The best flight search tool you've never heard of

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It should come as no surprise that I'm a bit of an obsessive when it comes to searching for flights online. This is my job, after all, and I pursue flight search with the same fervor that I seek out a sweet sample sale deal.

My secret tool, however, is now out for public consumption, and I guess I consider it my responsibility to share it with the world.

Meet If you can remember the clunky URL, you will be happy. ITA Software, which was recently acquired by Google for a cool $700 million in cash, is a travel data clearinghouse that supplies everyone from Bing to Orbitz to Kayak with all of their flight info. That's right. Most search engines pull the same information; they just slice it and deliver it in different ways.

ITA Software isn't new; it was founded in 1996 by MIT computer scientists. But the owners have given it a face lift that makes it more palatable for public consumption. While it used to look like it was built, in fact, in 1996, the site has been upgraded and streamlined, with one of those handy matrices that lays out all the options. They've even created something I've never seen before: a sideways chart detailing flight options by time, using color-coded time bars. Their new free, 4-star app, "OntheFly" makes detailed search totally doable via an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.

Neither the site nor the app allows for booking. It just gives you all the tools at your fingertips, and lets you customize search as you see fit, and you can be sure you're seeing everything that exists. Where you choose to book your preferred flight combo—via the airline directly or an OTA (Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak)—is entirely up to you.

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