February 22, 2013 Airlines 101: Fares
I write a lot about airlines and mistake fares, but rarely do write a nuts and bolts piece. When you go to insertairlinenamehere.com or thridpartytravelagent.com and search for airline tickets, you get flights and prices. Airlines 101 is going to be a series of posts dedicated how that list of flights and prices is generated. Airlines 101 will also include frequent flyer tips and really any useful posts that will benefit airline customers. Today’s topic is fares. Generally when you do the search above you get various options and at various prices. Let’s take Phoenix to Orlando leaving on October 1, 2013. I plug that search into www.google.com/flights and I get these results:
It looks like the cheapest flight is on a combination of airlines and the most expensive is on American. We’re going to look at the United fare for $263.00, because it is the easiest to work with. Clicking on the fare it takes us to the United.com to book it. We see this:
Two pieces of information here, the fare (243.00) and the fare class (S). Now fare class is something different from class of service. Fare class refers to the category of fare, not whether or not you are sitting in the first or economy cabin. United of course has more fares than that for Phoenix to Orlando. In fact on 10/1/2013 United Airlines has 48 published fares. What you see above is only the cheapest fares in the market; here are some of the other fares:
I’ve pulled this list using a commercial service called expertflyer.com. This is a list of United Airlines fares for Phoenix to Orlando on 10/1/2013. You can see our fare at the top, it is the cheapest. Generally when you purchase a ticket you will only see the fare Basis on the receipt and only if you look carefully. Each fare basis code is between 5 and 6 characters long and it is packed with information. Let’s look at the one we selected.
The first letter, and it is always a letter, tells us the fare class. Here that is an S and that matches up with the fare class on the United.com screen shot. The number 21, means how many days in advance you have to purchase this fare. So if it were September 20th we would not be able to purchase this ticket. If we were to purchase on 9/20/2013, we would be limited to fares that a 7day or greater advanced purchase limit. Here that is QA7FN for 319.00. Finally, there in the N at the end of the fare code, this is either a Y or N and that means whether or not the fare is refundable. We have an N so that’s a no it’s not refundable. The cheapest refundable fare is BA0FY for $587.39. The other pieces of information I want to point out in this screenshot are the effective and expiration dates. Dates in those columns state when those fares become valid and when they expire. It is important to note though that UA can change fares at any time.
Advanced purchase and the refundability of a ticket are the two most important factors when it comes to pricing a fare. However, finding a fare is just one step in booking a ticket. Next we will find flights that match up with that fare.