What are fare classes and why are they important to frequent flyers?

A comprehensive guide to fare classes for points earn and upgrades

GUIDE: Earning Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 4 minutes
POSTED: March 29, 2019
UPDATED: March 29, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

The fare class you book into will determine how many points and Status Points you’ll earn. With some airline, it will also affect your chances of getting upgraded.

In this guide, I explain why fare classes are important, what the different fare classes are, and where to find them on your ticket.

Why is this important?

Points earn

Firstly, the fare class will determine how many points or miles you will earn on a ticket you’ve purchased with cash. Not all fare classes are created equal.

For example, say you are flying from Auckland to Hong Kong return with Air New Zealand. Depending on the ticket you buy, you’ll earn vastly different amounts of Airpoints Dollars:

Fare classPoints earned
Economy Saver (G, K, L, P, S, T, V, W)12 - 44 APD
Economy Flexi (B, H, M, Q, Y)46 - 72 APD
Premium Economy (A, E, O, U)90 - 137 APD
Business (C, D, J, Z)196 - 263 APD

The best place to decide which frequent flyer programme to credit your flight to is wheretocredit.com.

Status earn

If you are chasing elite status with a frequent flyer programme, then the fare class will also determine how many Status Credits (SCs) or Status Points (SPs) you’ll earn.

Velocity Gold Membership Pack

For the example above, the cheapest fare (Economy Saver) will earn 64-136 SPs for Auckland to Hong Kong return, whereas a more expensive Premium Economy ticket will earn more than double that (200-302 SPs). Buying more expensive tickets will get you to the next elite status tier more quickly.

Upgrade eligibility

With some airlines, the fare class will also determine if you can upgrade your ticket or not—and that’s a really common question we get here at Point Hacks.

Let me be upfront first: the chances of being upgraded without status have never been lower. Apart from usually having to book a more expensive Economy Class ticket, those with elite status will get priority over you.

There also needs to be space in the cabin in front of you—whether that’s Premium Economy, Business or First Class. That is more limited now that more people have access to points. The savviest frequent flyers tend to use their points to book outright premium cabin redemptions—and that’s our advice here at Point Hacks.

However, it is not impossible—as Natasha’s case study shows—so let’s look at an example Qantas flight to LA:

Fare classEligible for upgrade to Premium EconomyEligible for upgrade to BusinessEligible for upgrade to First
Discount EconomyNoNoNo
EconomyYesYesNo
Flexible EconomyYesYesNo

I’ll repeat—you are much more likely to fly in a premium cabin if you use your points from the outset to book an award seat rather than playing the upgrade lottery. If you are looking to fly Business or First Class to North America, here are some tips to increase your chances of snagging an award seat.

For more information, here are our guides on how to upgrade with:

What are the fare class codes?

Each airline differs in how it prices their tickets, but the following table can be used as a general indication:

Fare classMeaning
G, K, L, M, N, O, Q, S, T, U, V, W & X

Discount Economy
B, H, M & YFull-fare Economy
E, P & WDiscount or full-fare Premium Economy
I & ZDiscount Business
C, D & JFull-fare Business
A & FFull-fare First

Frequent flyer speak

Those in the frequent flyer community will often use the following codes as shorthand:

Fare classMeaning
YEconomy
WPremium Economy
JBusiness
FFirst

For example, you may see something like this in a frequent flyer forum:

Found 2 seats in CX J CHC-HKG.

which in real English means:

I found two award seats in Cathay Pacific Business Class from Christchurch to Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

Where can I find the fare class on my ticket?

Before you book

The easiest place to find this information is on the ‘advanced’ version of Google Flights. It’s called ITA Matrix.

In the search results, click on Details on the right-hand side and it will show the fare class in parentheses. In this case, the fare class for the Air New Zealand flight is H, and the Cathay Pacific flight is M— note also that both seats are being sold on the same aircraft:

ITA Example Search

Air New Zealand make it nice and easy to work out your fare class, along with how many Airpoints Dollars and SPs you will earn— simply select a flight, and then click ‘View Details’ at the top of the page. The fare class is in parenthesis after the cabin class name:

Fare Class Air New Zealand

Qantas on the other hand makes it difficult to work out your fare class. In the search results, it will show if it is a Sale, Saver or Flex ticket but won’t reveal the exact fare class code.

Fare Class Qantas

You can see which fare codes are included in each category on the Qantas website.

Though like Air New Zealand, they do make it easy to see how many Qantas Points and SCs you’ll earn. In the case above, it’s 2,600 Qantas Points and 30 SCs.

Virgin Australia doesn’t make it easy either. You’ll need to click not only on a specific flight but also select a fare type, e.g. Getaway, Elevate or Freedom.

Fare Class Velocity

Once you’ve done so, click View Fare Rules in the bottom right-hand corner:

Fare Class Velocity

and the first letter of the Fare Basis is the fare class. In this case, it’s V.

Fare Class Velocity

After you book

Let’s be real—you might not care too much about the fare code at the time of making your booking. However, between then and when you actually take your flight, you may want to make sure you’ll earn the maximum amount of points—and that’s where the fare class comes in.

Inevitably, you should have received an email confirmation of your reservation. Depending on the airline, the fare class is will be in a different place. You’ll usually find it in the flight details box, which could be in the body of the email or in an attached PDF.

For example, I can easily see that on this United flight, I am booked into fare class N:

and on this Iberia flight, I am booked into fare class O:

What happens if you can’t find the fare class code? Contact the airline and give them your six-character booking reference number. You can obviously do so by phoning them. However, you may save time by sending a (private) message to them on social media.

They’ll probably have to verify your identity to make sure they aren’t giving your flight details to a stranger. Just ask them to give you the fare class code for your itinerary and they can do the heavy lifting of finding it for you.

Summing up

Working out fare class codes can be boring work. However, they make a huge difference to how many points and Status Points/Credits you’ll earn. For airlines like Qantas and Virgin Australia, they’ll also determine whether your ticket is upgradable to a higher class.

You have the chance to find out your fare class both before and after booking your ticket. If you are after an upgradable ticket, then make sure that you are selecting the right type of fare before you click book.

Above all, remember to attach your frequent flyer number to your booking so that you can claim the points and status that you are entitled to. Here is our guide to the eight opportunities you have to add your frequent flyer number to your booking.

How have fare classes affected the way you travel? Do you purposely book a more expensive ticket to pick up extra points or increase your chances of getting upgraded?

What are fare classes and why are they important to frequent flyers? was last modified: March 29th, 2019 by Matt Moffitt