Unraveling the Mystery of Higher Airfare

With a government investigation currently underway about the alleged collusion in airline pricing, this author felt it was tine to share some details on how to find a better price in airfare. The results are alarming.

If , for instance, a traveler wanted to know how to get good prices from say, LAX to Quito, Equador, they might rightfully try an airline website like United, American or Delta. Good prices will show up one day, or even one minute, then be gone the next.The search engine that runs these web sites seems to scramble the results up by booking class in some sort of random fashion, using a bizarre algorithm so a traveler can never find it again if it wasn’t purchased on the spot. Even clearing cache, changing browsers, or using different devices does not solve this problem.

Trying consolidators like Edreams and Cheapoair to get pricing may or may not reveal the same as the airline web site showed in the original search results. When there there is no advertised special running, it could not be possible that all those good seats are selling out that quickly.

To consistently find the lowest fare, go to the Google search engine for airline reservations, Matrix. and run the same search. Select a price that suits your interest. Once selected, look at the instructions below to see what the booking class is for that flight. That is most likely a deeply discounted booking class, unless price is not the issue.

Then go directly to the airline web site and do the same search. Only go to Advanced Search. Then enter the booking class as advised by Matrix. That way, the cheapest (if that was desired) flights will always appear for that route and that day, as long as they are still available. They will not change from hour to hour or minute to minute because of the additional selection criteria.

For Delta and United, this option is available under Advanced Search. For American, click on Economy with Restrictions. Unfortunately, they have decided in advance which is the most deeply discounted fares and the consumer does not get to enter it as with United, or select from a drop down menu as with Delta. This might be because of the recent merger between American ans US Air, since the airlines  have defined different booking classes. However, it does create the situation where the consumer has to pay extra for the ticket by calling the airline with the desired booking class and having them book the ticket.

Please note that booking class will likely change for each flight. This author noticed that for the flight from Quito to LAX, booking class G was the lowest on United for certain Thursdays. For Delta, it was class V for the same Thursdays. On United, it only worked with the deeply discounted airfare if the return fight was two or three weeks out. For Delta, it worked for one or two weeks out. So if someone wants to fly to Quito for just a week, Delta is the most cost effective airline to use from LAX. For 10 days? Well, that one will cost ya!

Also key, is that when a day is discovered that provides a great price for that booking class, it doesn’t seem to matter if it is an inbound flight or outbound flight. That is, it seems to work from LAX to Quito, or the reverse direction. In this particular search, the flight from LAX to Quito is cheaper than LAX to the East coast. For United at least, without using the appropriate booking class, the same flight could cost as much as double.

If the airlines are not pricing their flights all the same way, this search does not reveal that. Some basic data mining using several search engines across all the major US carriers reveals very simply the standard practice of using booking codes and fare classes in a way that is not necessarily advantageous to the consumer. Who would want to pay $1100 for a flight when they can pay $564? And why is this information not available to all?

Hopefully the current investigation underway will not reveal any improprieties. Rather, this author hopes the airlines will “voluntarily” make changes that are advantageous to the flying public that will offer more affordable pricing across the board, and a more open policy for how the flying public can find that affordable pricing. Extensive data mining is not the way.


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