web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flyer Tip #3 - booking classes

This is part of a series of blog posts on tips for flyers.

Why might this post be useful to you?

Booking classes are a key tool which airlines use to manage their revenue. As airlines try to maximise their revenue, while passengers try to minimise their spending, it is useful to understand booking classes. The previous post in this Flyer Tips series introduced some basic airline revenue management concepts. This post builds on that information by explaining how booking classes control the availability of the millions of airfares that exist.

What are booking classes?

For airlines to maximise revenue they need to limit availability of their cheaper fares. They do this by way of booking classes. Every single fare has within its rules a constraint that it books into a particular booking class. Every booking class is designated by a single letter.

Booking class is not the same thing as class of travel or cabin. Every class of travel may have several booking classes associated with it. Some are for expensive, super flexible type fares. Some are for cheap fares. Some are for frequent flyer awards.

Example booking classes

Unfortunately booking class designations are not standardised across all airlines (although alliances are trying to make these more aligned within an alliance). Some common booking classes (although not universal) are:

F = first class
J or C = business class
Y = economy class

As an example, here are the booking classes for Lufthansa. They are listed in order of class of service, and then flexibility within each class of service.

F = first class full fare
A = first class discounted fare
O = first class awards and upgrades to first
C = business class full fare
D = business class discounted fare
I = business class awards and upgrades to business
R = business class industry travel (not available to general public)
Z = business class sale fare
Y = economy class full fare
B = economy class very flexible fare
M = economy class fairly flexible fare
H = economy class fairly flexible fare
X = economy class awards
Q = economy class moderately flexible fare
N = economy class industry travel (not available to general public)
V = economy class fairly inflexible fare
W = economy class fairly inflexible fare
U = economy class fairly inflexible fare
S = economy class inflexible fare
P = economy class inflexible fare
G = economy class inflexible fare
K = economy class inflexible fare
L = economy class inflexible fare
T = economy class inflexible fare
E = economy class sale fare

Not all booking classes are offered on all flights. As well as the obvious cases where no first class or business class exists, some routes may not offer some of the more heavily discounted fare classes (eg longhaul tends to have less economy booking classes than shorthaul due to more competition on shorthaul/domestic translating into a greater need for differentiation on price and terms). Codeshares often have a narrower range of fares. Some business-oriented shuttle flights may be restricted to just a few flexible booking classes.

How can booking classes be used?

The fare rules determine the booking classes, usually from the first letter of the fare basis code (a series of letters and numbers that are the "name" of the fare in the rules). For those that look at fare rules, knowledge of booking classes helps inform where in the hierarchy a fare sits and gives clues as to how likely it is or isn't to be available.

There is a gotcha to watch out for. Airlines have their own tables of booking classes and mappings. These differ by airlines and sometimes an airline will change theirs (eg Air New Zealand added a new booking class code "A" for premium economy last year). The online travel agents and booking engines can sometimes be caught out by these differences or changes and describe a fare as being for a wrong class of travel. Eg "A" is used by many airlines to designate discounted first class and thus some websites showed the new premium economy code for Air New Zealand as first class instead of premium economy. This one was easy to spot as an error - Air New Zealand removed first class some years ago. Other similar errors may not be as easy to spot.

A later post in the series will explain availability tools and show how you can look up this information.

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