Airfare 101 Wing of airplane in the air

Published on November 3rd, 2014 | by Joel Pennington


Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Booking Flights

From code-sharing to understanding how flight classes work, Travel Expert Joel Pennington share some important things you should know before booking your flight.

“10% of your life is what happens to you, the other 90% is how you react”

So let’s start by looking at the 10% – the factors out of your control when booking a flight, then we can assess how to react. Some of these are probably obvious to most, but they are important to take into consideration when booking your next flight:



This is 40% of an airlines running costs and if you’re on the hunt for flights now I’m sure you’re noticing an inflated market due to fuel prices. Please don’t be under the impression I know and/or understand the fluctuating oil market, (although it seems like we are deliberately kept in the dark on that one).


Seasonal Fluctuations

Obviously it is more expensive to fly to Europe in July/August as it is summer holidays, and the all-inclusive packages are more expensive during Canadian winters when everyone wants a week of sun. Yet something a lot of people don’t think about is their destination. Are you looking at flying into Beijing the week before Chinese New Year? Are you flying into Tel-Aviv on a Jewish holiday? Is the food festival on in New Orleans that week? Is it Ramadan in Istanbul? My advice? Thoroughly research your destination. For a more in-depth look at how seasonlity affects pricing, be sure to check out my other post What You Need to Know about Seasonality Before Booking Your Flight’.


Time of Flight

If you’re prepared to be at the airport at 4am or flying through the night then you’re saving a bit of money. Availability does have an affect but this is not always the prime factor. I once paid £300 for a one way flight from London to Rotterdam which is not a good deal and there was 6 people on the plane, (leaving about 150-200 spare seats). Where was the sale there?

So what can we do after factoring in all these variables? We know our dates, our destination and time we want to fly. We have looked at the factors out of your control, which are important, but now let’s get down to business. Most people think when you book a flight the price depends on how many seats are on the plane. This is not the case; next time you get on a plane have some fun and ask some people around you what they paid for the flight. You could do the whole plane (and be highly awkward) and you will notice that some people have paid the same price but never more than a couple of dozen. What’s that all about?


Booking Class

When you book economy class there are many different classes to choose from but all are going to be the same seat, leg room (and possible snoring neighbour). But the difference between the prices is the restrictions placed on you. So first class is classified F class while Business class is classified C, Z and J class. Economy is pretty much the rest of the alphabet, so there are around 20-22 different prices you could pay in economy, without price fluctuations. In Business class there will be three different prices and in first class just one (these are generally the rules but not for every airline). Confused yet? It gets better.
So let’s say I book V class as it is the cheapest for my flight to Orlando. This ticket was $275 including tax. This ticket is non-refundable and incurs a $200 fee to change it. Now that is pretty restrictive, but let’s say I book L class for $345? Well then my cancellation fee is $100 and it only cost’s me $50 to change my flight.  But is L class any different when I’m actually on the plane? The answer is no.

First thing’s first: an airline will put enough seats in the lowest class and make the ticket non-refundable to cover the cost of the flight. For example, there are 40 seats in V class and they are all non-refundable so therefore the money made from those 40 seats covers the airlines costs, and everything else now is profit so they can have tickets that vary in terms of restrictions and change fee’s (I am trying to simplify this for now, as airlines can make it much more complicated but this is generally how it works).

Something websites have done to get people to book online, is simplify this system to the point of making it near impossible to know what exactly you’re purchasing. You just pick dates, destination and it will display flights starting at the absolute cheapest regardless of restrictions/times you want to fly/airlines/booking class. Every single client that has spoken to me regarding a flight they have found online I have found something else that is far more appealing to them whether it be price or logistics. For example I had a friend email me a flight he was happy with, and said he just thought he would email so I would book it for him to help me out. The flight had two changes in awful airports and left at 6am (leaving Guelph at 3am to get to Toronto). I found him a flight for an extra $25 per person that had one change and left at 11am.

Another problem with websites not displaying booking classes is that if you have searched for a flight with two passengers and there is one seat available in V class for $250 and then the next level up is T class for $325, the website will give you two seats in T class. We as travel agents use a completely different system which displays booking classes so that I can book one in V class and the other in T class and save you $75!

Charter Flights

A charter flight is basically when a company buys every seat on a plane and sells them off. The reasons for doing this are generally to tie the flight to a hotel, resort or event/festival. For example Sunwing in Canada uses charter flights to bundle them with a hotel to offer the public a lower rate. But how does this affect us?

First of all, booking classes are out the window, forget about that. 99.9% of the time all tickets are non-refundable and are non-changeable so you better have cancellation insurance for the unexpected and you better be sure these are the dates and times you wanted. There is no room for error.


Once you book, you are much more vulnerable to the company making a number of decisions, or potentially going broke (charter flights go under much more often than regular airlines as they run on incredibly tight margins). Getting your money back in these situations is tough at best and impossible at worst.

The other aspect to consider is you are open to the airline changing that flight at anytime. Now in saying that any airline reserves the right to do that, but it is much more common among charter airlines as their profit margins are so low they may need to chop and change flights in order to break even or crawl into profit if certain flights are not filling up.

The truth of the matter is, you can snap up a bargain in the mayhem of it all. Personally I only book charter flights if I am completely flexible and don’t mind the airline changing my flight times to a couple of days before or after.

Last Minute Deals

There is a distinct movement from suppliers in pricing to encourage people to book in advance to not only secure a fair price, but to allow the supplier to organize their inventory. This is not to say there are no last minute deals, they are just fewer and further between now. So if you’re looking for a last minute deal, I recommend the following:

1. Do not be fussy– The reason a resort is not filling up is because people were not booking it. Ask yourself why is this so cheap? More often than not, the travel industry is just like anything else-you get what you pay for.

2. Be totally flexible with when you can go- so not “any time the first week of July”, it needs to be “any time” and you need to be consistently checking.

Personally I feel last minute deals are poor value for money. Know where you want to go, when you want to go and book as far in advance as possible. If this doesn’t appeal to you, then I recommend you try it once and check on what you booked later and watch the price go up. Then allow yourself a smug smile for saving yourself some money and watch the suckers scramble and pay $200 more than you did.


One Way Flights

When booking a one-way ticket you may be shocked at the price. Sometimes its fair, sometimes its expensive,  and other times it’s more expensive than a return ticket. The price of a one-way ticket depends completely on your destination.

If you’re flying to a country that requires some sort of documentation for you to get through immigration besides a passport with 6 month validity, then chances are your one-way ticket is going to be very expensive and probably more expensive than a return ticket. To have a full understanding of how this works, be sure to check out our blog about Booking One Way Tickets.


Agent Vs. Internet

cheap-flightI can comfortably say I learnt more in my first week as a travel agent than I did in the 5 years I scanned, searched and scoured the internet looking for the best deal when I backpacked my way around the world.

Yes it is very convenient to book online; you can do it from the comfort of your home and entirely at your own pace. There are even some websites out there that compare prices from different airlines. It will generally show the lowest price first, but this can be a pro and a con as the website has absolutely no idea what you want. My main point here is that a website cannot qualify you at all, it cannot ask you key questions to ascertain what it is you’re really looking for. If you haven’t read my blog about booking flights with an agent vs. the internet, be sure to check it out.


Code Shares

Sometimes when you book a flight you might see that you have purchased a ticket off airline X but it says it is operated by airline Y. Most of you probably know that this means that you will be on airline Y’s plane even though you purchased it from airline X.

How does this work? Well quite simply, one airline has bought seats from another airline in order to connect passengers onwards. For example, an airline with a base in London may find there is a high demand for flights to Hong Kong but they only have flights to Shanghai, so they buy seats from an airline that has flights from Shanghai to Hong Kong and combine these flights which is known in the industry as a code share.

What does this mean for you? Firstly you should be careful when you book because if you want to fly with a certain airline due to service standards, comfort or professionalism then you might be in for a rude shock when it comes time for boarding.

More importantly for some there may be a cost difference involved. You might be paying a higher cost to book the same flight with one airline than you are with another. I can only speculate as to why one airline is charging more for the same flight than another. I assume this is due to one airline trying to recover the cost of purchasing seats from the other airline.

But the bottom line is if you are booking, check what airline you are really on, if it is a code share then check the airline it is operated by. This handy tip has saved my clients quite a few dollars here and there.

flight schedules


So now I hope you have a good insight into how flight pricing works and what you should be looking for to get value out of your booking. This is not to say I have covered every aspect of booking flights. There are still aspects that are out of the agents hands as well that you should consider:

Reconfirm Flights

You should always reconfirm your flight 24 hours in advance to make sure the flight times have not changed and you should keep in mind an airline reserves the right to change your times and routing at any time. This is more common on charter airlines but this is not to say it won’t happen on major airlines as well.

Read the Fine Print

Always read the fine print and know exactly what you are purchasing before you purchase it. Agents appreciate how important this is and this is yet another advantage we have over the internet; I will always go through the fine print with my clients so they know as will most, if not all, agents so they avoid angry clients who feel unfairly treated only because they were misinformed or not informed at all. When you book online it all seems so easy until you need to change something, cancel something or make a special request. I’ll admit it- I never read the fine print when I used to book my personal travel and fortunately I never had a situation where I needed to cancel or alter my booking. On a side note you may just find that travel insurance is well worth it once you read the fine print.

airplane in sky

So now you are on the plane, you have spoken to people around you and are grinning smugly because you got your flight cheaper after reading our blog. You tune into your free onboard entertainment because you researched which airlines have it for free and which airlines charge. Mid-way through your movie a meal is served and you know this airline serves fantastic authentic food because you researched them. After your movie you recline and wrap up in your blanket and doze off…


Wishing you safe and happy travels!

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About the Author

Joel Pennington

After leaving Sydney at the age of 18 to travel, Joel never looked back. He’s lived in the UK for three years, backpacked across 50 countries, and now works as a travel agent here at Flight Centre. To say he’s caught the travel bug would be an understatement. Based out of Waterloo, Ontario Joel has visited over 61 countries to date. His specialties include Round the World travel, Australia & South Pacific. To get in touch with Joel call 1-877-750-6048

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