posted 06-13-2003 13:40
Ahhh…. My old friend liubruin. I hope things are going well for you!
Here is an updated version of an earlier post, including links to fare-class explanations. I have excluded the part about what to do at the airport if you are seeking to volunteer to be bumped from an oversold flight.
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Amex has a site that allows you to see available seats by fare class when doing a flight search. The site requires registration (free). Better is to go through the back door to the same site by using this link to avoid registration altogether.
Here is a (more than you ever wanted to know) tutorial on how to determine whether your flight is likely overbooked and how to read what you see at the above linked site:
Enter your flight date(s) and times and choice of airline. Select "Sort by Departure Time". After clicking on "Check Availability", you should next see a number of flights that come close to matching the criteria you entered, including the flight you will be on. If not, change the times a bit and try again.
Once your flight shows up, you will see some version of the following on the right side of the screen (this is for UA):
F7 Y9 B9 M9 H9 Q9 V9 W7 T5 S6 K9 L5 G0
The letter in each two-digit combination is a fare class, starting with highest fare classes (e.g. first class or "F" in this example) on the left and ending with the cheapest coach fare class ("G") on the right. There are several sites that assist in identifying the class of service represented by the letters. Although codes are not universal among airlines there are similarities. Here is a FlyerTalk post from this week that explains NW fare class codes. For AA, see this site, although there is not a complete explanation for each class. For Delta, see this site. For United fare classes, see this site.
The number in each two-digit combination is the number of seats that the airline is currently willing to sell in the particular fare class. The maximum number of seats shown will be nine for any class, because the software is limited to single digits. There may well be more than nine seats for sale. If there are several coach categories showing "9", it's likely that there will be empty seats on your flight.
Further, if all categories of coach seats show "9", it's theoretically possible that the airline is willing to sell only nine more seats in total, not nine seats in each fare class. Why? Because the airline may be willing to sell a particular seat in whatever fare class a purchaser picks. A business person might pay full "Y" to fly out and back on the same day, while the vacationer might buy that seat in the lowest fare class while agreeing to stay over a Saturday night and purchase the ticket well in advance to get that low fare. As the number of available seats shrinks, the airline will tend to discontinue selling seats in the cheaper classes, theorizing that last-minute purchasers will reluctantly be willing to pay top price!
It's also likely that the number of available seats on a particular flight will show up differently if you do a different request that includes other segments on the flight’s itinerary, such as SLC-DEN-BOS on a single UA flight number where you are merely flying SLC-DEN.
But anything is possible. A canceled flight could mean extra passengers on your flight at the last minute, thus creating an overbooking situation. Or cancelled flights that would connect with your flight could unexpectedly leave a number of empty seats on your flight.
The best chance for getting bumped would be if your flight shows something close to zeroes all the way across. Even if a few seats show as being available in selected coach seats - especially the more expensive "Y" and "B" fare - the flight could be oversold. Why? Because airlines routinely overbook. And they may continue to sell seats at a high fare, anticipating that the revenue from such high fares will much more than offset the compensation pay-out necessary for anyone volunteering to be bumped. And it often happens that there are enough no-shows so that the airline doesn't have to ask for volunteers.
If you use one of the various on-line seat selection tools (including your airline’s tool) in connection with booking a flight, you can’t tell whether a flight is likely overbooked even if the seat map shows that you can’t reserve a specific seat in advance. Why? Because as the flight fills up, airlines routinely hold significant numbers of seats for assignment at the airport, depending on who shows up to check in. That doesn’t mean the flight is overbooked.