Before the holidays, I described the changes implemented in ITA Matrix version 3, which included a few cosmetic improvements and fixed some of the buggy timeouts that were frustrating users. But more than anything, I think many of us were simply happy to see this as evidence that Google was committed to maintaining the site after they acquired ITA.
I originally said that one of the unfortunate changes was the loss of the “nearby airports” feature that lets you include other nearby airports in your search. This is useful when you want to look for less expensive nearby destinations or if you are attempting more advanced tricks like fuel dumping and hidden city ticketing. In version 2, this included the option to change the radius of your search, view these airports on a map, and even “select all” if you weren’t too picky.
A reader helpfully pointed out that the feature was still there in version 3, but it had been deprecated so much that I didn’t notice. Clicking the “Nearby” link would only show a list of airports without any filtering or other tools.
Point Me to the Plane wrote today that some of the original features have been added back in what I’ll call “version 3.1.” You can once again specify a radius and “select all,” but there is no map.
The map was an important feature that I hope the team brings back eventually. I actually don’t use the nearby airports tool much myself because I tend to know what options are nearby — information I’ve gleaned from using other map-based resources such as OpenFlights.org or an airline’s own route map. These are imperfect, but assuming I know what I want, typing is faster.
Even after you select your airports on ITA Matrix using the nearby airports feature, it just inputs them as a string with each airport separated by commas. I can do that myself. What you and I might need help with, thanks to a map, is determining which airports are better choices than others. For example, I fly to Santa Rosa, CA (STS), fairly often and include San Francisco and Oakland as backups. San Jose is nearly 100 miles away and feels longer thanks to traffic. Sacramento, however, looks reasonably close. The catch is that these are straight line distances with mountains in the middle — something that would be apparent on a map. (In its defense, Sacramento probably has better traffic than Oakland, and it’s definitely better than trying to drive through San Francisco during rush hour.)
Whatever way you choose to enter multiple airports, manually or with this tool, remember that it’s easy to filter the results page. Just click on the From/To tab and select or unselect each of the airports you listed earlier in the query. You can see prices next to those airport names, letting you decide for yourself if it’s really worth paying $200 more to fly nonstop to Santa Rosa or rent a car in Oakland.
NOTE: Because I’m using the “time bars” view in the screen above, the filter and price difference only reflect that direction of travel; a separate filter will be available when selecting the return journey. Filtering a complete itinerary lets you choose different airports for each direction at the same time.