Airline Service Classes and Fare Classes – A Brief Explanation

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Airline Service Classes and Fare Classes – A Brief Explanation

Most airlines offer different classes of service like coach (AKA economy), business, and first class. Within those service classes, also known as cabin classes, airlines typically designate different fare classes, also known as booking classes.

Fare classes are used to distinguish between different types of fares (refundable vs. non-refundable, full fare vs. discounted fare, etc.) and also as a factor in determining upgrade or standby priority. In addition, fare classes determine the number of frequent flyer miles earned, both with the airline’s program and with partner programs.

In general, the higher the ticket price, the higher the service class and fare class, and the greater the priority assigned to the passenger in terms of upgrades, standbys, and boarding.


How to Find Your Fare Class

Fare classes are represented with a single-letter code. When purchasing flights online from airline websites, at some point in the booking process you should see a link to the fare rules.  This will be a link that generally appears late in the booking process, after passenger information has been entered and seats have been selected.

In the fare rules, look for the fare basis, a code composed of multiple letter and numbers.  The first letter in the fare basis code is the ticket’s fare class. Different fare classes within the same service class earn different frequent flyer miles and are prioritized differently.

Here’s an example from the Hawaiian Airlines website:

After passenger information has been entered and seats have been selected (or seat selection skipped if just looking for the fare class), scroll to the bottom of the Review and Pay page. Click the bottom link for Fare Rules and Terms & Conditions.


Example of Fare Rules and Terms & Conditions link.

The Flight Information section shows the fare basis code and the fare class. In this example, the fare class is Z for the first three flight segments and O for the fourth and final segment. Note that the fare class code is the first letter of the fare basis code.

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