My misspent career in the travel industry began in the spring of 1979 at the tender age of 23 when I was hired as a reservations sales agent for TWA in their San Francisco call center. I was laid off in September of the same year, a warning I should have taken to heart, and then moved into a different industry with fewer ups and downs. I didn’t.
For all of the wackiness of the airline business, I appreciate the fact that I began when I did. In this day and age it seems unheard of, but TWA spent two intense months training our class of 20 future employees. (Not all made it – some were cut.) Computerized reservations systems had been a mainstay of the airline industry for some time by the late 70s, but they couldn’t do everything; there was a great deal of technical knowledge that had to be taught.
Not to mention – as in any industry – even if the computer could do something you needed to know what it was doing and why it was doing it (or why you were telling it to do it).
TWA, being both a domestic and international carrier, trained us extensively in domestic fare construction as well as provided the basics for the more complicated rules that can apply to international fares.
I would end up working at four other airlines before the 1980s were through but I would never be trained again as well as I was by TWA. I appreciated it then and I appreciate it now. (My trainers were Susan who was then around my age now, and Steve, who was not much older than I was. You two did an excellent job. Drop me a note if you should miraculously happen to read this post.)
An interesting thing about the core knowledge I learned way back then, is that so little of it has changed in the intervening 30 years. Mind you, that’s 30 years in an industry wracked by nearly constant change, and most of it not for the better.
One other thing that hasn’t changed is that the traveling public knows very little about the workings of airline fares.
Now you might be thinking “au contraire”.
You’re signed up at AirfareWatchdog and FareCompare, get e-mailed fare alerts for specific cities from Orbitz, Southwest “Dings!” you, JetBlue tweets you, and so on.
All of that’s well and good, and certainly way more than was out there 30 years, 20 years, 10 years, or even 5 years ago. But it also is single-mindedly focused on only one thing: telling you what the lowest fare is between the Points A and B of your choosing.
It doesn’t convey any of underlying structures and rules that govern airline fares. There is information that is not widely known outside of the industry (and sometimes not even there) which can enable you to be more creative in how you structure your trips.
I’m not promising to reveal “Secrets That The Airlines Don’t Want You To Know” or anything nonsensical like that. No one anywhere is trying to hide anything I’ll be presenting. These are just common – or sometimes uncommon – rules and methods that are fun to know, and potentially useful and money-saving.
Here’s an analogy to help you understand the value of knowing what we’ll cover.
Imagine you go to an appliance store planning to buy a new refrigerator. The price is acceptable but the salesperson tells you about an offer the store has had for years but never advertises. Namely, if you buy a new stove at the same time it will cost only $300 more.
Armed with this new knowledge you reassess your purchase and decide that it does make sense to replace both the fridge and stove. The information wasn’t exactly a secret but you never knew about it because the store never made it a point of telling customers. Now that you do know, you look at your potential purchase differently.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles is going to teach you on the installment plan the stuff you don’t know about airline fares. I haven’t plotted out the entire series so I can’t tell you how many chapters there will be or when it will come to an end. The focus of the series will be on domestic fares but we’ll look at international fares, too, and the occasional intersection where an international fare can produce a deal for domestic travel. If you think I’m being intentionally cryptic you’re right. Stay enrolled in Airline Fare School to find out why.
Please keep in mind that I’ll be blogging about other things that come up along the way so these posts will not be consecutive in that they will flow one right after the other. Things will meander. If I take a trip to Bakersfield or Berlin and feel the call to write a post about it I will. I’ll try to write one Airline Fare School post every 7-10 days or so but I make no guarantees.
However there will be a rhyme and a reason to what I present, and for the sake of orderliness, each post will start with “Airline Fare School # such and such -” For example, “Airline Fare School # 6 – Stopovers”. There will be a new subject category in my blog called “Airline Fare School” where you’ll be able to see the accumulated posts before you have to go digging through the archives.
Now is a good time to remind you that if you’re not using Google Reader to keep track of updates to your favorite blogs then you must start now! I know you won’t want to miss a single installment of Airline Fare School. Read my post about Google Reader if you don’t already use it.
I can tell you some of the topics that I cover will include stopovers, connections, open jaws, circle trips, and much, much more. We’re going to have some fun with this. But we’ll begin with a few chapters that cover some very basic stuff which is fundamental to understanding material that comes later.
The first chapter of Airline Fare School will appear on Monday morning:
Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts, and then please sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.
You are now enrolled in Airline Fare School.