Pack A Bag & Go

Fare Classes from A-Z

The last time you booked a flight, did you notice a seemingly random letter on your ticket? It designates your fare class, which airlines use in their pricing system for your flight. When you book your next ticket, make sure you call the airline directly to inquire further if you are unsure what fare class you are booking.

The fare class letter is combined with other letters and numbers on your ticket to describe the fare you’ve purchased (i.e. NR may mean “non-refundable”, and 7 may signify a week-long advance booking). In the sequence of letters and numbers, the first letter is usually the one you want to look out for. The letter system can vary from one airline to another, so it’s useful to be acquainted with your particular airline’s list if you fly with them exclusively. Here are links to fare class charts for Delta, United, and American Airlines.

A few simple reminders: If there is a higher fare class on your outbound flight try to search for a lower fare class on the return so your entire ticket is not booked in a higher fare class category. When you are researching a ticket try to maintain some flexibility in your travel days. Also, if your ticket is more expensive to fly on any given day, then research the previous or following day this can dramatically reduce the final cost on a ticket. The conventional wisdom is that the price of a ticket decreases as the amount of restrictions on your flight increase, however, it’s important to remember that you may be missing out on some benefits (upgrades, bonus miles, or promotional offers) if you always go for the least expensive fare class.

I remember a conversation I had on a plane with my fellow passengers regarding how much they paid for their flight, and some of the numbers I was hearing shocked me. Most of these passengers were unaware of a T fare or any other more cost effective fare. I’ve seen several instances where a passenger (who is not a frequent flyer) bought a ticket, was convinced that the price they paid was most cost effective, and it turns out they bought one of the most expensive tickets on the plane. This can easily be avoided by paying attention to a few little letters!

The next time you book your flight and have affordable and effective travel in mind, make sure you are booking the most economical fare class available. Also, keep in mind that if you are a frequent flyer and you are keeping your fingers crossed for the upgrade to a first class seat, you should inquire with your airline to see if you should be booking a ticket in a certain fare class. Some airlines may have exclusions, and if you are using miles for a coach seat then you might not be eligible for an upgrade to a first class seat (even based on your frequent flier status). Typically, using miles for a coach seat will not position you for an upgrade to a first class seat. Usually, only a paid fare will allow such an upgrade.

I hope this sheds some light on the topic of fare classes, and gives you a slight edge when booking trips in the future. Enjoy your flight! – SF

  • Corinne Derenburger

    Pretty cool! I used to work for reservation sales…and yep, we do all of the above with fares. :-) 

    • Scott Ford

      Thanks for your kind note. :)

  • Jtkoenig

    Wow, honestly I had no idea!  I have much to learn.

  • Greg

    Also important to keep this in mind when upgrading is something you’re considering:

    • Scott Ford

      Thanks for sharing the link.

  • Chris

    Thanks for the awesome tip!  I just signed up for the AAdvantage card and can’t wait to start earning FF miles. I’m a big fan of Virgin Airlines and was wondering if you knew anything about their VISA signature card. They’re a member of the Barclays group.