Understanding how your booking code affects point and mile accrual.

The booking code (sometimes know as booking class, or fare code) provides important information about the fare and what its restrictions are. Most importantly, the booking code is used to determine accrual of miles and points in an airline’s loyalty program.

Before I continue I want to clarify that the following terms all mean the same thing: booking class, fare class, booking code, inventory code. They are not to be confused with the fare basis code, or fare basis. The booking code is derived from the fare basis code. If you’re confused, don’t worry. The example in this post shows an example of this relationship between the fare class and fare basis code in a moment.

I recently posted a new flight deal [Flights: Milan, Italy (MXP) from Houston (IAH) or Austin (AUS) $876], and depending on the dates selected you would likely get one of the following booking codes associated with the ticket: P, V, E or Q. In this case of Houston to Milan, I really needed to know exactly what booking code the flight was designated for so I could determine United MileagePlus accrual on a Turkish Airlines flight.

Let’s take a look at what we get when we plug in some sample dates for Milan (MXP) on Orbitz.

Fare code orbitz

It tells us that the ticket is “Economy” which is about as useful as if it had said “Magic Rainbow Unicorn Section”. The only thing that matters to the Airlines are the fare codes. To hammer down this point, can you tell me what the difference is between this fare and the next one is (other than price and departure date)?

Fare code orbitz

Well, they’re both “Economy”, both flying on flights 34 and 1877, and both on a Sunday. So why does this ticket cost + $69 more? I think most people will look at this and think that the main factor in determining the price is the departure and return dates. That’s not quite the case here. We really need to know more about the actual ticket that is being issued to understand what is going on here. What we really need to know is the booking code. It’s unfortunate that Orbitz isn’t showing the fare class here in their search results. The booking codes are available on Orbitz, but they take a bit of digging, if you aren’t familiar with how to find the fare class on Orbitz or Priceline, see this article:[How to find the fare code on Orbitz, and Priceline.]

Here’s what the “fare basis code” looks like for the $887 ticket in our example.

Fare code orbitz 5
Fare basis code for the $887 ticket.

If you’re saying to yourself “what the heck is VLV3XPC!?” — that’s the “fare basis code”. The first letter is your booking class and is used to determine how points and miles accrue with airline loyalty programs. I mentioned earlier that the “booking code / fare class” is derived from the “fare basis code”. In this case our booking class is “V”. As for the other letters, it’s really beyond the scope of my knowledge to discuss their significance because they can have different meanings depending on the airline that created the fare basis code. The most important thing to know about the fare basis code is that it’s derived from the “fare basis rules”. Let’s look at the relationship between “fare basis rules” to “fare basis code” to “fare class” as a pyramid with the “fare rules” at the top like this:

  1. “fare basis rules” – determines everything that is allowed or not allowed on the ticket such as what cities it routes through and what restrictions are involved.
  2. “fare basis code” – a naming convention for a set of fare basis rules. This code usually provides insight on the rules from which it was derived from. In this example the “L” may mean “Ticket only available during low season”.
  3. “booking / fare class” – The very first letter of a fare basis code. The airlines use this to determine loyalty program credit and accrual.

As you have probably already guessed, the fare basis code for each of the flights in our example are different. Here’s the fare code for the cheaper ticket.

Fare code orbitz 6
Full fare basis code for the $818 ticket.

Ok. “PLV3XPC” – So that means the ticket is booked in the “P” booking class and this ticket has different rules and restrictions. Going into detail on fare rules isn’t the focus of this post, but I plan on covering it on its own some other time. For those of you that are curious, the only difference in these two fare rules (other than points accumulation) was a Christmas / New Years blackout date for PLV3XPC.

Have you ever wondered why New Years and Christmas airfare is more expensive? Well, now you know one reason why — discount fare codes like this one won’t show up in your search results because they have blackout dates. The only fare codes available on Christmas are the ones with less restrictions and as a general rule the less restrictions a ticket has the more expensive it is.

Anyway, now that we’ve determined that one flight is booked as “P” and one is booked as “V” let’s take a look at the United to Turkish accrual chart.

United - Turkish Award ChartAt first glance it does look like all classes of service earn 100% of the base miles for Turkish flights but that whole “Class of service” column would be equally as useful if instead it said “Do you like ponies?” and instead of “Discount Economy” it said “OMG Ponies!”. Just act like that whole left-hand column isn’t there. The only column that really matters is the “Purchased fare class” column.

We determined earlier we have a “P” and “V” fare class. “V” earns 100% of the miles, but hey, wait a minute, where is “P”? It’s not even on here!

I’m sure you’ve already guessed what that means by reading the bottom part of the chart. “All other fare classes do not accrue mileage.” That does explain a bit about why the “P” ticket in our example itinerary was $69 dollars cheaper than the “V” – with one you get miles, and with the other you don’t. At this point it makes sense to do a quick cost analysis on how many miles you would get for flying on the “V” fare instead of the cheaper “P” fare and just pick the one that has the best value. Let’s see… There are 14894 miles in our example route and I value United miles at 1.5 cents each which ends up being a $223 value for future travel on United and its partners. This puts the “V” fare ahead by $154, a significant amount. That’s not to say all deals that have 0% accrual are bad; I’ve seen it cut both ways. If the price is low enough, it will make more sense to skip the miles.

That basically covers it, it’s important to know beforehand what the details of the flight product is before committing to buy. It can save you a good chunk of change in future travel.

If you found this useful and want to see other posts like it, you should check out the [Budget Travel Tips] category on this site for more.