Limitations of ITA

Discussion in 'Mileage Runs/Travel Hacking' started by Aktchi, Apr 15, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Aktchi
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    Aktchi Silver Member

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    I have been and remain a great fan of ITA. However, as a free service it cannot afford to spend unlimited computer time on a query and must cut it off. As a result you might miss the proverbial needle in the haystack. I had an illustration of this today.

    (A) The following search gave $1807 as the lowest price
    ORD:: AA (to LGA, 4/29)
    JFK:: AA NRT AA (to BKK, 5/2)
    BKK:: AA NRT AA (to ORD, 5/6).

    (B) However, specifying exact flights got down to $1397
    ORD:: AA398 (to LGA, 4/29)
    JFK:: AA167 NRT AA5834 (to BKK, 5/2)
    BKK:: AA5835 NRT AA154 (to ORD, 5/6).

    The difference is better than any FD most of us ever dream of. :)

    Of course, B is no "search", it is pricing a specific itinerary. Search A is about as economical as it gets without specifying actual flights: we are specifying one airline (no aa,jl,cx), exact dates (no date range), a specific connecting airport. Still it misses the low combination B. Why? We get some idea by considering -

    (C) The following search gave $1397 as well
    ORD:: AA398 (to LGA, 4/29)
    JFK:: AA NRT AA (to BKK, 5/2)
    BKK:: AA NRT AA (to ORD, 5/6).

    So, one possible culprit is the number of ORD-LGA flights: the number of possible combinations, which involve not only different flights but also fares available in those flights, could have overwhelmed the search. I am not sure, even surprised, but it does seem like a reasonable guess.

    A general lesson is to be cautious of "powerful features" (in this case multi-destination search). Without matching computer time, a powerful script is like a great business plan with no budget. :)

    You obviously can't begin by guessing the right flights, else why would you be using ITA in the first place? However, you must build and narrow down your search carefully and slowly. Tie down whatever you can as you go along. The art and science here are not unlike those involved in gold- or oil-exploration: you have to scan broadly, analyze the results, select a narrow area to dig deeply, analyze the results, and keep repeating.
     
  2. Thanks for that Aktchi, very helpful. I find I battle with ITA just being overwhelmed and giving up, usually in trying to max out a route map on a particular fare. I'll try now with specific flights.
     
  3. thegrailer
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    thegrailer Silver Member

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    Great info. Thanks
     
  4. Scottrick
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    Scottrick Gold Member

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    I can't help but wonder why ITA hasn't already tried to adjust for this. International routes, or just longer routes in general, tend to have fewer options throughout the day. There just isn't the same demand as you would find for ORD-LGA, which could have 5-10 flights depending on the airline vs. JFK-NRT, which might have 1-3.

    Would it be possible to price out the longer legs first and then tackle the shorter legs? E.g., if there are 10 combinations for JFK-NRT and NRT-BKK on AA, but two of them are over 20% less than the other eight, why not let ITA decide to dump the rest and then see how those fit in with the ORD-LGA leg? I agree with Aktchi's interpretation, but I think he might find a different result if the ORD-LGA leg came last (not chronologically last, but last in the order of ITA's search). The trick is to get ITA to recognize this possibility and put aside popular routes until later so it doesn't get bogged down. ITA already lets you do this when selecting your flights, but I don't think it does this itself when performing the search.

    Maybe this would still run into issues with some fare rules, but I think it could be a useful improvement.
     
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  5. Aktchi
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    Aktchi Silver Member

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    Just to get idea of how the options multiply

    There are 16 flights matching ORD:: aa (LGA)
    There are 2 flights matching NYC:: aa nrt aa (BKK)
    There are 4 flights matching BKK:: aa nrt aa (ORD)

    Therefore, in search A, there are 128 flight combinations for ORD-NYC-BKK-ORD. The number would have been 704 if I had not specified NRT as connecting airport. I shudder to think what it might be if I said "aa+" or not specified the airline. :) And those are just flight combinations. ITA must deal with fare buckets within each flight.

    In contrast, there is just 1 combination in B, and 8 in C. More manageable, and we need not be computer geniuses to figure that out.

    In the end, however, having used ITA extensively, I was and am still surprised that it couldn't find the lowest fare in A.
     

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