ... –  hippietrail Nov 7 '13 at 2:48
    
@Doc: Indeed; I see the same on Orbitz, too. And I find the matching TK flight as well. Thanks. –  Flimzy Nov 7 '13 at 3:18

What I have done is this: (not just for Google Matrix but other flight search engines too)

  1. Print out or write down all the travel agent secret codes™.

  2. Telephone the airline, tell them how I found the flight and that I need more details, asking the which of the secret codes™ they need me to read out to them.

  3. Write down the price they tell me, assuming it's not something special that's only available through certain agents etc. (I'm not claiming to understand much of this secret stuff.)

  4. Armed with all this information, head to a physical travel agent or two.

  5. If visiting more than one travel agent, make sure the last one has something like a "We guarantee to beat any price" offer. Flight Centre should have this policy in most countries they operate in.

  6. Profit! (-:

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For the specific case of Matrix, all you need is the two lines after "Fare construction" at the end. –  jpatokal Nov 7 '13 at 2:47

According to this resource, you can use some of ITA's routing language with Hipmunk.

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Just call the airlines shown on the itinerary (if American, call American), and tell them the details of the flight. I booked mine easily, and I only paid an extra 25 bucks as booking charge. The price was as came up on the ITA search engine.

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