In an online travel world that is heavy into blogging, emailing, Facebooking, and tweeting the latest bargain fare between Points A and B, there is little out there that gives knowledgeable consumers access to the raw data – the airline fare and rules displays that underlie it all. For those who have slogged through AFS and garnered a better understanding of how airline fares work, you certainly qualify as more knowledgeable, but where do you go from here to apply what you’re learned?
There are two channels that I am aware of, which allow an ordinary consumer to see fare and rules displays. One is free, and the other has a modest monthly charge. (If you know of others please comment back with the link.)
Let’s start with the free method offered through Travelocity.
(Author’s note October 2012 – based on reader reports and my own testing, Travelocity no longer provides the means to see fare displays. I will leave the text below intact but note that it is no longer relevant.)
Travelocity fare displays
Travelocity is one of what I call the “Big Four” of huge online all-purpose travel websites, the others being Orbitz, Expedia, and Priceline. Travelocity has the deepest legacy. It is owned by Sabre Holdings Corporation, which also owns the Sabre global distribution system used by many travel agencies worldwide, as well as by numerous airlines for their in-house system.
Travelocity is the descendant of a pre-web, dial-up, do-it-yourself booking system called Eaasy Sabre. (The double “a” is not a typo – Sabre tself was created by American Airlines in the 1950s and for many years was simply a subsidiary of the airline until spun off as a separate company. The “aa” gimmick was used extensively to link products to AA, American Airlines that is.) Eaasy Sabre was eventually discontinued and absorbed into Travelocity, and the fare display capability is probably a remnant from those days.
Travelocity clearly is not promoting the use of this tool. In the interest of research, I played newbie to see if starting from the Travelocity homepage, there was a path to get to this feature, which I already knew existed. I couldn’t find a path. Good thing I already had the URL, and now you do, too.
What you’ll see is straightforward: enter the cities (or three letter codes), specify round-trip or one-way, departure date, and (optional) airline preferences. (I filled in the blanks to look for fares between Sacramento and San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 12 December for Delta Airlines.)
The response is a stripped-down variation on what a travel agent would see, limited to the carrier, the amount, the fare basis code, and a button to click in order to view the rules. (This screen-capture is only a partial response, because the entire display from low to high is very long, just as it would be for a travel agent.)
Let’s look at the rules for the $398 U14NR1. (I’ve cut out boiler plate type rules in order to present what is important and readily understandable. Note the free stopover provision for ATL in the “STOPOVERS” section.)
Surprising to me considering that Travelocity appears to have hidden access to the fare display functionality, is that it works with more markets than it used to. My experience in the past was that it seldom could display fares for travel outside of the U.S. and Canada. This time I was able to see fares for many – though not all – international travel markets. A scattering of international fare requests I made that originated in Chico were unsuccessful, but the same requests made with a Sacramento origination brought results.
Besides being incomplete for international travel, the Travelocity option has two other limitations:
– Southwest Airlines fares are not available
– You cannot see “raw” airline availability, although you can try to book flights in Travelocity to see if you can match the fare with an available price
My feeling is that if you are an executive assistant who plans a lot of air travel, a very frequently traveling business person who plans your own travel, or an airline junkie, then you should seriously consider subscribing to ExpertFlyer. This is especially true if you think you’d like to delve deeper into airline fares and perhaps use some of the ideas I’ve presented in AFS for your own travel planning. As a matter of fact, I subscribed to ExpertFlyer two years ago until I obtained access to Apollo through the host travel agency with which I am affiliated for my hotel booking service for business travelers.
ExpertFlyer contains many useful features, but its own marketing seems mostly aimed at frequent travelers who want access to raw air availability for free airline mileage award tickets and upgrade certificates. However for the purposes of AFS, I’m going to spotlight the the access it provides to airline fare and rules displays, routings, and availability.
There are two ExpertFlyer subscription plans, I wouldn’t bother with the $4.99 per month Basic Plan because it lacks too much. If you subscribe, you should get the Premium Plan at either $9.99 monthly or $99.99 annually. They offer a free 5-day trial period which is plenty of time to decide whether it’s something you feel is worth paying ten bucks a month for.
Let’s go through the same example I used with Travelocity fares: Sacramento to San Juan, departing 12 December, on Delta Airlines.
Here’s the fare display response (only a partial screen-capture):
You can look at rules displays (only a partial screen-capture):
You can look at routings:
And you can look at raw airline availability, too. Sacramento to Atlanta, 12 December ’09 on Delta:
ExpertFlyer provides access to the same fare information that a travel agent or airline ticket agent has. And they do provide access to Southwest Airlines fares and availability!
The presentation is similar to what a travel agent would see, although easier to read, and with more user-friendly ways to toggle between related tasks.
But ExpertFlyer does not give you ability to sell or price flight segments; it is not a platform to book travel.
You can research fares, rules, routings and inventory availability at ExpertFlyer, then piece together the itinerary using the airline’s website, calling the airline (and paying the “living, breathing reservations agent” fee), or employing one of the online travel agencies to piece together the itinerary and see if it prices out the way you expect it to.
In lieu of using an airline website or online travel agency you might also try using ITA Software’s website. ITA cannot book flights but quickly serves up multiple itineraries validated both for the availability of inventory as well as the price. It isn’t cuddly like the online travel agencies but it’s fast, uncluttered with advertising or extraneous information, and provides responses with very detailed information that include the breakdown of fare and taxes. Give it a try and see what you think.
The next chapter of Airline Fare School will conclude the series. Don’t miss our last “class meeting”: AFS # 13.