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Why it is not possible to book airline tickets more than 12 months in advance? Why there is always 1 year and not 2 years or more? Is there any technical aspect behind this policy?

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    The airlines typically dont load future flights into their sales databases past a certain moving point in the future - there is far far too much risk of change to sell a specific flight on a specific aircraft type the further into the future you go. – Moo Apr 4 '18 at 22:11
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    Suppose it were possible to book 2 years ahead. Then surely you would be here asking "Why it is not possible to book airline tickets more than 24 months in advance?". There has to be some finite limit... – AakashM Apr 5 '18 at 11:18
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    The question was "why there is limit and why 1 year" – N Randhawa Apr 5 '18 at 11:34
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    It's hard to book ANYTHING more than a year or so in advance. There are just too many variables. – Fattie Apr 5 '18 at 18:38
  • If you want to know flights for holiday planning a year in advance, look at the flights which are run the year before. There are likely changes but the general picture will tell you whether your planned travel is likely. (And booking a year out, you can run into changes by the airline.) – Willeke Apr 6 '18 at 16:52
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It's less of a technical constraint and more of a practical one. The servers maintained by airlines could certainly hold another year's worth of flights. The issue is that it doesn't make much sense from a scheduling standpoint.

As it is, airlines are always adjusting capacities on routes. They add and drop frequencies, open and close routes, and change their fleet. Planning all of that out one year in advance takes a tremendous amount of work. Planning out two years is even more work, but for what?

Presumably you're asking because you want to buy airline tickets earlier, but most people don't buy very early at all. Most airline customers buy their tickets within 100 days of the flight. Many buy within 30 days, and a huge percentage of business travelers buy within a week or two. Hence, the airline would put lots of energy into planning a schedule and setting prices an extra year early for very little return. That's simply not the best way to run a business, so they don't do it.

Source: Personal Experience. I work in revenue management for an airline.

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    @Doc as that wouldnt pass basic consumer law in most western countries, I think they might do it differently if they pushed out ticket sales periods... – Moo Apr 5 '18 at 1:14
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    Note that with this system, there is never an ambiguity about which day is intended for a purchase. Buying a ticket for the wrong year in this day of non-refundable tickets would be a problem. – Andrew Lazarus Apr 5 '18 at 7:55
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    In addition to all mentioned above, it would make flight searches extremely slow. – Burhan Khalid Apr 5 '18 at 10:00
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    At the very least, Thomas Cook schedules flight more than a year in advance; or at least, a few years ago, I implemented support for scheduling flights up to 2 years ahead in a part of the Amadeus software stack for Thomas Cook, and thus lifted the technical constraint from 1 year to 2 years. It still remains an exceptional case, though. – Matthieu M. Apr 5 '18 at 10:37
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    @Doc Obviously, any airline selling a ticket for date X would ensure that the ticket was valid on that date. Sorry, but duhhh. There's no intrinsic reason a ticket has to expire one year from the time when it's issued. – David Richerby Apr 5 '18 at 15:07
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Speaking from experience, it has a lot to do with scheduling. I'll pick on Delta for a second. Delta doesn't know what air routes it's going to be traveling more than a year out (they literally won't let you book beyond that). Maybe an analysis showed a route wasn't profitable and they nixed it. Maybe they had to add some new ones and reshuffled the schedule. The problem is you've got a lot of moving parts. Here's a short list of some of the considerations that go into airline schedules:

  • airplanes
  • pilots
  • runway capacity (you're competing with other airlines too)
  • gates
  • local ground crews
  • passenger demand for a route

In reality, schedules shift as demand does. I've booked Delta tickets 5-6 months in advance and, in a lot of cases, I'll get an email closer to my travel that tells me my schedule has changed, sometimes by hours. Most low cost carriers don't let you book more than 6 months in advance. It just comes with the territory.

Incidentally, the cruise industry generally doesn't let you book more than 2 years in advance, and mostly for the same reasons.

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    Yep. And the consequence of a schedule change, even one as short as a few minutes, can be to take connections below the minimum connection time, which means having to give a refund or rebook the passenger on a new itinerary, which often isn't so straightforward if the route isn't operated that frequently. The longer into the future you allow bookings, these situations become more and more common. – Zach Lipton Apr 6 '18 at 3:41
  • The amount of people not showing up and/or cancelling in the meantime for their flight the further away the date is is not a factor? – Mast Apr 8 '18 at 13:08
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Aside from scheduling and related topics, calculating the cost two years in advance is hard. Flight costs are driven heavily by fuel costs. Predicting these in advance is hard.

As is it hard to predict personnel costs, taxes, airport charges (i.e. it's not even clear whether the city of Berlin will have a new airport in two years or not).

The margin per ticket is quite small. British Airways earned €6 per passenger in profits in 2011. With ticket prices in the three digits this is less than 10% margin in a highly competitive market. A small unexpected increase in cost can make this a loss easily.

Also for a passenger it is questionable whether it is an good investment to pay money that early. You lose flexibility in your life planning, can't invest the money elsewhere and are under the risk that the airline goes bankrupt.

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    Airlines could buy future fuel contracts as they do now, just further out, so the fuel costs can be anticipated, but the other factors mentioned by you and others, of course, remain. – Jim MacKenzie Apr 5 '18 at 18:10
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    Considering a relatively small margin it's questionable whether such a long contract is advisable. It's likely to be on the upper range of expected fuel price development, thus immediately makes the ticket expensive. – johannes Apr 5 '18 at 22:43
  • Berlin airport: that's easy - "not". According to WP the scheduled completion date is Autumn 2020 (which is currently more than two years away at the moment), but TÜV have published a report saying it might slip to 2021. If we were in April 2020, it might be an interesting question. – Martin Bonner Apr 6 '18 at 12:25
  • I admit that I didn't check the last announced date, however this is an "endless" story of delays since the opening was canceled less than three weeks before the set date in May 2012 and it shows some factors which make planning over longer time hard. – johannes Apr 6 '18 at 13:01
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Most of the GDS's built by airlines to handle their inventory and loads just do not have a year field in the date, that's why you can only book a ticket +330 days or so into the future. I'd say this is the number one reason, with these distribution systems changing this may do to.

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    I think this is confusing cause and effect. If the airlines wanted to accept bookings more than a year in advance, they wouldn't accept that software limitation. – David Richerby Apr 7 '18 at 0:43
  • check out any of the big gds systems, Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan etc, flight schedules are loaded dd MMM, 07 APR, the same systems power all the large online travel agencies, these have been running since the 60's, i think you're right - this would be changed if they wanted to take bookings beyond that period but the fact remains there is no year designator. – ex travel agent Apr 7 '18 at 1:18
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As well as the difficulty scheduling in advance when you don't know what demand will be like, I imagine another concern would be fluctuation in the price of fuel over a longer period. Airlines try to hedge their fuel costs to allow for this, but obviously the longer the period the more risk - if you're offering prices now for flights in 18 months' time, and fuel costs increase significantly in the meantime, you're facing a major financial hit.

  • On the other hand, you'd also make a lot of money from people committing to an unrefundable flight that far in advance and then -- shock! -- their plans change. It's hard to guess which of these is the bigger factor. – David Richerby Apr 5 '18 at 15:09
  • @DavidRicherby It'd be interesting to see statistics correlating the rate of no-shows with how far in advance the ticket was booked. Seems to make sense intuitively, but I wonder how big that effect is. – Nuclear Wang Apr 5 '18 at 16:58
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    Also, if it was pure economics and cash flow, then presumably they'd be happy to have $2000 of your money for several years, and not be required to pay you interest on it. – Ben Crowell Apr 6 '18 at 2:18
  • I suspect that the overhead of maintaining a system allowing reservations years in advance would swamp the interest on the money from the paltry number of customers who would take advantage of that system. – Lee Mosher Apr 7 '18 at 18:51
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From a technical point of view, one could certainly design a computer system that would let customers book indefinitely far into the future. You could say, flight 1207 flies Monday, Thursday, and Friday of every week, every year, forever.

But is the airline prepared to say that it will fly these same routes on these particular dates and times forever? If the airline lets you buy a ticket for 20 years from now, they would be committing that they will still be offering that flight in 20 years. What if market demands change and they want to reduce the number of flights? Or just reshuffle them some, like make a flight leave a little earlier or later. The airline can't commit to never, ever dropping or changing a flight.

So they have to put some realistic limit on how long they will commit to this schedule. Someone else on here mentioned that "most" customers book within 100 days of the flight. I haven't seen statistics, but the number of people who know they want to make a certain trip more than a year in advance has got to be very small.

  • I think it's a stretch to say the airline is actually committing to anything other than refunds. If you buy tickets sufficiently far in advance, you'll find they sell tickets all the time for flights that wind up having schedule changes, where those changes ranging from "we realized we need to add five minutes to the flight time" to "we no longer fly to that city." Every airline contract of carriage says they can reschedule or cancel flights. There's still plenty of reason why it would be a bad idea to sell flights so far out though. – Zach Lipton Apr 6 '18 at 17:41
  • @ZachLipton Even if it's not a binding legal commitment, it implies to the customer that that flight will really exist when the time comes. It's one thing to say, Due to bad weather or mechanical problems or whatever, we had to cancel this flight. Quite another to say, We just decided it wasn't profitable any more. ... – Mark Daniel Johansen Apr 6 '18 at 19:38
  • ... Just last year I booked a flight maybe 3 weeks in advance and then a week before the flight I got an email saying they were cancelling it, no reason given, and moving my reservation to a flight five hours later. As a customer I found that really annoying, like, what, you didn't have enough passengers so you're just cancelling it? I had plans that you just totally screwed up. I considered that very bad customer service. – Mark Daniel Johansen Apr 6 '18 at 19:40
  • Yeah, and then there's commuter shuttle flights that have been running for years and years and years without change. – Phil Apr 9 '18 at 9:12
  • @Phil I don't doubt that there are flights that have been running for years on the same schedule. The point is that the airlines cannot guarantee that ALL flights will run on the same schedule FOREVER. – Mark Daniel Johansen Apr 9 '18 at 15:40
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Making my comment into an answer, by popular demand.

Note that with this system, there is never an ambiguity about which day is intended for a purchase. Buying a ticket for the wrong year in this era of non-refundable tickets would be a problem.

  • Drive-by downvoter care to comment? – Andrew Lazarus Aug 13 '18 at 16:49

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