differences do the fare classes—J, C, Y, M, B, etc.—make? How
do they affect the prices and restrictions applied to travelers?
Your question is a complex one, and
as there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Understanding the airline fare
alphabet is no easy task. Each letter corresponds to a different fare
class, and fare classes are not consistent among airlines. In other words,
each letter can mean different things to a particular airline. Exceptions
are F, which is always first class, and Y, which is always the full coach
With the exception of first and business class, remaining fare classes
have nothing to do with a particular seat on the plane. A "Q"
fare is not further back than say an "H" fare. Any subsequent
letters or numbers following a fare class describes the conditions of a
ticket such as non-refundable or full-fare.
Because fare classes designate different levels of restrictions, there are
usually quite a number of them, especially for the economy/coach classes
where special low fares and restricted tickets are commonplace. Other fare
classes exist for upgrade and award tickets, industry discounts, and other
On a central reservation system (CRS), a particular airline will display
available seats with a corresponding letter denoting the type of fare and
corresponding conditions. Depending upon the display, the first letters
listed (if available) are generally first or business class and are
typically A, C, D, F, P, J, R. Coach occupies the remainder of the fare
classes, or alphabet if you will.
Fare classes are the foundation for an airline's yield management system,
which is used to maximize revenue from flights. Yield management uses
historical traffic data as well as projections based on bookings, trends,
and other information to work out the best mix of available fare classes
for a particular flight or market, or both. This is why availabilities can
change rapidly, especially in the lower, more restricted fare classes.
A designated class serves as a way to place value on the remaining seats
in a plane, and the fares change often, making the system very
complicated. Airlines are under enormous pressure to sell each seat, and
that is where the pricing can get a little crazy and make no sense
I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!
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