3

Are airlines constantly modifying/removing and/or adding fares for city pairs as part of their revenue management strategy, or they only modify the availability for different fare buckets in order to change prices?

If they only modify availability, are minimum and maximum fares a good indicator of how much a fare can fluctuate?

  • 1
    5.43297 times per second on average – Lemuel Gulliver Oct 27 '16 at 23:36
12

tl;dr: Fares are typically adjusted on major routes every few days to every few weeks.


I assume you already know a little about how airline price calculation works, but if you do not, you may want to take a look at an admittedly rather lengthy answer I wrote describing the interplay between fares and availability.


Published fares can only be amended about once per hour.

Airline fare tariffs are distributed by two companies, ATPCO (the Airline Tariff Publishing Company) and SITA. ATPCO is by far the more important company by volume, and is owned by a conglomeration of airlines. Every network airline has to file its fare tariff on each city pair with at least one of these companies. ATPCO and SITA, in turn, distribute the fare tariffs to GDSes, global distribution systems, which pass on the information to travel agents and other airlines.

ATPCO distributes fare tariffs once per hour, every hour, except on Sundays when it updates only a few times per day. It often takes many hours for an unexpected fare change to make its way through the many layers of cacheing down to a website front end, which is why error fares, pulled abruptly by revenue management, are difficult for airlines to make unavailable immediately, and remain as ghost fares on some websites long after they cease to be ticketable.


The most popular fares are modified perhaps weekly, or less often.

As a random example, BA's cheapest fare on London-San Francisco was last modified ten days ago (see the bottom line of the fare summary for the publication date):

    V FARE BASIS     BK    FARE   TRAVEL-TICKET AP  MINMAX  RTG
  1   OJN5S4Z1       OR   300.00     ----     50/3 SU/12M AT01
PASSENGER TYPE-ADT                 AUTO PRICE-YES              
FROM-LON TO-SFO    CXR-BA    TVL-28OCT16  RULE-J678 IPRA/1
FARE BASIS-OJN5S4Z1          SPECIAL FARE  DIS-E   VENDOR-ATP
FARE TYPE-XPX      RT-INSTANT PURCHASE FARE
GBP   246.00   MPM  E19OCT16 D-INFINITY   FC-OJN5S4Z1  FN-6I   
SYSTEM DATES - CREATED 18OCT16/1218  EXPIRES INFINITY

In fact, inspection of the historical tariff on the 17th October, shows that this particular fare didn't exist on that day.

But Qantas's lowest public return fare on Hong Kong-Sydney hasn't been touched since April.

    V FARE BASIS     BK    FARE   TRAVEL-TICKET AP  MINMAX  RTG
  1   SSHK3          S R   767.00     ----      -/  -/ 3M EH01
PASSENGER TYPE-ADT                 AUTO PRICE-YES              
FROM-HKG TO-SYD    CXR-QF    TVL-28OCT16  RULE-7180 IPRPG/8
FARE BASIS-SSHK3             SPECIAL FARE  DIS-E   VENDOR-ATP
FARE TYPE-XEX      RT-REGULAR EXCURSION
HKD     5950  7180  E04APR16 D-INFINITY   FC-SSHK3  FN-     
SYSTEM DATES - CREATED 03APR16/2114  EXPIRES INFINITY

[Note, that this doesn't necessarily represent the lowest fare Qantas has offered on the city pair since April. It may have filed a lower fare that has since expired. But this fare was available at this price, even if it was hidden by a lower-priced fare in the same bucket.]

Air France has consistently offered the same business class fare, ZLSFR, on Paris-Johannasburg, for nearly a year.

    V FARE BASIS     BK    FARE   TRAVEL-TICKET AP  MINMAX  RTG
  1   ZLSFR          Z R  3312.00     ----     28    7/12M EH01
PASSENGER TYPE-ADT                 AUTO PRICE-YES              
FROM-PAR TO-JNB    CXR-AF    TVL-28OCT16  RULE-FRLS IPREUAF/23
FARE BASIS-ZLSFR             SPECIAL FARE  DIS-E   VENDOR-ATP
FARE TYPE-BAP      RT-BUSINESS CLASS ADVANCE PURCHASE
EUR  3044.00  0023  E25NOV15 D-INFINITY   FC-ZLSFR  FN-     
SYSTEM DATES - CREATED 24NOV15/0221  EXPIRES INFINITY

However, AA tweaked its ONE7F0G1 fare on Amsterdam-São Paulo only a couple of days ago.

    V FARE BASIS     BK    FARE   TRAVEL-TICKET AP  MINMAX  RTG
  1   ONE7F0G1       O R   299.00 R31MR  T01NV  7/3 SU/ 30 AT01
PASSENGER TYPE-ADT                 AUTO PRICE-YES              
FROM-AMS TO-SAO    CXR-AA    TVL-28OCT16  RULE-A099 IPRSAA2/27
FARE BASIS-ONE7F0G1          SPECIAL FARE  DIS-E   VENDOR-ATP
FARE TYPE-XPN      RT-INSTANT PURCHASE NONREFUNDABLE-TYPE FARES
EUR   275.00   MPM  E27OCT16 D31MAR17   FC-ONE7F0G1  FN-R   
SYSTEM DATES - CREATED 26OCT16/1119  EXPIRES INFINITY

You can see that in general, changing the tariff is not a good way to make immediate changes, but the tariff is nonetheless kept under constant watch.

Minute-by-minute price changes are implemented by changing the availability on each flight.

This system does not lend itself to rapid price alterations. Instead day-to-day or minute-by-minute price alterations are managed by publishing numerous fares in advance and controlling availability by restricting the booking classes on individual flights. The availability can indeed be changed in real time.


If they only modify availability, are minimum and maximum fares a good indicator of how much a fare can fluctuate?

The most complete indicator is direct inspection of the tariff. However, it doesn't really tell you that much, because the airlines deliberately leave the options on the table. For example, I give the tariff between Edinburgh and Cairns, as published by BA.

Fare Basis  Airline  Booking  Trip Type   Fare           Cabin  Effective  Expiration  Min/Max  Advanced
                     Class                                      Date       Date        Stay     Purchase Req
OLRC1UK     BA       O        Round-Trip  202.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/16   08/12/16    SU / 12M 07
                                                                07/02/17   29/03/17
OKRC1UK     BA       O        Round-Trip  222.00 (GBP)   E      08/04/17   30/06/17    SU / 12M 07
QLRC1UK     BA       Q        Round-Trip  242.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/16   08/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                07/02/17   29/03/17
QKRC1UK     BA       Q        Round-Trip  262.00 (GBP)   E      08/04/17   30/06/17    SU / 12M 
OLRC1UK     BA       O        Round-Trip  317.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/16   08/12/16    SU / 12M 07
                                                                07/02/17   29/03/17
OKRC1UK     BA       O        Round-Trip  337.00 (GBP)   E      08/04/17   30/06/17    SU / 12M 07
OJRC1UK     BA       O        Round-Trip  352.00 (GBP)   E      04/10/16   31/10/16    SU / 12M 07
                                                                01/01/17   06/02/17
QLRC1UK     BA       Q        Round-Trip  357.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/16   08/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                07/02/17   29/03/17
QKRC1UK     BA       Q        Round-Trip  377.00 (GBP)   E      08/04/17   30/06/17    SU / 12M 
QJRC1UK     BA       Q        Round-Trip  392.00 (GBP)   E      04/10/16   31/10/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                01/01/17   06/02/17
SLBBGB      BA       S        Round-Trip  440.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
OJRC1UK     BA       O        Round-Trip  467.00 (GBP)   E      04/10/16   31/10/16    SU / 12M 07
                                                                01/01/17   06/02/17
QJRC1UK     BA       Q        Round-Trip  507.00 (GBP)   E      04/10/16   31/10/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                01/01/17   06/02/17
MLBBGB      BA       M        Round-Trip  550.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
SLBBGB      BA       S        Round-Trip  555.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
MLBBGB      BA       M        Round-Trip  665.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
KLBBGB      BA       K        Round-Trip  670.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
SJBBGB      BA       S        Round-Trip  710.00 (GBP)   E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
KLBBGB      BA       K        Round-Trip  785.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
HLBBGB      BA       H        Round-Trip  800.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
SJBBGB      BA       S        Round-Trip  825.00 (GBP)   E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
MJBBGB      BA       M        Round-Trip  830.00 (GBP)   E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
HLBBGB      BA       H        Round-Trip  915.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
SHBBGB      BA       S        Round-Trip  920.00 (GBP)   E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
MJBBGB      BA       M        Round-Trip  945.00 (GBP)   E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
BLBBGB      BA       B        Round-Trip  970.00 (GBP)   E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
KJBBGB      BA       K        Round-Trip  1010.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
SHBBGB      BA       S        Round-Trip  1035.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
MHBBGB      BA       M        Round-Trip  1060.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
BLBBGB      BA       B        Round-Trip  1085.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
KJBBGB      BA       K        Round-Trip  1125.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
MHBBGB      BA       M        Round-Trip  1175.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
HJBBGB      BA       H        Round-Trip  1210.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
KHBBGB      BA       K        Round-Trip  1250.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
TLAP1UK     BA       T        Round-Trip  1260.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/16   08/12/16    SU / 12M 07
                                                                01/01/17   29/03/17
                                                                26/04/17   30/06/17
HJBBGB      BA       H        Round-Trip  1325.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
TJAP1UK     BA       T        Round-Trip  1346.00 (GBP)  E      11/08/16   31/10/16    SU / 12M 07
KHBBGB      BA       K        Round-Trip  1365.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
TLAP1UK     BA       T        Round-Trip  1375.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/16   08/12/16    SU / 12M 07
                                                                01/01/17   29/03/17
                                                                26/04/17   30/06/17
BJBBGB      BA       B        Round-Trip  1450.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
HHBBGB      BA       H        Round-Trip  1450.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
TJAP1UK     BA       T        Round-Trip  1461.00 (GBP)  E      11/08/16   31/10/16    SU / 12M 07
TLBBGB      BA       T        Round-Trip  1544.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / --  07
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
BJBBGB      BA       B        Round-Trip  1565.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
HHBBGB      BA       H        Round-Trip  1565.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
TLBBGB      BA       T        Round-Trip  1659.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / --  07
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
BHBBGB      BA       B        Round-Trip  1690.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
BHBBGB      BA       B        Round-Trip  1805.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / 12M 
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
ELBBGB      BA       E        Round-Trip  1844.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / --  07
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
TJBBGB      BA       T        Round-Trip  1934.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
ELBBGB      BA       E        Round-Trip  1959.00 (GBP)  E      01/11/15   30/11/16    SU / --  07
                                                                09/04/17   29/06/17
TJBBGB      BA       T        Round-Trip  2049.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
EJBBGB      BA       E        Round-Trip  2234.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
THBBGB      BA       T        Round-Trip  2280.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
Y2BA        BA       Y        Round-Trip  2344.00 (GBP)  E                             -- / 12M 
EJBBGB      BA       E        Round-Trip  2349.00 (GBP)  E      01/12/15   07/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                30/12/15   08/04/17
                                                                11/08/16   31/10/16
                                                                30/06/17   15/07/17
THBBGB      BA       T        Round-Trip  2395.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
Y2BA        BA       Y        Round-Trip  2459.00 (GBP)  E                             -- / 12M 
EHBBGB      BA       E        Round-Trip  2580.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
EHBBGB      BA       E        Round-Trip  2695.00 (GBP)  E      08/12/15   29/12/16    SU / --  07
                                                                16/07/17   10/08/17
IN4SUKP     BA       I        Round-Trip  3057.00 (GBP)  B                             SU / 12M 14
W2BA        BA       W        Round-Trip  3142.00 (GBP)  PE                            -- / 12M 
W2BA        BA       W        Round-Trip  3257.00 (GBP)  PE                            -- / 12M 
IN4SUKP     BA       I        Round-Trip  3269.00 (GBP)  B                             SU / 12M 14
YRT         BA       Y        Round-Trip  3372.00 (GBP)  E                             -- / 12M 
IAP7        BA       I        Round-Trip  3734.00 (GBP)  B                             SU / 12M 28
IAP7        BA       I        Round-Trip  3946.00 (GBP)  B                             SU / 12M 28
AN5SUKP     BA       A        Round-Trip  4177.00 (GBP)  F                             SU / 12M 50
AN5SUKP     BA       A        Round-Trip  4389.00 (GBP)  F                             SU / 12M 50
W1RT        BA       W        Round-Trip  4488.00 (GBP)  PE                            -- / 12M 
IAP7        BA       I        Round-Trip  4534.00 (GBP)  B                             SU / 12M 28
IAP7        BA       I        Round-Trip  4746.00 (GBP)  B                             SU / 12M 28
AAPGB       BA       A        Round-Trip  5034.00 (GBP)  F                             SU / 12M 28
AUPEGBR4    BA       A        Round-Trip  5184.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
RAP1        BA       R        Round-Trip  5184.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
RUPEGBR4    BA       R        Round-Trip  5184.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AAPGB       BA       A        Round-Trip  5246.00 (GBP)  F                             SU / 12M 28
AUPEGBR4    BA       A        Round-Trip  5396.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
RAP1        BA       R        Round-Trip  5396.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
RUPEGBR4    BA       R        Round-Trip  5396.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AAPGB8      BA       A        Round-Trip  5510.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 28
AAPGB8      BA       A        Round-Trip  5722.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 28
AUPEGBR3    BA       A        Round-Trip  5784.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
D2BA        BA       D        Round-Trip  5784.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
DUPEGBR3    BA       D        Round-Trip  5784.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AUPEGBR3    BA       A        Round-Trip  5996.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
D2BA        BA       D        Round-Trip  5996.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
DUPEGBR3    BA       D        Round-Trip  5996.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AUPEGBR2    BA       A        Round-Trip  6484.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
C2BA        BA       C        Round-Trip  6484.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
CUPEGBR2    BA       C        Round-Trip  6484.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AUPEGBR2    BA       A        Round-Trip  6696.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
C2BA        BA       C        Round-Trip  6696.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
CUPEGBR2    BA       C        Round-Trip  6696.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AAPGB7      BA       A        Round-Trip  6946.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 07
AAPGB7      BA       A        Round-Trip  7158.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 07
AUPEGBR1    BA       A        Round-Trip  8379.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
J2BA        BA       J        Round-Trip  8379.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
JUPEGBR1    BA       J        Round-Trip  8379.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
AUPEGBR1    BA       A        Round-Trip  8591.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
J2BA        BA       J        Round-Trip  8591.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
JUPEGBR1    BA       J        Round-Trip  8591.00 (GBP)  B                             -- / 12M 
F2BA1       BA       F        Round-Trip  9862.00 (GBP)  F                             -- / 12M 
F2BA1       BA       F        Round-Trip  10074.00 (GBP) F                             -- / 12M 
J1RT        BA       J        Round-Trip  11694.00 (GBP) B                             -- / 12M 
F1RT        BA       F        Round-Trip  13772.00 (GBP) F                             -- / 12M 

You can see that there is a wide range, from the good deal to the utterly ridiculous, of possible prices that might be on sale at any given time.

  • Describing how the fares are distributed doesn't really answer the question of how often. Can you describe how to read this? I've only ever seen the output of 3(?) systems. – Johns-305 Oct 27 '16 at 23:41
  • 3
    @Johns-305 I have added a tl;dr to the top for those who do not wish to read through the context to get to the answer. :) – Calchas Oct 27 '16 at 23:43
  • 1
    (+1) Fwiw no industry knowledge here and I still understood the answer and learned a lot – Urbana Oct 28 '16 at 5:54
-3

Well, here we go again...the answer is yes, but what they don't say or is hard to figure out unless you work in their pricing group is exactly how much and how often. As noted by Calchas, you can subscribe to a service that distributes fares.

The price fluctuation most people see are just a result of inventory depletion or expiration. Meaning the prices were determined some time before and the inventory (Q, R, N...) just sells or expires out so the next lowest price is returned. If they did their job, the prices shouldn't change at all.

If you're looking for an upper bound, Y/J/F are the ones to check.

Many sites, Kayak for instance, have a prediction feature.

I've never tried this but you might be able to gauge the price of future availability by trying book with certain inventory codes. The thing is, they might not be technically 'available' until others are gone.

BTW, fares aren't really 'filed' at least here in the US. Many stats are reported but they're not really held to anything.

  • Most all fares are available all the time, assuming there are seats in that fare bucket. They don't block a higher fare until the lower one sells out, but you need to have a booking system that lets you book by fare (such as what travel agents use). The airline online systems usually default to the lowest fare bucket for each flight, since shoppers want cheaper. – user13044 Oct 27 '16 at 21:33
  • Fares are filed by ATPCO. The tariff, including every price point on a city pair, is available to anyone who has access to the underlying feeds. – Calchas Oct 27 '16 at 22:39
  • If most fluctuations are result of depletion/expiration, then why prices do get lower quite often and some prediction systems often suggest the price would go down? It seems that airlines are in fact opening up availability of cheaper fare buckets hoping to sell more, aren't they? I doubt cheaper fares become available because of cancellations. – logic Oct 27 '16 at 22:45
  • @Calchas Sure, but 'filed' often implies some sort of regulatory procedure beyond reporting. Fares are reported to lots of places. That is the specific basis for that comment. – Johns-305 Oct 27 '16 at 22:50
  • Ah, I see. In this context "filing" a fare is a term of art. It would usually be taken to mean making it available on the public fare tariff. – Calchas Oct 27 '16 at 22:51

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