The answer lies in your boarding pass!
Frequent fliers view the boarding pass as the document that will give you access to the restricted passenger areas of an airport and allow you to board your flight. But, your boarding pass holds all your travel plans, and your frequent flier account details. It is therefore advisable not to throw your boarding pass away anywhere. Shredding it is a better option. But most importantly, the Boarding pass also lets you know whether you have paid the correct air fare for the ticket you are holding. Allow me to explain.
Buying air tickets is not as easy as say purchasing a loaf of bread. You will find that at your local bread shop, the price of bread is based on the type of brand and the size of the bread. The smallest loaf of bread is priced lower than the larger loaf of bread. In comparison, the airline has economy class, business class and first class. But, in the airline industry, the bread owner (as it were) sets 6 different prices for the small loaf of bread, 4 different prices for the medium sized bread and 3 different prices for the larger loaf of bread.
The bread owner (the airline) will then assign a certain number of small loaves to each of the 6 prices depending on the amount of sales the airline projects to sell. For example, he can say that 5 small loaves will be sold at Kshs. 20 for a period of one hour to those who are looking to buy the cheapest loaf of bread (cheapest economy tickets). Further, the bread owner (the airline) places certain condition or rules on the Kshs. 20 price. Rules such as ‘the bread cannot be returned if found to have mold on it.’ Or, ‘if returned, the price paid is not refundable.’ If a customer feels that these rules inconvenience their enjoyment of the bread, then they have the option to buy the same loaf of bread at a higher price and the higher price will likely have less restrictive rules. A less restrictive rule on the bread might be a rule that will allow the customer to return the bread, if they find mold on it and exchange it for a much fresher bread.
With these prices set, the bread owner (airline) will monitor the selling of the bread and observe the behavior of the customers and how they respond to the different prices of the bread. After one hour, the bread owner (airline) will asses the movement of the loaves of bread. Incase they have not been sold, the bread owner can decide to lower the price of the 5 loaves of bread to attract buyers. If the 5 loaves of bread are sold out, then the next set of bread comes up for purchase with a different price - higher or lower or the price might remain the same. The new price depends on the expiry date of the bread, or in our case, the actual flight date, to ensure that the bread owner (airline) sells as many loaves of bread (seats) as possible at the prices (fares) that will give the bread owner (airline) the maximum revenue.
What is a fare booking class therefore? The fare booking classes are the 6 different prices for the small loaf of bread, 4 different prices for the medium sized bread and 3 different prices for the larger loaf of bread. The different prices described above are usually denoted on your boarding pass using the letters of the alphabet such as F, A & P which are first class fares; J, R, D & I which are business class fares; and Y, B, H, M, K, L, W, S, N, Q & O which are economy fares.
For example, here is how a one-way quote from a travel agent for your 1st class ticket (If your name is Barack Hussein Obama) might look like:
EK 218 A 24AUG LAXDXB HK3 2230 *0120
EK 721 A 26AUG DXBNBO HK3 1600 2010
FARE INCLUSIVE OF ALL TAXES - $24,269
Now here is why you need to be very keen on this quote. The letters ‘A’ that appear after the flight number denoted as ‘EK 218’ is what identifies the fare booking class.
If this is a fare that is agreeable to you, you would then ask your travel agent to issue the ticket. Once you buy your ticket, ensure that you check-in online and receive your boarding pass. On your boarding pass, you will see your fare booking class on the right hand side of it indicated in our illustration below under ’Zone’. Here is an example of the boarding pass for the ticket issued from Barack’s quote:
If the fare booking class letter that appeared on your quote does not match the one on the boarding pass, then it means that you probably paid a much higher fare than you should have or in a rare case, a lower fare – making this a moot case for you. To be sure, and if your travel agent had not discussed with you about issuing your ticket on a different fare class than the one they had quoted to you, then you should demand for an explanation and perhaps a refund from your travel agent.
There are situations where a travel agent may quote you a particular fare and when they come back to the system to issue your ticket, they might find that the fare has decreased when issuing the ticket. Airlines will usually change their fares according to demand and supply and so a case of fares changing downwards or upwards is pretty common. It is therefore only ethical that the travel agent passes on to the customer, a lower fare should they come across it when issuing your ticket.
The Author is the Founder and CEO of Saffara Ltd
This article was published in the East African Newspaper on Monday the 21st of August as "How to pick cheap, convenient airfare"