Same route, same flights, same days, different prices …

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  • Alsacienne

    I am considering booking a long haul return flight at Christmas. The flights are shared between a European legacy carrier and a non-European legacy carrier.

    Same flights, same days, same amenities – class of Y, meals, baggage allowance, charges etc. The total price of booking on the non-European carrier’s website is considerably less than booking on the European carrier’s website.

    What am I missing?

    If there was a delay when travelling, could I claim compensation under the EU261 regulation if:

    1. the flight affected was on the aircraft of the EU legacy carrier or
    2. the flight affected was on the aircraft of the non-EU legacy carrier?

    Why is there such a difference in price for the same flights, days, routing etc depending on which of the code-share airlines I book with? Advice, information and explanations very much appreciated. Many thanks.



    The price difference may be due to the availability of fare buckets, but who knows?

    Re EC261, you are covered if

    – you take an EU carrier from an EU airport or to an EU airport from a non EU airport
    – you take a non-EU carrier from an EU airport (but not to an EU airport, from a non-EU airport)

    If you take either an EU or no-EU carrier from an airport outside the EU to another airport outside the EU, you are not covered.

    Although Switzerland is non EU, it counts as having EU airports, as it signed up for EC261.

    Hope this helps.


    Thank you so much. I’ve learned a great deal from your reply. Much appreciated.


    Not only the price depends on the carrier you book with. It can vary depending on where you are at the time of booking (or where your agency is).
    I can recall that once I was in Singapore and wanted to upgrade a SIN-ZRH flight. I went to the SQ airport desk (it was something like 5 hours before taking off, due to connection) and I got a quite expensive rate. So I called my travel agency in southern Switzerland and I got it for 40% less. Therefore at the very same moment the rates to upgrade the very same ticket were totally different. Wonderful algos’ time we live!


    This can happen for several reasons.

    The one most often quoted, and it is true and valid, is that ‘availability can change’ and it does so constantly as yield management systems kick in to adjust revenue buckets, and of course as seats are sold from and released back into inventory.

    There is a more clandestine reason too which the airlines tend not to shout about, although in fairness the front office people generally won’t know about it.

    There is a process, which is known by various names, for example dynamic/selective availability (I call it discriminatory availability), which allows an airline’s inventory system or a GDS to identify the POI (point of enquiry), sometimes called POS (point of sale) which is not quite the same thing, as an enquiry is not necessarily going to result in a sale.

    The POI can be, and generally is, a country, but it can go down to an individual agency or office level. The yield manager can set up the system, as a type of bid/offer process, in many ways, for example :

    – If I get an enquiry from country X (weak local currency or currency that can’t be repatriated, for example NG, VE, AO, ZW) to sell an N class seat on LHR AMS, my revenue is $15, so I won’t. However, if that seat is sold in conjunction with an AMS JNB, it’s worthwhile, so I will sell it.

    – If I get an enquiry from country Y (strong local currency) to sell an N class seat on LHR AMS, my revenue is $50, so I’ll accept.

    There are many other parameters which need to be taken into account.

    An agent in the country X will therefore in the case of the former see N class closed for sale (or even suppressed completely) whereas the agent in country Y will see a specific number of seats for sale.

    This is only really scratching the surface of the complexity of managing revenues. The fundamental concept is that an airline seat is a highly perishable commodity, which can go from being potentially worth thousands of dollars one hour or one day before departure, to a last minute go-show must-travel passenger, to zero at the moment that the flight is edited and closed out. You can sell yesterday’s, or even last year’s, clothes, motor cars, refrigerators ….. but you can’t sell a seat on a flight that’s closed.

    If you leave too many seats open for last minute sales you lose revenue, and if you never have any for those ‘must travel’ people you’ll get spill and lose those high yield passengers. It’s a very tricky balancing act.

    Willy Walsh reportedly said : “If the general public can understand airline pricing then we’ve got it wrong.”


    What I probably should have added to the above for greater clarity is that each sub-class/revenue bucket is associated to a specific fare.

    In the case quoted by Sanran above, the agent in SG possibly couldn’t sell the (e.g.) Q class seat that would have allowed a cheaper upgrade, and would have had to sell a seat in a higher bucket at a higher fare, whereas the agent in CH could sell the ‘Q’ class and offer a cheaper upgrade.

    It’s a very dark art!

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