On Friday last week, I provided a brief introduction to how airline inventory works and why that matters when you try to understand how much a particular ticket should cost. There are two factors in particular, the published fares (which require to specific “fare classes” or “booking classes”) and the number of tickets available in these booking classes on every individual flight, that come together to determine which price you’ll pay.
Finding published fares is relatively easy, so I’ll start with the harder question: where to find the availability. Availability is like the key that opens a published fare and makes it more useful than a list of boring rules. Sadly, every now and then a great source appears only to be shot down, but there are still some good options out there.
There is a site called FlightStats that provides some availability data after free registration. The interface has also improved since I last toyed with it. American Airlines has opted out, but space is still shown for many other carriers, including United Airlines. In this example you can see that there is lots of space in the first class cabin as well as many tickets available for sale in the coach cabin. There are no longer any seats available in the cheapest G fare bucket, and only 2 remaining in the second-cheapest K fare bucket.
Of course, KVS Tool and ExpertFlyer will give you all the availability information you want after you pay up. $99 a year for ExpertFlyer’s Premium subscription or $9.99 a month. You could also get a Basic subscription for $4.99 and you’d still get the fare class information. KVS Tool also provides this information at every membership level. Their prices are more affordable but require a minimum of six months up front, ranging from $20 for a six-month Gold subscription package or $75 for a year of Platinum.
United.com used to give all kinds of fare information. In the pre-merger United Airlines this required a bit of a workaround, and after the merger it became much simpler with the improvement of the “expert mode” feature on the new Continental-based web site. Unfortunately United killed this without any notice a short time ago. Fortunately it appears to be making a comeback. As United is my preferred airline, I look forward to having fare class information available again soon. (You can still search for tickets using a specific fare class, but I find this awkward.)
Looking at other airlines’ websites, a few other provide availability information, but not to the level of detail as United. It’s pretty much just a way to specify that particular fare class when trying to book a ticket. Then again, what they do provide comes a little more easily.
Here’s an example of a convenient display of a few different fare classes from American Airlines:
Delta’s site won’t display several fare classes at once, but it will let you choose your fare class from a drop-down menu when you perform your search, just like with United.
Back in the day, there was a great service called SeatCounter. Type in your flight info, and you would get a list of the fare classes and the number of seats left in each. I think I remember it bugging me when I tried to make too many requests, but on the whole I couldn’t complain much after getting some information I couldn’t easily get anywhere else. The site went down in 2010 for “maintenance” and hasn’t come back since, much to my dismay.
I would love it if I could just use ITA. Last year I noticed it was providing complete fare availability information underneath each flight in my itinerary, but that no longer seems to be the case. Google may have been testing out new features as it works with ITA (which it acquired) to develop its own flight search engine. It would not surprise me if an airline got upset and asked it to stop sharing this.