When to Purchase a More Expensive Fare
Occasionally I am asked about the difference between say a T fare, and a U fare when booking a flight. Often it makes no difference, though I suppose it could provide (minimum) insurance against being bumped off of a flight in the case of delays or cancellations. In these cases it helps to check in on time, but a higher fare could help, especially if you do not have elite airline status.
FARE BUCKETS 101
The peculiar thing about airlines is that even for a single cabin, you may have 10 different fare buckets, within each one. In maximizing profits they split up fare buckets, and meaning that airfares generally increase as the more discounted fares are bought up.
But what happens if higher airfares are available? As an incentive for buying more “premium” fares—which are not necessarily First Class fares, airlines reward these passengers with greater change/upgrade flexibility, as well as mileage bonus.
If you are unsure about what a specific fare means, or want to know if it is upgrade eligible, cwsi.net has some handy fare information for American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, United, and US Airways.
LEVERAGING FLIGHT MILEAGE BONUSES
Per their website, the earn rates on Delta flights are as follows:
So as you can see, on M fares and higher, one earns a 50% mileage bonus, both for redeemable miles, and my favorite—elite qualifying. Thus where purchasing a different can make a HUGE difference to me personally is in earning mileage—both elite qualifying and redeemable.
MY EXPERIENCE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF MILEAGE BONUSES
A great example of how this can play to your advantage came last year when I was booking a trip to Birmingham. I plugged in the departure and arrival cities (Pasco, WA to Birmingham) and the first result was $353.
But that is not all I was looking for. At the time I was very close to qualifying for Gold Medallion, which meant I was also looking to maximize my routing. Therefore, I checked for fare codes M or higher, with the 50% mileage bonus to see how reasonable a mileage boost would be. So I searched again, this time for fares with at least an M fare code, and too my delight (!) this is what I discovered:
It was the same price rather I routed through Salt Lake and Atlanta, or Minneapolis and New York LaGuardia, so I naturally took the latter.
But was it worth it? Let’s say I had booked the absolute cheapest fare, via Salt Lake City and MSP. Given Delta’s minimum mileage credit of 500 miles, it would have netted me 2282 miles.
On the other hand, because the $477 option was in one of Delta’s higher fare buckets, I would be earning a 50% mileage bonus. And of course choosing a roundabout routing always helps!
Given the 50% mileage bonus, it meant that this routing netted me 4,710 miles!
But that doesn’t fully answer the question of whether this is cost-effective. To analyze the effectiveness of this more expensive, I can calculate the additional cents/mile by dividing the additional cost ($124) by the extra mileage earned (4,710-2,882=2,428). Thus, I am gaining additional miles at a rate of $0.05 per mile. Getting that rate out of a mileage run would be phenomenal!
And as you may have noticed, the fare that I booked ended up being a discounted First Class fare. I will repeat again that fares with mileage bonuses, are not always first class fares, but in this case it was just icing on the cake.
Granted, if you are not concerned about being able to upgrade your ticket or having elite status, booking a higher fare may be pointless to you. But if you are a an elite-obsessed mileage junkie like I am, it can be a rather savvy way to optimize the mileage you earn when traveling.