WSJ: Most Expensive Domestic Routes

Don’t think competition is good for a route?

In the first quarter this year, the most expensive market in the country, per mile, was Boston to Philadelphia, a US Airways-dominated route, where the average fare was a whopping $684. Southwest began serving that route in June.

And now? US Airways’ highest coach fare is $281 round-trip—$400 less than its first-quarter average fare.

The most-expensive average domestic ticket in the first quarter was $786 for round-trip flights between San Francisco and Philadelphia, according to the DOT. That 2,521-mile route is dominated by United and US Airways, who are competitors but also partners in the Star Alliance. Fly to Boston from San Francisco—183 miles farther by air than Philadelphia—and you paid an average $296 less round-trip in the first quarter, according to DOT. The difference: JetBlue Airways has 17% of the San Francisco-Boston market, but none of the San Francisco-Philadelphia market.


When Airlines Should & Shouldn’t Charge For Something

Spirit Airlines Airbus 319-132 N506NK

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a thought, if more than 75% of passengers purchase an ancillary revenue item, it should be included in the ticket price.

If 75% or more of people on a flight buy a meal — meals should be included in the ticket price.

Airlines should have a threshold in lieu of what seems to be a “what can we charge for” and “how much will we get away with” mentality.

Not all ancillary sources are bad. There are the “good” kind of ancillary revenue like day of departure upgrades and premium seating — which airlines need to focus on — and the “bad” kind like baggage fees, food, etc.

Airlines should get creative on “good” ancillary revenue — ie: up selling and cross selling.

In the mean time, ancillary fees are going up up and up!

There are fees yet to be introduced held up purely because the reservation systems the airlines haven’t been able to keep up with the ways airlines intend on charging passengers. The fees we already pay are going up.

JetBlue‘s executive vice president and CFO, Ed Barnes, told analysts earlier this month that the airline has lost some potential ancillary revenue during the past quarter by waiving certain fees in this year’s transition to Sabre.” – Travel Weekly

Why is ancillary revenue growing? It works!

Ancillary revenue is a significant opportunity for Continental,” he said. “And United has done a very good job. There are many issues related to rolling out our ancillary revenue products. There are IT issues, there are global distribution system issues, there are timing issues in terms of where it is in the chain of purchase, whether it’s a prepurchase or day of departure or post-purchase.” According to Travel Weekly,

When Will All This Stop?

Not anytime soon barring an airline charging for something we really won’t stand for (ie: bathrooms, to charge for sitting down on the plane versus standing up..).

Who’s Bucking the Trend?

Southwest Airlines which maintains no baggage fees.

Are Frequent-Flier Deals a Good Deal? –

British Airways destinations

Image via Wikipedia

Thoughts relating to Are Frequent-Flier Deals a Good Deal? –

Pretend your mileage is a product that you have to ‘buy’ (earn or purchase bonus miles) and ‘sell’ (redeem for tickets or upgrades).

Cost Price

Travelers who buy frequent-flier miles pay about 3 cents per mile, but then they typically redeem them for tickets at 1.5 cents each—or even less.

Sale Price

Redeeming miles at the right time (there’s actually a seat on a flight you want) and for the right ticket is what’ll determine if you make a ‘profit’ or not.

United believes savvy road warriors, not just infrequent fliers, are taking advantage of the bonus mileage offers. When redeemed for upgrades or for last-minute tickets, miles can deliver more than 3 cents of value apiece, sometimes up to 10 cents a mile or more.

It turns out buying 140,000 miles for $4,139 and redeeming them for an award ticket (you have to pay a fuel surcharge, too, of up to $600) is cheaper than buying a first-class ticket, which starts at more than $12,000 for a Seattle-London round-trip. You buy miles for 3 cents apiece and redeem them for a ticket worth at least 8.6 cents per mile.

You have to do the math.

It turns out buying 140,000 miles for $4,139 and redeeming them for an award ticket (you have to pay a fuel surcharge, too, of up to $600) is cheaper than buying a first-class ticket, which starts at more than $12,000 for a Seattle-London round-trip. You buy miles for 3 cents apiece and redeem them for a ticket worth at least 8.6 cents per mile.

The math works for business-class tickets, though not as dramatically. For Seattle-London tickets, British Airways tickets start at $5,037. Buying 120,000 miles from Alaska costs $3,548. Even after the fuel surcharge, you’ll save more than $1,000.

Alaska offers bonus miles a different way as well: The airline gives customers the chance to pay extra when buying a ticket to add 1,000, 2,500 or 5,000 “Fly and Buy” miles to the mileage earned. Paying for an extra 5,000 miles costs $117 tax included, or 2.3 cents per mile. That’s a discount to outright mileage purchases—buying 5,000 miles separately from a ticket on Alaska costs $148 tax included.

When to Redeem

There’s not magical solution — it’s all very hit or miss.

  • Redeem for Upgrades. On the whole, upgrades have been quite ‘profitable’ for me. Especially from economy plus to business class — British Airways specifically which is nice since I have a credit card that earns BA points.
  • It helps to have  ‘elite status’ or find seats at the last minute.
  • Plan in Advance. I hate telling people that but it’s true.
  • Look for Last Minute Seats
  • Unless it’s an emergency, I shy away from redeeming “anytime” awards.

Find a great deal? Share your story.

What the Google Travel Platform Could Look Like


Image by ryantxr via Flickr

I see Google coming out with its own travel platform based on my  ‘connecting the dots’ between Google’s existing product line and previous travel acquisitions. It certainly has all the pieces to.

The exponential growth in possibilities given this list allows for multiple revenue opportunities makes it a compelling reason why Google would and at the very least could come out with it’s own travel platform.

I see the ITA Platform being the parent travel architecture — the Mother Ship — which it’ll use to plug existing and future travel products/services into. Throw a few acquisitions in there to balance out the platform offering.

  • Airfare Pricing — The billions of combinations of fares, schedules and availability available through the ITA QPX product.
  • Mobile Booking Engine or Mobile Travel Platform through the OnTheFly product ITA currently has.
  • Travel Content — through Ruba (there are better content companies to buy but that’s for another blog post!). Coupled with YouTube travel videos.
  • Visual Travel — add ITA Software to Google Earth and the notion of visual travel that many travel startups are attempting. Where a traveler can “see” their destination in 3D as part of researching a trip. How nice would that be – if their Visual Travel Offering is really good, maybe I won’t need to go on vacation at all. Just zooming in and “walking around” will be good enough.
  • Visual Travel Lite — add ITA Software to Google Maps for what I’ll describe as visual travel lite. Ability to pick multiple points on a Google Map and automatically get pricing. Where it’s a 2D experience akin to what Kayak Explore does (which I love by the way – we need that but with the right inventory so I don’t have to search another site but Kayak!).
  • Google Checkout Travel Merchant Services — Google Checkout, with changes in feature and policy, could easily offer a Travel Merchant Account Product. Anybody that sells travel knows how much of a problem taking credit cards is.
  • Google Social Travel play through the integration of ITA Software/Engine and the launch of (potential) Googles Kayak Killer coupled with its upcoming Facebook Killer. I agree that’s a lot of ‘theory’ but the stage is being set – whether they do it or not is a different story. A true social travel play could be in the making and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a number of social travel startups doing some very exciting things in this space. Google if you want to acquire any of them, please be in touch.
  • Predictive Travel. Take Google Insights for Search (for travel keywords for example) coupled with the QPX pricing engine coupled with the “predictive” algorithms in Google Trends and you could have a pretty interesting “travel suggestion engine” play going. End goal? For Google to tell me where I should go on vacation without having to think about it. 1 less thing I need to do.
  • The Door to Door Travel Company Play – take a number of “lesser” services like Google City Tours, Google Transit and add it to the ITA Software (and others on the page) along the lines of what Zoombu and other “door to door journey” sites want to do. Particularly as a differentiator within the (potential) Google Kayak Killer.
  • Location Based Travel — the opportunities within location based travel is just getting started. Google Places + Google Latitude + others on this list will make for a compelling advertising platform for Google. Check in to a place and you’ll get a coupon. Search for directions, GPS identifies your location, Google Places for local businesses with Google AdSense serving up advertisements/coupons.
  • YouTube Travel Videos and User Generated Travel Content.
  • Customer Service — Post purchase assistance with ticket changes and refunds and by addressing other “post purchase’ pain points based on the ITA Software ReShop product. Then integrating these services via an API.

Only the powers that be within Google truly know — I’m just thinking out loud here.

Agree? Disagree?


Gaps in inventory at Travel Aggregators (Travel Metasearch Engines)

This blog post should be read from the perspective of helping travelers make smarter decisions while addressing the gaps I see in existing travel aggregation sites like Kayak & Mobissimo.

This post is not intended to be a hit piece. I strongly advocate you using travel aggregators but I just want you to know what you’re getting.

As always, companies improve, features get added and inventory gaps are filled and that’s in the best interest of the traveler and aggregator.


An effective travel aggregator needs to search all airlines & travel agencies for a particular destination to yield the greatest benefit for the traveler. Sounds simple enough but the % of total inventory really drops if you’re searching flights originating outside of the United States and until recently for domestic routes. And the % drops further when you exclude the full breadth of consolidator fares that I’ll get to this later in this post.

If I’m doing an air search from Los Angeles to Boston then I am best served and the travel aggregator is most effective when I get 100% of the airlines that cover that route.  Emphasis on the word best. There is value in the current results but I’m looking beyond that. I want the best results not just pretty good results. For example, Southwest Airlines hasn’t been integrated into Kayak (as of the time I’m writing this blog post) so anybody searching Los Angeles Boston as of this very moment is by definition not being offered every option in the search results.

100% of the inventory for a route is a requirement for the traveler to get the best deal in the shortest amount of time. Which is the ultimate point of a travel aggregator. Capturing all the inventory for a given route is a monumental task so in the meantime consumers need to factor this inventory gap when searching fares.

What I don’t want to see is improvements on a lot of other things and this issue gets sidelined and misclassified as a a ‘nice to have’ when it’s absolutely a ‘need to have’. I’m realistic in suggesting travel aggregators start integrating no frills carriers for high volume  routes since they can pull a report with popular city pairs and cross reference the list to routes flown by low cost carriers.

In fairness, I do like that Southwest Airlines is listed in the left hand side when I searched Los Angeles Boston so I am tipped off but other city pair searches are not as generous.

It could be a lack of integration, a lack of intention on the part of the airline and/or aggregator, maybe they didn’t get around to it. Maybe an airline was in the search results and was taken off for business reasons. I don’t claim to know why but that’s not the point.

I do know the results – at this point in time for this particular route – are not comprehensive and consumers need to know this. Savvy travelers know these inventory gaps exist but not everybody. ‘Everybody’ is exactly who travel aggregators are increasingly marketing themselves to.

In the previous example the traveler could directly search the Southwest website but this assumes they they know Southwest services that route. That’s a big if. Los Angeles Boston somebody may know but who knows the routes for lesser known city pairs. The whole point is to go to one place and search everything and move on with life.

I don’t mean to pick on Kayak, this scenario could just as well apply to another aggregator. A comprehensive search is the ultimate goal for any travel aggregator because that’s what is best for the traveler.

And what about large, reputable low-cost carriers in Europe or Asia? If the low cost airline everybody and their brother in Hong Kong or Dubai knows about is not in the searched site list then (a) I am possibly not getting the best deal and (b) the aggregator risks brand dilution when I come to find out Airline XYZ was left out.

Conversely if the travel aggregator knows they have 100% of the airlines between LAX and BOS in the search results then please tell me. Consumers would love that and it’s a great competitive edge.


If the idea is to offer consumers the lowest airfare (for example) to a destination then more consolidator fares have to be to added to the results. Consolidator fares – bulk fares you can purchase that come with a lot of restrictions for a lower price than the airline direct rate – are included in the search results to some degree with and Orbitz but I would like to see more tier 2 online travel agencies added to the mix.

Are you telling me there isn’t a $25M hybrid travel agency/consolidator specializing in consolidator fares to India that can’t be added to the mix every time I search Los Angeles Delhi? Of course there is. Why? Solely to drive down the cost for the end traveler.

I realize integrating consolidator fares is more complicated than airline direct rates but these are obstacles aggregators can overcome. I realize airlines are not going to be jumping up and down as they watch their wholesale channel competing side by side with their retail channel but something has to be worked out. I’m aware that some aggregators are offering private inventory (which just as well could be consolidator fares) so steps are being taken.

My point is, allow a few big tier 2 sites into the results or integrate them for select international destinations and leave them out where they don’t have a strong footprint like domestic fares within the USA. Consolidator fares do save consumers money and this product type needs to be included.


As a traveler, you need to understand these inventory gaps and explore alternatives in the meantime.

Peace of mind. That’s a key pain point everybody booking a ticket faces. Am I getting the best deal. How do I eliminate or reduce that little voice questioning what else is out there? I would book this if I was just more confident that I’m searching everything that applies to my trip.

  • Search consolidator fare sites or ask your travel agency if they have them.
  • Search no frills airlines like FlyDubai and AirAsia.
  • Pay attention to airlines that are added to the mix with your favorite travel aggregator.
  • Use Google, Twitter or Facebook to request what no frills airlines service a city .
  • I would advocate searching more than one travel aggregator.

By all means use travel aggregators. They save you time and money. I use them. Just realize travel aggregators act as one tool and not the only tool in your travel toolbox.

All the best and happy travels.

Sounds simple enough but isn’t always the case. And the % really drops if you’re searching outside of the United States.

Emerging Travel Destinations – tell me before the rest of the world.

Travel Destinations List (for travel agencies and travellers)

As a travel agent/agency, you want to build destination expertise before these destinations get on the radar to the mass public.

For two reasons, (a) to address early adopters (travellers looking to go off the beaten path) and (b) so you can pounce on the opportunity when these destinations do go mainstream (or at the very least increase their visibility).

– Vietnam

– Iceland

– Greenland in the Summer

– Argentina

– Colombia

– Qatar

– India (it’s getting quite mainstream but there is much more traction here)

– Fiji. I’d like to add Fiji to the list not because it’s new but because people things its ‘too exotic’ and ‘too far’ a place to consider. It’s not. 10+ hours flight from Los Angeles, family friendly, very affordable, very safe, very friendly people, very inviting culture, direct flights from Los Angeles, easy transportation and most importantly the white sand beaches you see on travel magazines. You’ll have unlimited bragging rights when you get back 😉 It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Fiji and in many ways I never left.


What should you do with this list if you’re a travel agency?

– Visit the locations if possible. Nothing beats going. Are there agent FAM rates available? Many of these locations are cheaper in general since they’re not as high traffic (yet!)

– Attend virtual or actual destination events for the cities.

– Find suppliers who are experts in these destinations and add that to the product mix

– Get feedback from any early adopter clients you have and tap their brains on their experiences. 

If this list is of value or have additional suggestions, follow me on Twitter ( where I post musings on the travel industry, business and a little economics.


Posted via web from travelalchemist’s musings, rants, reviews and reflections

How to Accrue Miles and Upgrade Consolidator Fares.

(this explanation accompanies an earlier article on consolidator airfare)

How do I check if my consolidator fare allows mileage? Ask if the consolidator fare allows mileage accrual or read the rules if purchasing online. If the rules allows mileage accrual (it’ll say FFP allowed or FF allowed), then you have cleared the first hurdle: whether the consolidator fare allows mileage accrual. You now have to see if the mileage program you belong to will accept these points.

What do I do next? When buying a ticket online or by telephone, ask for the class of service for your itinerary. Take the class of service and match it to the list of classes of service provided by your mileage program to see if you accrue points. 

The class of service will be a letter (like Q or M or N or L..) that your travel agent can give you when making a purchase or you can read the rules for a fare under the field ‘class of service’ if purchasing on a website.

Using the FareBasis field to find the Class of Service: if the rules for a fare do not explicitly list a class of service, it may list a field called the FareBasis. The class of service is the first letter in the farebasis. If the farebasis is HX1234 then the class of service is H. When checking the farebasis, please be sure you are looking at the farebasis and not any other field. The farebasis is different from your confirmation code and it’s easy to get mixed up. The farebasis is not always listed and if this is the case, do not substitute any other field with the farebasis.If you don’t know or can’t find the class of service, put an itinerary on hold and ask what the class of service is.

I have the class of service, now what: once you get the class of service for the fare you need to see if the airline allows you to accrue miles for that class of service.

You can find out by calling the airline mileage department or checking the online frequent flyer documentation for the mileage program receiving the credit. The key is knowing the class of service.

Just because the consolidator fare allows accrual does not mean the airline mileage program allows accrual. You are dealing with 2 different parties to the reservation.

Call or Visit the airlines frequent flyer program guide to find a list of classes of service. This is usually under the ‘How to Earn Miles’ section. Remember the consolidator fare has to allow mileage accrual AND the mileage program that you belong to has to allow mileage accrual.

Let me give you an example: from American Airlines.

Eligible American Airlines/American Eagle Fare Classes*

Class of Service

Purchased Fares
Booked In:

Mileage Accrual Percentage

First Class

A, F, P

100% + 50% bonus

Business Class

D, I, J

100% + 25% bonus

Full Fare Economy Class

Y, B


Discount Economy Class

H, K, M, L, W, V


Deep Discount Economy Class

G, Q, N, O**, S



American Airlines reserves the right to change the eligible fare classes at any time without notice.


Tickets between North America and Latin America booked in O are not eligible for mileage credit.


Note the class of service in the middle column and the mileage % on the right column.

Let’s say you are flying on Q class from Los Angeles to London and the travel agent confirms the consolidator fare does allow you to accrue mileage. Hurdle 1 of 2 complete.

You then look on the American Airlines AAdvantage Guide (or whatever mileage program is receiving the credit) to see what miles you can accrue on Q class. In looking at the above table, you will see 100% mileage for Q class which means for every mile you fly, you will earn 1 point per mile. Hurdle 2 of 2 is complete. Some airlines offer 50% mileage for deep discount tickets where every mile accrues 1/2 a point.

Every mileage program will have a similar list for every airline they allow credits from. If you fly Virgin Atlantic and wanted United Mileage credit, check the United Mileage website under ‘Earn Miles’. If you want to fly Singapore Airlines and credit your Thai Airways mileage account, check the Thair Airways mileage program details. The mileage program that is getting the credit is where you have to look. The airline giving the credit is not as important.

What if I want to earn status points with consolidator fares? For travelers looking to earn status, you will also want to find out from your mileage program whether you earn ‘elite points’ or ‘status points’. Follow the steps I’ve listed above. Some consolidator fares accrue mileage points and status points, some earn points but do not earn elite points. Each airline and frequent flyer program and each consolidator fare is different for every class of service so there is no one size fits all answer – please read the frequent flyer guide or ask a representative from your airline mileage program for details.

What if your itinerary does not accrue points but you’d like to have it? If your itinerary does not accrue points, ask the airline mileage department what classes of service do qualify for accruing elite points and give that list of fare classes to your travel agent. Sometimes you can pay a little more for a consolidator fare and accrue points, sometimes the fare jumps significantly in price. For example you call American Airlines and find out that N class on Cathay Pacific does not accrue points but if you book H, B or Y class you will accrue points. Tell this to your travel agent and request booking in book H, Y or B class. If you’re buying online, match the class of service from the airline mileage program to the class of service you’re buying.

Tip: It’s always a good idea to check yourself by matching the agent information to the airline mileage program. It’s frankly hard to keep up the myriad of mileage programs, various airlines joining and leaving alliances and increasing changes in mileage programs. Some agents may incorrectly even assume because the consolidator fare allows mileage that you’ll automatically earn elite points or mileage accrual. There are too many possible airlines corresponding to too many mileage programs to know. It’s best to check. You may purchase a X class fare only to find out the consolidator fare allows mileage but the airline mileage program does not.

Matching the class of service to the airline mileage program class of service also highlights odd limitations in mileage programs. For example American Airlines does not accrue mileage on British Airways flights even though they are part of the same alliance regardless of the class of service. You can fly first class on British Airways and accrue nothing to your American Airlines mileage acccount. You may be flying Los Angeles to London on British Airways thinking the consolidator fare allows mileage only to find out the airline does not allow mileage accrual.

The key is (a) does the consolidator fare allow mileage and (b) does the airline frequent flyer program allow mileage. Both have to say ‘yes’ for you to accrue miles. And if you’re worried about ‘status’ or keeping your ‘elite status’ you have the further concern of whether points qualify for ‘elite’ status or not. 

This is not difficult but you have to know what you’re doing and I hope this article tells you what to do.

Changing Alliance Partners: I’ve seen a number of airlines join and leave alliances. Alliances are collections of airlines that allow you to fly on one airline and accrue miles on another along with a number of other benefits.You may fly Virgin Atlantic and accrue miles on United Airlines for example because they are part of the Star Alliance. Airlines are going in and out of alliances so be sure to check. Japan Airlines for example left one alliance and joined another so if your flight occured during that time, you need to make sure you get the proper credit.


Can I upgrade a consolidator fare? If you are planning on upgrading a consolidator fare, ask the travel agent if this is allowed or read the rules to see if the consolidator fare allows upgrade. The same rules that govern change fees, cancellation fees, advance purchase are the same rules which spell out whether you can upgrade or not. Like mileage accrual, the consolidator fare has to allow the fare to be upgraded and the airline mileage department has to process the upgrade. Even if both say yes, you have the added step of checking with the airline mileage program to see if there are upgradeable seats for the date and route you are flying.

Only the airline mileage program knows which seats are upgradeable and which are not so with some quick thinking and knowing how the process works, you should be fine.

Suggestions on upgrading a consolidator fare: upgrading a consolidator ticket is a balancing act between the travel agent and the airline with you in the middle. The agency has the low fare which the airline cannot provide you yet only the mileage (frequent flyer) department of the airline can process the upgrade.

The travel agency cannot process your upgrade, they can only help with the underlying economy ticket.

The upgrade is handled by calling the mileage program for the airline you have points with. Call and tell them you have a consolidator ticket you want to upgrade into business class. Some full service travel agencies will call the airline for you (and essentially pretend to be you) and get you upgraded using your miles.

One of 3 scenarios will happen:

Scenario 1: Some airlines allow you to upgrade an itinerary that’s on hold without it being ticketed. This is the best case scenario. Have your travel agent put the itinerary on hold. Call the frequent flyer department for the airline, tell them you have a reservation you want upgraded, they process the upgrade. You then call the travel agent back and pay for the underlying economy ticket and the airline automatically processes the upgrade.

Scenario 2: Most of the time, the airline will only upgrade you with a ticketed itinerary. The good news is, most airline frequent flyer departments will tell you what seats and dates have upgradeable seats. So American Airlines AAdvantage will say Flight 192 from ORD to DEL on March 1st has upgradeable seats into business class and flight 193 from DEL to ORD on March 10th has upgradeable seats. Note the exact flight numbers, dates and times and give this to your travel agent right away.

Buy the exact flights the mileage department specified from your travel agent or consolidator.

After ticketing (which should be done as soon as possible), immediately call the airline back and request an upgrade. See if the travel agent or consolidator can ticket your itinerary faster because you are trying to get upgraded. There is no guarantee that you’ll get upgraded since you’re hoping upgradeable seats do not fill up while your reservation is being ticketed. Said another way, you hope the window of opportunity to upgrade is not lost in between the time it took to ticket your reservation and the time it takes to call the mileage program to request an upgrade.

Upgradeable seats are dynamic and change without notice. Much like discount seats in general. Just because there are upgradeable seats now does not mean there are upgradeable seats 5 minutes from now.

Get the information you need from the airline and have your travel agency ticket your itinerary right away. Immediately call the airline mileage program back. There is a very high probability you’ll be upgraded but there is no guarantee. The greater the time from ticketing to processing the upgrade, the higher the chance the upgrade will fail. Every minute counts in Scenario 2. It’s a race.

Scenario 3: the consolidator fare allows upgrades but there are no upgradeable seats. Airlines set aside a small number of seats for upgrades and unfortunately for the date and routing you have, there are no seats. If this happens, ask the mileage department for dates and times for flights with upgradeable seats and see if your travel agent or consolidator has fares. You can also take your chance by seeing if upgradeable seats open up as the flight gets closer to departure. This is not likely but you never know.

Only the airline mileage program can confirm an upgrade using miles or upgrade certificates.

Last but not least, some consolidator fares specifically state ‘this fare cannot be upgraded’ in which case regardless of whether the airline frequent flyer department has upgradeable seats or not, you cannot upgrade that reservation.

Once you’ve done one upgrade, the concept applies to future ones.


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Posted via web from travelalchemist’s musings, rants, reviews and reflections