An Example of Using Fares and Availability to Book a Real Trip

This post is part of a continuing series on using fare rules and inventory data to book a trip at the best price.

Yesterday I promised to show you how to put the published fares, booking class availability, and fare rules into action. Here’s an example for a possible trip I may take to New York in June. I prefer to fly United, which has hub in Newark (EWR), so I automatically limited my search results, but you could leave it open if you wanted to see competing offers as well as options to fly to JFK (including United’s p.s. service) or La Guardia. I also only looked at round trip fares, although sometimes it can be worth looking into purchasing two one-way fares. Perhaps you are unsure about one of the dates and want the ability to change or cancel one leg without having to rebook the entire trip.

Because of these limitations, the published fares I was returned for that date only vary with respect to the particular rules of each fare. All of my examples today were found using ExpertFlyer, a great web-based tool that costs $99 for an annual premium subscription (a reasonable price if you book your own travel and fly at least twice a month).

As you can see in the example below, some booking classes have several fares to choose from. There are a couple M fares available at either $1,112 or $1,228. There are also very similar prices for some fares that will book into different booking classes. The cheapest options, LA14HS and WA14HS, are each only $338. Looking briefly at the fare rules, I couldn’t identify any difference between them, but it’s generally better to choose the higher-ranking W fare for upgrades and waitlist reasons.

ExpertFLyer flight search screenshot

There is also another W fare, WA7QN, that cost $742. The difference between these fares is that the first had a 14-day advance purchase restriction and the second only requires 7 days. Also, the cheaper fare is a limited-time offer. Note that it is only effective for travel between January 13 and June 13. This is not to say any of these fares couldn’t be pulled in the meantime, but the rest of the list are standard prices that will remain in effect for travel until end-of-schedule (EOS). EOS is generally 330 days out at most airlines and the maximum time in the future you can purchase any ticket.

Since the WA14HS fare looks like the best deal, let’s take a look at the fare rules. It goes on for pages and pages so I’m just showing you the first part.

fare rules screenshot

A lot of these terms should be familiar from my post yesterday. For the most part, this fare has few restrictions other than the usual ones for an advance-purchase, non-refundable ticket. There are no requirements for specific days or times of travel (e.g., you don’t have to take a red-eye on Saturday), and there are no minimum stay requirements. Two connections (“transfers”) are permitted, but that only leaves you one each way. As is usual with domestic fares, no stopovers are allowed, so all connections have to be under 4 hours.

End-on-end combinations are permitted, which means you can combine it with another fare, such as one from Newark to Miami. Further on, it specifies additional rules for constructing open jaws or combining this fare with an international fare. Each region has its own rules for combinations. For example, this quote outlines combinations with fares heading from Area 1 (the Americas) to Area 3 (Asia) and requires that you fly on Continental, United, or ANA.


What about routing? If you click on the zig-zag button to the right of the fare on ExpertFlyer’s page, you’ll be able to see the permitted routing for this fare. It turns out you can only travel nonstop. So to give you another example, I looked up fare LA14CN from Seattle to New Orleans, traveling non-hub to non-hub in United’s network. There are two possible options.



Nothing particularly fancy going on here. As you’d expect, you are allowed one stop. Lately United has really been cutting down on the mileage running opportunity. There used to be more complex routing permitted that would let you travel to all kinds of crazy places. Note, however, that you don’t get to choose any of the hubs. You are required to stop in SFO, LAX, IAH (HOU means Houston), or DEN. ORD, EWR, and IAD are not permitted, likely because they would increase the distance traveled more than the others. See? United is forcing you to take a more direct route to get the cheapest price. Sensible, but not exactly what I would like. PHX is also listed, likely to accomodate the hub of United’s Star Alliance partner US Airways.

But alas, I am not going to party in New Orleans. I have to go to New York. *grumble* So let’s see what the booking class availability looks like for that W fare.

ExpertFLyer flight search screenshot

Yes! There’s W space on all the nonstop outbound options that match with the fare rules. The same is true with the return leg. Just to confirm, I’ll pop over to ITA to price out the trip.

ITA itinerary screenshot

The price is a little higher than $338 even though the fare construction notes at the bottom indicate that ITA used the WA14HS fare I found earlier. That’s because that price only included the base fare and the US Transportation Tax. The various other AY, XF, and ZP fees bring the total to $359.60.

There are lots of other nitty gritty details about fare construction that you could learn, but these are the basics that will help you identify (1) the lowest published fare, (2) the rules required to purchase that fare, and (3) how to match up the availability on specific flights.

Deciphering Fare Rules
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  • Biggles209

    Transfers vs Routing Rules: this is what I was niggling Darren about a couple of days ago. The fare states that two transfers are allowed, but the routing rules say nonstop only. There is a contradiction here. Which one wins?

    • Scottrick

      The most restrictive language applies, so it has to be nonstop. A lot of the fare rules include stock language that doesn’t necessarily get updated with every new fare published.

      I don’t think of it as a contradiction. You can still satisfy all the rules. A nonstop has two or fewer transfers. You just can’t satisfy each rule to its full potential because they may be limited by other rules that come as part of the package.

      • Biggles209

        Thanks! You’ve put my mind at rest!!

  • bwiflyer

    How can you chose different fare class in ITA. It only showed but why it did not show L or V.

    • Scottrick

      If you wanted to search for an L fare, use these commands:

      Outbound > “SEA::UA /f bc=L”
      Return > “EWR::UA /f bc=L”

      For multiple fare classes, you need to enter them separately, e.g., “/f bc=L,bc=W,bc=V”

  • ucipass

    Unless I am missing something Expertflyer will show roundtrip fares where only the outbound or the inbound legs show availability.

    For example CHI-LON on US for the month of july:
    LKXEU0EA US L Round Trip 689.00(USD)

    But there are no fare code L outbound (only inbound) for the entire month of July. SO it should not be considered valid fare. Am I missing something?

    • Edward

      A valid reservation requires a fare basis code and flights that satisfy the fare rules and have the right inventory.

      If you notice in Scott’s example, there is plenty of cheap G space on the SEA-EWR planes, but he couldn’t book into G because those fare codes were pulled (likely due to it being summer). Conversely, sometimes there are cheap fare codes but no space to book into.

      EF (and ITA, if you deselect the “Only show flights” button) will show all published fares for a market but that doesn’t mean you can buy them!

  • aznprzn

    Good stuff man. I have been waiting to find someone blog about how to just save cash on a reg airfare. And yes I did read your 5 minutes of fame.

  • nambrot

    Reading all through your posts, you are definitely the best resouce to get into this topic. Keep up the good work!

  • josie

    I went into ITA and it was great, BUT I couldn’t find how to book a Business flight. There wasn’t anything to click on. I’d love to find a cheaper way to fly to Europe from Vancouver business class. josie

    • Scottrick

      ITA does not book actual flights or direct you to the airline. It does tell you whats available and break it down with fare information if you need to take it to a travel agent. Usually I can book it just fine using the airline or an OTA once I know the specific flights I want.

  • pd

    Thanks, that was a great read, very helpful!