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Recently I have learned about the one truly amazing cheap flight finding service, matrix.itasoftware.com. But it's not a travel agent, it's only a search engine.

So this site gives you the full and precise details of the flight that you must quote to a travel agent and in theory the agent should be able to book you a ticket on that specific flight and get very close to the price the site quoted.

I am assuming there are other ways besides this flight search engine to find specific flight details where you can't necessarily buy the tickets, so my question is:

When I have details of a specific flight I want to book at a quoted price, but I don't have access to a physical travel agency, is there somewhere I can book that flight online? (Especially when I'm in a strange foreign country on the other side of the world?)

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ITA's site allows you to search "published" airfares. These are airfares that are available to all travel agencies, including all websites - so in theory you should be able to book them on any on-line travel booking website, including the airlines website if your flights only cover a single airline.

However there's two things that can cause issues.

  • Many airfares are restricted for sale in a particular "market" (aka country). When using ITA Matrix, it will by default use the country you are departing from as the market, although you can change that by setting the "sales city" option at the bottom. If your flights are departing from country X, and you try and book them on a website operating in country Y then you may not be able to get the same price - so look for a website in the country you're departing from.

  • Different flight search engines will pair up flights in different ways, so it you simply enter the start/end airports into (say) Expedia it may not give you the same route options as Matrix does. The best way around this is to enter the details as a "multi-city" trip on the booking website, and enter some/all of the intermediate points that Matrix found for you. On occasional you'll still end up with a situation where you can't get the website to "price" the flights correctly for you - but normally it'll work.

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so look for a website in the country you're departing from. - Hmm why not look for a website in the country I'm in when I'm ready to book? Am I missing something? (I'm in Romania but all the cheapest options depart from Istanbul where I can hitchhike to from here.) –  hippietrail Aug 25 '12 at 17:19
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ITA Matrix will have priced the flight based on it being sold in Turkey (country of departure). The exact same flight could be more expensive when bought in any other country, such as Romania. Buying on an Romanian website means buying in Romania, no matter where the flight departs from. Note that it's not always more expensive (and in fact, can be cheaper!) to buy in a different country - so you can always try both! –  Doc Aug 25 '12 at 17:31
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