On your ticket, you may have noticed a specific letter under the section “booking class.” Well, these letters may not mean much to you when you see them on your ticket, however, there is a variety of them and each means something else. The topic of booking classes itself is something complex, but it is not rocket science.

The most important thing that the booking class will perhaps affect is the topic of earning miles/points for your flight and the loyalty program of that specific airline. These booking classes will often determine how many points you receive for your ticket, including status miles.

This guide will take a look at what booking classes are, the differences of those categories also in comparison to travel classes, as well as how to identify your booking class, what impact it may have for you as a traveler and a few other things around this topic.

What are the differences between booking classes and travel classes?

If you ever hear someone, say at the airport, speaking of either travel classes (flight class) or booking class on a ticket, know that these two things are not the one and the same. When you speak of travel or flight classes you refer to the physical aspect of sitting on the plane. In other words where you sit – economy, premium economy, business or first class. On top of that, the travel/flight class also refers to the types of services you will receive on board the aircraft including those at the airport.

Price categories of booking classes

Now you know that flight classes refer to the division within the cabin classes of an aircraft, physically speaking. Now those classes are again divided into a variety of price categories that only exist virtually. These are not seen anywhere, nor do any other passengers know what class you fly in, nor will you know their classes. Hence, airlines sell tickets not only based on the travel classes you can select when booking (economy, business, and so on), but they then differentiate prices within that travel class by the booking class which ultimately is linked to different carrier conditions.

That is what the strange letter on your ticket is all about.

And logically, (or let’s say typically) – the higher the price of your ticket and the respective travel class, the higher the booking class letter will be as well which means more services such as rebooking or cancellations free of charge. On the other side of that spectrum you logically then have fewer services and less flexibility due to cheaper ticket prices.

Now you know that travel classes are split physically in the aircraft, the booking class differentiates services among those classes, however, perhaps the most important thing to note as a traveler is the higher the booking class, the higher the reward yield.

What are the booking classes?

Now you generically know what this topic is all about, yet what are the booking classes? These are the letters found during the booking process and on your ticket when you fly, regardless of print or virtual. The letters are alphabetical, however, this does not mean that A represents the highest booking class and Z the lowest. Every airline (unfortunately) utilizes the booking class system differently and assigns letters depending on the way their specific system is built. Flying in class G may not be the exact same thing on Lufthansa as it is for Emirates. The only exception to this rule is in terms of the aviation alliances that exist – oneworld, skyteam, etc. The majority of those airline partners in those alliances have a unified booking class system to ensure passengers receive the same services across the board of that alliance.

Either way, it still seems as if airline companies arbitrarily assigned letters to booking classes without real thought. This, however, is not the case.

Basic concepts of booking classes

In order to portray an easier understanding of how booking classes work, let’s look at an example that may help to clarify a few points. Imagine several cups of coffee are on a table in front of you. The coffee is exactly the same in each of those cups. A delicious blend. The coffee itself is the flight class, take business class for example.  The only difference you first notice are the letters on each of the cups. These letters are the booking classes. Depending on the booking classes, there will either be more or less coffee in the cup.

In other words, each booking class has a fixed set of seats available within the flight class. Booking class M may have 2 seats in business, hence the coffee cup is fairly empty, whereas booking class Y may have 8 seats.

Now, each of those classes will be priced differently albeit all being in the same flight class (business in our example). Every cup of coffee varies from 2 Euros to 10 Euros. Let’s say class M is the most expensive, hence only a little coffee, however, it offers the most flexibility. In our coffee example, that would mean that the coffee is thicker, has a handle and is nice to hold. Whereas booking class Y has 8 seats and hence is the cheapest booking class, and in our example would mean that it’s a large coffee cup, but it is thin, has no handle and you may burn your fingers picking it up. In other words no advantages except just having some coffee.

In laymen terms, if you look at the booking classes, the tickets are exactly the same. Every passenger in that flight class will have a seat in business, as per our example, regardless of whether it is the most expensive or the cheapest booking class. The primary difference comes back down to the flexibility and services offered.

Why do booking classes exist?

Just like any industry, the aviation industry fluctuates. It is dependent on business travelers and/or destinations, events, markets and holiday seasons. The primary reason then for having booking classes is to allow airlines the possibility to react flexibly and adjust services and tickets accordingly.

Hence, if a booking class assigned to an aircraft for a specific flight at a specific price is used up, the next higher booking class will automatically be released which mean a slightly higher price and a slightly higher profit margin for the airline, and logically slightly more services for the customer. This way, like an upside down pyramid, the airline can start from the bottom, make sure it sells its primary booking classes first at the cheapest possible price, with the least amount of services and least profit margin, but gradually then knows how to adjust and shuffle seats within the specific flight classes according the needs of the airline.

Booking class roulette

In a simple explanation, let’s say a plane of airline X has 100 economy seats. 50 of those are assigned to the cheapest booking class Y. The first customers that purchase tickets will be assigned that booking class. Reservations come in very slowly and the company feels as if the plane might not fill up. Now in order to reduce expenses, it may up the number of seats available from 50 in class Y to 75, in order to fill more seats at a cheaper price, reducing operational expenses. Hence, airlines can adjust to the market easier and react faster depending on demand.

As we mention above, booking classes are a great indication of how busy a flight is. If you know an airlines booking class system, then you’ll know whether or not you are paying a premium on your ticket price. If for example during the holiday season you plan to buy a cheap ticket, but notice that the cheapest booking class of the airline is not available or visible, well that means that flight is fairly busy and the airline choose to offer higher booking classes, meaning higher prices as there is high demand and they know that seats will be sold easily for that specific flight.

Therefore, each airline reserves the highest flexibility for themselves in regards to planning especially in response to things like major global events, holiday periods, etc. In the end, airlines play a game of roulette with booking classes, because depending on the way they assign the booking classes within the flight classes may mean that seats remain empty and therefore generate 0 revenue, which is worse than no margin at all.

Can I choose the booking class?

Well, after everything you read so far, do you think you can? The answer is, yes and no. You typically have no influence on which booking class you end up in. You see a price online and that is what you book. However, if you book directly on the page of the airline, you’ll often see a certain class split into a variety of options from Basic to premium and the services along with it. The prices also vary accordingly. These are the booking classes.

Also, in the offline world, a good travel agent should be able to book you in your preferred booking class.

Note that booking classes are tied to the services they offer, so don’t be surprised if you find that the cheapest business class ticket is actually cheaper than the highest priced economy tickets. You may think what relevance, but now you know the why’s.

Booking classes and reward points

Reward miles or points are not best collected in the air. It makes more sense to earn miles/points on the ground. This can be done through bonus programs lay payback cards or purchasing points through incentives like newspaper subscriptions, etc.

However where booking classes and reward points play an important role are in regards to the status miles/points you receive. These are almost exclusively collectible when in the air. This is where the booking class plays an important role because it is the booking class of your ticket that determines how many status points you will receive for your flight.

In other words, you may be flying business class, but that doesn’t mean you automatically get 1500 status miles/points because you are in business. You may have the cheapest booking class and hence are only entitled to 500 status miles.

If you are not sure what status points are then head over here as we explain why you need a status aside from collecting miles/reward points with your loyalty program.

What is my booking class?

It is not that hard to find the booking class of your ticket. You can even do so before you book. It also depends on the airline you are booking with. Some airlines make it easier than others to find the booking class link, whereas other websites you may need to dig a bit deeper. Either way and in most instances, once you have selected your flight class (economy, etc.) you’ll often find a link, button or info symbol in regards to displaying the booking classes along with their conditions. It will usually open a new browser window or a popup displaying the booking classes.

Always remember, the booking class is more relevant for flexibility and status miles. Forget collecting award miles.

Head over to the “Where to Credit” website where you can see how many status and award miles you’ll receive for a respective booking class at a given airline within your flight class.

Award flights and booking classes

Booking classes also play an important role when it comes to redeeming your earned award miles/points for free flights or upgrades. These reward flights often have their own booking classes. If you look at the Star Alliance network, award flights have three booking classes:

  • Economy is booking class X
  • Business is booking class I
  • First is booking class O

You often will not find this on websites when booking, because logically airlines do not want to give out this information. They want regular seats to go first and their prices.

It is similar for upgrades. When you upgrade it often depends on which class you are upgrading from. If you have the cheapest class economy ticket, chances are you will not be able to upgrade into business because your booking class is excluded from such an upgrade. Also, some booking classes are tied with restrictions. Say you have economy class B, you may only be able to upgrade to premium economy. Hence, if you plan on upgrading make sure beforehand that you know which class you should purchase your ticket in, in order to then apply for the upgrade to the next booking class and travel class.

In closing

Booking classes is a complex little world of its own, however, now you hopefully know and have a better understanding of what a booking class is and how they differ not only from each other but from the so-called flight/travel class.

On top of that, you now have an understanding of how airlines use these classes and in regards to your own travel, which probably is the most important thing for you, how it may affect your trip especially when it comes to the collection of status miles for your loyalty program.

Either way, this guide was an overview and albeit booking classes not having a unified system and not being fully transparent, you can now go about booking tickets knowing what that little letter stands for and how you could potentially utilize it to your advantage, should you want too.

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