What is a Fare Class and Why Does it Matter?

A fare class is a letter such as D, Y or Q that is used to identify a particular airfare type. When you book a flight, your fare class is important because it determines the price and flexibility of your ticket, whether you can upgrade, and also the number of points & status credits earned.

On any given flight, there are up to four cabin classes sold – First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy. But there may be over a dozen different fare classes available for sale. Each fare class represents a particular type of fare, for travel in a certain cabin class. The price and conditions of the ticket will vary between fare classes, which are also sometimes known as “fare buckets” or “fare basis codes”.

Fare classes are used by airlines as a revenue management tool to control the amount and price of seats for sale on a given flight. On flights where demand is low, the airline will typically open up all fare classes for sale. But the number of seats in each fare class will be limited, and airlines will remove the lower classes from inventory once the seats allocated for sale at that price point are sold out. That’s why flights become gradually more expensive closer to the date of departure.

The lowest fare classes are typically discounted sale fares. These fares are usually inflexible, earn fewer frequent flyer points and cannot be upgraded. This is intentional as it allows airlines to sell more expensive fares to travellers that require that flexibility or want to upgrade their ticket.

 

Use Expert Flyer to check fare class availability

You can use Expert Flyer to see how many seats are available for sale in each class on any given flight. This can be handy if you are planning to request an upgrade, as it can help you to determine how full the flight is likely to be.

Here are two examples of fare class availability on two different Qantas flights from Melbourne to Singapore:

Screenshots from Expert Flyer
Screenshots from Expert Flyer

The actual letters designated to each fare bucket varies by airline. Qantas uses the following fare classes for each of its cabin classes (in order from most expensive to least expensive):

  • First: F to A
  • Business: J to I
  • Premium Economy: W to T
  • Economy: Y to E

There are also designated Qantas fare classes for award seats:

  • First: P
  • Business: U
  • Premium Economy: Z
  • Economy: X

In the above example, Flight #1 has many seats still available in all fare classes, and even some award availability in First, Premium Economy and Economy. On the other hand, Flight #2 is sold out in First & Business and has only one Premium Economy left for sale. That flight will probably depart full and there is almost no chance of getting an upgrade.

Expert Flyer is a subscription-based service. If you don’t have an account, you can request the loadings for a specific flight on AFF’s Flight Availability/Loadings & Upgrade Probability Help Desk thread.

 

Why your fare class matters

There are several reasons where your fare class is important. Firstly, it determines the amount of frequent flyer points and status credits you’ll earn for your flight. In general, more expensive airfares earn more points.

Some fare classes do not earn any points! This is especially the case if you’re crediting to a partner airline’s frequent flyer program. Here are some examples:

  • Some Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific Economy fare classes do not earn any Qantas points or status credits
  • Qantas “E” class tickets do not earn any miles with most partner airlines, including American Airlines AAdvantage, British Airways Executive Club and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • Malaysia Airlines Business and First class fares earn Qantas points & status credits at the much lower “Flexible Economy” rate

An easy way to check how many points you’ll earn with each fare class is to use the Where to Credit website.

Some fare classes cannot be upgraded using frequent flyer points. And if it is eligible for an upgrade, your fare class may also determine how many points are required. For example, on Qantas international Economy tickets:

  • Sale fares (E, N, O and Q) cannot be upgraded
  • Saver fares (G, K, L, M, S and V) can be upgraded but at a higher cost
  • Flex fares (B, H and Y) can be upgraded and upgrades cost fewer points

 

How to find your fare class

Most airlines display the fare class on their website at the time of booking. In this example from the Singapore Airlines website, you can easily see that you’re booking a “W” class fare:

Screenshot from Singapore Airlines website
Screenshot from Singapore Airlines website

Annoyingly, Qantas is one of few airlines not to show the fare bucket prior to booking on their website. But you can see the fare class after making a booking in the “manage booking” portal.

Screenshot from Qantas website
Screenshot from Qantas website

The fare class is always shown when searching for fares on the excellent ITA Matrix tool. (In the example below, the Cathay Pacific “O” class fare does not earn Qantas points.)

Screenshot from ITA Matrix
Screenshot from ITA Matrix
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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]