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Seat maps - can they indicate a possible fare change?

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Feb 24th, 2013, 07:48 AM
  #1
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Seat maps - can they indicate a possible fare change?

Hoping to get tickets on US Airways non-stop CLT-CDG May 21, returning June 9. Current price $1403. Their seat maps indicate planes barely half full both ways. Two-part question: a) do seat maps accurately reflect the number of seats sold? and b) if so and the planes are really only half full would it be reasonable to think they might lower the fare in order to fill up the plane? Thanks.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 08:10 AM
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(a) No.
(b) See (a).

Pricing is based on very sophisticated "yield management" or "revenue management" algorithms that allocate seats into fare "buckets" - different subclasses of economy- (or business-) class seats that carry different conditions, such as change penalties, length of stay, advance purchase requirements, etc.

The airlines' computers know from past experience and general market conditions when seats in certain buckets are likely to sell. They also take into account things like competition on the route, fuel prices, and many other factors that you can't possibly evaluate as a customer. They will add or remove seats from buckets from day to day, minute to minute, in order to maximize the revenue to the airline.

For example, here's this morning's snapshot of your outbound flight, in terms of seat availability:

C4 D4 Z0 Y9 B9 M9 H9 Q9 N9 V9 W9 L9 S9 T3 G0 K0 U0 E0 R0

And the return:

C1 D1 Z0 Y9 B9 M9 H9 Q9 N9 V0 W0 L0 S0 T0 G0 K0 U0 E0 R0

C, D and Z are business class categories, all the others are economy "buckets," with the price of the ticket generally going down as you read to the right. "Y" is full-fare, no restrictions economy, the letters at the end are other fare buckets that have either sold out or not available in the first place (maybe discounted tickets for military, whatever.)

The number 9 in those buckets doesn't mean there are only 9 seats, that's the maximum number the computer will show (4 in business, so you can see on the return business is almost already sold out.)

What it means is that there are 3 seats available at the "T" price outbound (presumably the lowest) and none on the return. When those T seats are sold (obviously with the people returning on a different date than yours) then the next people will get "S" tickets until 9 of those are sold, then on up (to the left) through more expensive categories.

So as seats sell, the likelihood is that the price will continue to rise, all the way until just the "Y" seats are available for walk-ups. Now it's possible the computers might see sales lagging, and will add some "T" seats later, but that would be unusual for transatlantic flights in the spring.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 08:11 AM
  #3
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a. No, not everyone selects a seat when booking.

b. I wouldn't count on it. The price could go either way.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 08:16 AM
  #4
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Gardy and I were posting at the same time and I did not see all of his good information until after I hit submit.

I thought of something else. Let's assume the chart is accurate and the flight has very few passengers. When a flight is very empty they can cancel it if they are not going to make enough money to justify running it. When this happens they will rebook the passengers on another flight. Of course they don't do that all the time but it has happened to me.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 09:20 AM
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When a flight is very empty they can cancel it if they are not going to make enough money to justify running it.

No, because that aircraft is pledged for its next flight (back from Paris, or maybe from Paris back to Philly, or whatever) and all those pax would have to be re-accommodated. Pilots and flight crews waiting in Paris for the return flight would be stranded, air freight traveling in the hold would have to be rerouted, partners and connecting passengers re-accommodated... it would cost much more than just flying the plane half full. The only reason the flight would be cancelled is a mechanical problem, bad weather, a strike, something besides seat sales. If the flight is doing poorly enough in overall terms, it will be canceled when the next schedule is released.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 10:15 AM
  #6
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Gardy, if the return flight is also empty then it can happen. Evidently that was the case with a flight to/from London that I was on several years ago, at least that's the reason they gave me. This didn't happen at the last minute, I think there was about a month's notice.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 01:51 PM
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Thanks very much, Gardyloo and P_M. I was afraid it wasn't that simple!

So, Gardy, can I assume that, as of this morning, there were a minimum of 93 seats available on the outbound and 54 on the inbound (adding up Y->G)? And at the same $1403 price? (One thing I didn't mention - I need 11 tickets!) Mind sharing where you got that info?

P_M, I would think (hope!) that since there is only one N/S from Charlotte per day, they would not cancel that flight. Not impossible, I suppose.

Again, thanks to you both. I think I'll hold on for another few days and hope for the best.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 03:53 PM
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So, Gardy, can I assume that, as of this morning, there were a minimum of 93 seats available on the outbound and 54 on the inbound (adding up Y->G)? And at the same $1403 price? (One thing I didn't mention - I need 11 tickets!) Mind sharing where you got that info?

No, the numbers are not cumulative. And as I said the number 9 (as in Y9) means that there are at least 9 seats for sale at the Y price. Even if there are really 90 for sale in Y, the computers won't show any number bigger than 9, just because the computer program is limited in that way.

Using the first example above, C4 D4 Z0 Y9 B9 M9 H9 Q9 N9 V9 W9 L9 S9 T3 G0 K0 U0 E0 R0, it means that there are (were) 3 seats that could be purchased at the "T" fare level. Let's say that a T fare on that route is $1000 (plus taxes) and that to get a T seat you need to purchase 3 months in advance, stay no longer than 90 days before returning, and agree to pay $150 to change dates. Those are the rules the airline sets for the "T" fare class. (Note these are all just imaginary conditions I'm making up to explain things.)

Now if - today - you're willing to spend, let's say $1200 (plus taxes) the airline will happily sell you a seat in some other fare bucket, say "L," which might carry slightly different (more liberal, probably) rules re advance purchase, or refunds, or frequent flyer mileage allotment, whatever. Or, you can pay, say, $4000 for the seat and purchase it in "Y" - fully refundable, easily upgraded to business. They can all be the same physical seat, but the price of the ticket will be thousands of dollars more or less, depending on the rules associated with that fare. (And some people will willingly pay more for a seat than the lowest price available, because of some aspect of the rules or their requirement for flexibility.) As of today there are 40 separate economy fares for sale on your flights on your dates, with round trip fares ranging from $1235 to $6058, plus taxes. As of today, any seat in coach can be bought for any of these fares.

As conditions change (you get closer to flight date, for example) some fare categories will vanish, because the rules won't allow them to be sold (say it's 2 months pre-flight instead of 3.) So then it will read T0, because no T fares will still be for sale. Or, the airline's computers have said that no more than, say, 20% of the coach seats will be sold in T. Once that number is reached, the T0 means there aren't any left, even though the rules would allow you to buy one if there were. On your return flight (above) notice it's T0. In this case, all the T seats have been bought already, so if you want to fly on that plane, you'll have to pay for a higher bucket, in this case N, the lowest available coach fare for that flight. So if you bought today, your ticket would probably be 1/2 the round trip T fare, and 1/2 the round trip N fare, added together. And as N is drawn down, then the remaining seats for sale will only be sold in higher buckets.

Now what might happen now and then (but very, very rarely) is that the computers will see something in the draw-down of seats that's unexpected, or some competitor will make some bold move, and suddenly seats will be added to some previously sold-out bucket, so the fares will "drop" in terms of what you see on airline or travel agent websites. Or, some very cheap fares will be held off the market until the computers have seen how the flight is doing, then released. It's often the case, for example, that airlines are nervous about fuel prices spiking sometime between the date flights are listed (usually 330 days in advance) and when they're flown. In that case they won't publish the lowest fares right away, so as to hedge against fuel prices going up to the point they're losing money on those seats. So they'd be held back until the airline knows what fuel will cost, and only then put up for sale. The people who thought they were being "early birds" and bought 10 months in advance have paid a premium because of this hedge, but they probably won't know it, and won't ask the airline for anything back. Tough luck.

I hope this isn't too confusing. The people who program the yield management computers are all graduates of Hogwarts, and they're all likely to be followers of You-Know-Who. It's phenomenally confusing, and when you add in connecting flights, or flights on partners, it gets downright mind-blowing.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 04:06 PM
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In my over-the-top spiel, I totally blanked that you need eleven tickets.

What happens is that when you need more tickets than the airline has available in any one fare bucket, they will bump the whole group up into the next fare bucket that does have enough, so everybody pays more. You're much better off to break up your group into smaller collections of 2 or 3 people. Some may get a lower price, others higher, depending on how many seats are available. Then if you want to arrange for people to "average" out the cost by taking the total spend and dividing it by 11, fine. You might also call the airline and ask about a group discount. Usually this is NOT the way to a bargain, but asking is free.

You can only do this on the phone with US, and I'd get on it pronto.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 05:29 PM
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If you want to book more than 9 seats on a flight, you should call the groups department of the airline. You cannot book this number of seats in one transaction online. 9 or more seats is classified as a group. I don't agree that splitting the group into 2 or 3 seats per booking is the way to go. It's risky. Say you book 3 seats and then go back to book the next batch and the flight has filled up in the meantime.
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Feb 24th, 2013, 09:21 PM
  #11
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Wow! It's even more complicated than I thought. Thanks for taking me to school on that, Gardyloo. It sounds like I'd better not wait too long if we really want this flight.

Actually everyone will be buying his/her own tickets. I'm just the one trying to find a good one for us. (I may do the booking for 3-4 of us.)

And Odin, the group thing won't work (I called already to be sure) because only 9 of us are doing the exact same itinerary. Two are returning a week earlier than the rest.

Thanks, all.
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Feb 25th, 2013, 02:11 AM
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Well in that case, it is not a group booking at all. It only works if you are all doing the same itinerary.
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Feb 26th, 2013, 01:19 PM
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>Actually everyone will be buying his/her own tickets.<

Wise choice............I've made the mistake of being responsible for booking 10 tickets. The easy part was getting the members of my group to reimburse me. What REALLY sucked was trying to accommodate every one's requests~one person wanted the cheapest flight available, another wanted the shortest flight time, another insisted she sit with her husband who insisted he had to have a window seat.....

The next time we all travelled together, I booked my daughter's and my flight, gave them the info and let them do it all themselves. Much easier and less stressful for me!
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