web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Flyer Tip #4 - availability tools

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

Why might this post be useful to you?

Availability tools are sites which anyone can use to check booking class availability. Previous related posts in this series explained how airlines try to maximise their revenue and how booking classes control availability of air fares. This post builds on that information by showing where you can look up booking class availability. With this knowledge and the availability tools you can find ways to use cheap fares (if you know the fare rules), look for potentially full flights as well as ones where there is a chance of an upgrade.

Availability tools

There are a few places where travellers can search availability by booking class on specific flights or routes on a specific date. In this post I'll discuss the three main ones of use to most passengers.

Seatcounter is a free online based booking class lookup tool. You can do up to half a dozen searches a day, with each search being for a specific route on a specific day and time of day (eg after midnight, early morning, late morning, afternoon, evening, late night). You can optionally specify up to 3 airlines or get all results.

The result is a listing of paid booking classes for each flight in alphabetical order. Award booking classes are generally not displayed. You need fairly detailed knowledge of what each booking class represents for the particular airline in order to be able to interpret.

Routes for which no simple connecting flights exist return no results.

KVS is a subscription based software which includes several booking class lookup tools (amongst other functions). A download is required to use the tools through the site.

KVS is good for expert users as it provides different lookup tools which utilise the various different Computer Reservation Systems (CRS) used by airlines. As discussed previously, airlines use different CRS. Using the appropriate lookup tool for the native CRS of the specific airline you wish to fly will provide more accurate (up to date) and complete results than using one of the other CRSes. The site and FAQ provides guidance on which of the several lookup tools to use for many major airlines.

Thus, KVS is able to return information on some award and upgrade booking classes, as well as all paid booking classes. Results are sorted from highest cabin to lowest and from the most flexible booking class to least flexible within a class of travel. This form of display is intuitive to interpret for most people.

For expert users the ability to compare availability results using different tools can be interesting.

Expert Flyer is also a subscription service that includes booking class lookup and other tools but it does not require a download to use.

Expert Flyer returns similar results to KVS.

Interpreting availability results

This is the topic for another flyer tip, but here is a sneak preview.

Example results

J0 C0 D0 Y9 B9 H9 K9 M9 L9 V9 S9 N9 O9

J, C and D are booking classes for business class on this particular airline. Being zeroed out means they have no seats available for sale at any fare (even the outrageously high full fares). The other booking classes are economy and all show at least 9 seats available for sale. The airline is welling to sell any of its fares (subject to fare rules eg advance purchase) as the flight is not too full.

However, in this case the results above are for a codeshare. The operating airline of the same flight has these results

J4 D4 I4 Y9 B9 H9 K9 M9 L9 V4 S9 N4 Q9 O4

(In seatcounter this would appear as B9 D4 H9 I4 J4 K9 L9 M9 N4 O4 Q9 S9 V4 Y9 - harder to interpret.)

J, D and I are booking classes for business class used by the operating airline. I4 means they are willing to sell even their cheapest business class fare. At some stage before departure the operating airline and codeshare airline may decide to rebalance availability by giving some more seats to the codeshare airline to boost revenues. For example the operating airline could change their business class availability to J4 D3 I0 and the codeshare airline to J2 C0 D0 - any extra business class seats sold would then be at high fares not heavily discounted.

The operating airline is also willing to sell even their cheapest fares in economy. There is no chance of an operational upgrade (economy is not oversold) or a bump on this flight (the flight is not full). Someone submitting a mileage upgrade has some chance of success (business class isn't too full).

Note, the willingness to sell cheapest fares in economy by both codeshare and operating airline does not mean the flight is empty. It could be that date of the flight is imminent and neither airline expects to sell higher fares, or it could be that the ability to buy cheap fares is constrained by advance purchase and other fare requirements meaning booking class O (for example) can't now be bought in practice for this flight.

Readers familiar with booking classes, and the eagle-eyed, may have noticed the booking classes used by the codeshare and operating airlines differ slightly. This is why the ranked order listing is so useful as it reduces the need for detailed knowledge of booking classes for every airline (as long as you know the main ones such as Y for full fare economy class).

Wrap Up

This post has covered 3 booking class availability tools and given a simple example to interpret. Later posts in the Flyer Tips series will show more how to interpret the results in order to save money. There is a lot more information on Flyer Talk, but this info is not easy to find.

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