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Orbits often shows "Bargain Fare" flights above the normal search results:

enter image description here

The trick is, of course, they don't tell you the details of the flight, including the exact departure or arrival times, or the exact number of layovers.

Even when going through to the final step before confirming the booking, the only details I'm given are, for example:

enter image description here

The difference between 0 and 1 stops can be pretty big sometimes. Is there any "secret" way to find these itineraries elsewhere, to help decide if it's worth buying?

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    @brhans: No, not really. I've updated the question with a screen shot from the final booking page. – Flimzy Apr 26 '17 at 14:04
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    It would be nice if they could allow you to exclude that one or two airlines that you've sworn to never fly with again (perhaps because they dragged you off a plane, smashed your guitar or killed your pet rabbit). – Spehro Pefhany Apr 26 '17 at 14:21
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    This is strange indeed! What if you don't have visa for where they book you through? Or there are overnights where you would need to pay for a hotel which would obliterate any savings by ignorance! – Itai Apr 26 '17 at 14:59
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    I wonder if maybe the way this works as a saving for them is that even they don't know: there are two or more options that fit the bill with seats available and you're automatically put on whichever planes fill up the slowest some time after? – user568458 May 9 '17 at 16:06
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    Wow, someone with an undesirable passport really would be taking a risk by booking this Kind of flight – Crazydre May 16 '17 at 9:42
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+150

We might assume that Orbitz has some contract terms with some airlines to offer extra discounts in some cases, and doesn't want to let people know the "secret" booking in advance of purchase, to force people to purchase from Orbitz, and prevent people who care about the airline and routing from taking advantage of the fare. So it might not be possible to determine the exact itinerary they are offering, but it might be possible to make educated guesses.

You know some of the parameters, including dates, origin, destination, time range, and range of stops. You can use what you do know to narrow down the possibilities, and then check flight loads and published fares to try and guess the likely routing.

I'd suggest checking ITA Software's Matrix search as a starting point, since it's free and does a pretty good job, especially when there aren't an enormous number of possibilities. The main downside of Matrix is that it has an internal timeout limit, so if the search has too many possible flights, some of them won't be searched. In this case, since you know the exact dates and the exact departure and arrival airports, and departure time ranges, and a limit for the number of stops, you can restrict the number of possibilities that Matrix needs to search.

Here's a screen shot of the Matrix round-trip search form:

Matrix search form

Fill in the exact airport codes for departure and arrival, the exact flight dates, set the "Stops" to the maximum that you know (in your case, "up to 1 stop"), and uncheck "Allow airport changes."

Matrix will show you the lowest cost options it can find within the maximum time it internally allows.

The lowest cost option that Matrix finds is a candidate for what Orbitz has. I would also use ExpertFlyer, although this is a subscription service (with a free trial period). I'd first do a Fare Information search in ExpertFlyer to see the lowest published fares for the dates. It returns base fares without taxes and fees, so they won't be directly comparable, but you can compare the lowest published fare with what you found in Matrix and Orbitz.

Here's a screen shot from ExpertFlyer's home page showing the search options. "Fare Information" is the next-to-last one:

EF Search Options

Here's a screen shot of the Fare Information search form. Be sure the "Airline(s)" field is empty and "Validate Fares" is checked.

Fare Information search form

You'll see a list of fares, with the cheapest at the top. The Airline column shows the airline. The Effective Date, Expiration Date, Min/Max Stay, and Advance Purchase Requirements column show important information about restrictions that the fare has. You can click the third from the last column at the end to see the fare rules, or the second from the last column at the end to see the routing restrictions for the fare. The Fare column shows the base fare (not including taxes or fees). In this search, Wow Air has the cheapest fare, an Instant Purchase online-only fare that is non-refundable:

Fare Information results

You can click the "View Flight Availability for ..." link at the top of the Fare Information results to search for flight availability. In the Flight Availability search box, you can fill in the airline code from the Fare Information results to restrict the search to that airline.

Flight Availability search

Unfortunately, you can't restrict the maximum number of stops in this search, but ExpertFlyer sorts by the number of stops:

Flight Availability results

In the list of flights, you can see the number of connections, the operating airline, and the available inventory. Flights that have the largest number in the lowest inventory (the last inventory code shown) are the best candidates for the Orbitz fare, since these have the most seats for sale in the cheapest inventory.

However, ExpertFlyer can only show what is published in the Global Distribution Systems, which almost all airlines use. There are some airlines that don't participate (for example, Southwest), so those airlines' fares and flights won't be shown.

In this example, the cheapest fares were on Wow Air, but the only available flights show as two connections, whereas your Orbitz results showed zero or one connection. When this happens you can redo the Flight Availability results, either removing the Airline(s) to see flights for all airlines, or filling in the next-cheapest airline you found in the Fare Information results:

Flight Availability search form

Leaving the Airline(s) field blank shows more possibilities:

Flight Availability results

As before, the flights with the most seats for sale in the cheapest inventory are likely candidates.

  • "We might assume that Orbitz has some contract terms with some airlines to offer extra discounts in some cases, " I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts this is no longer the case. – chx May 26 '17 at 3:35
  • I like the effort you've put into this so I'm going to give you a +1 just for that. However, I'm not convinced it works. If you could show an example with a sample fare, then that would be useful – Berwyn May 26 '17 at 15:17
  • The techniques I illustrated are a means to find likely candidates for the Orbitz fares; they are not guaranteed to find the fares, since it's possible that the Orbitz fare is based on a special deal not published, or uses an airline that doesn't use a GDS. – jetset May 26 '17 at 16:26
  • This is good info, but I don't see it as an answer to the question. I see this answering the separate question of "How can I find alternative cheap flights?" Which is useful, and tangentially relevant, but doesn't answer the actual question. – Flimzy May 28 '17 at 16:14
  • As I said at the start of my answer (and reaffirmed during the answer), it's not a technique to definitively find the hidden flights that Orbitz promises, but it is a technique that can find likely candidates, so it's useful when trying to solve the question's intent, which is implied to be an attempt to decide if Orbitz's proposal will be acceptable or not, including attempting to determine the "exact departure or arrival times, or the exact number of layovers." Since you're the questioner, if this answer isn't helpful, maybe you need to clarify your question. – jetset May 28 '17 at 17:59
3

My approach to this is based on the taxes and fees (YQ). Government taxes are refundable so Orbitz shouldn't be able to fake those. However, they seem to be doing something very dodgy. It would help a lot if someone had an actual example of a fare that was bought and showed what they flew and what the fare and fee breakdown was.

Here's an example: SFO-JFK May 28 (2 days time), one-way. enter image description here

Here we see a fare of $224.46 + $26.20 fees

US domestic fees can be seen on Delta's site for example Tax is 7.5%, Segment fee (ZP) is $4.10, Security fee (AY) is $5.60 and Passenger Facility Charge (XF) is up to $4.50, however, it's $4.50 everywhere as fare as I've observed.

If you look at the cheapest direct fare on Orbitz for that itinerary, you'll see: enter image description here

$43.64 is 7.5% of $392.56 + $5.60 + $4.50 + $4.10.

If you look at the multi stop itineraries you'll see, for example, a one stop flight with 2*ZP+2*AY accounted for in taxes and fees.

Here's the problem. The example Orbitz bargain fare above must include at least 7.5% tax, + $5.60 + $4.40 + $4.10, but it doesn't(!), nor do any other of the three examples I found.

The $224.46 fare should have $16.83 tax + $5.60+$4.50+$4.10 which comes to $31.03 in total taxes which means $4.83 has disappeared. The passenger service charge is not fixed, so the only conceivable legal possibility (to my non legal mind), is that Orbitz has negotiated a Passenger Facility Charge lower than any other airline, even Spirit.

The same sort of analysis can be performed on international flights, where the majority of the taxes/fees is made up of YQ, which used to be called fuel surcharge when it suited the airlines, and is now typically called just a surcharge or a carrier surcharge or some arbitrary nonsense to allow the airline to charge fees on redemptions.

I leave that part as an exercise to the reader :)

My other observation is that there is no other observable fare with the same cost, meaning that Orbitz has negotiated consolidator fares with the airline that will not be found on a GDS.

  • I find it hard to believe that Orbitz has negotiated a lower Passenger Facility Charge, but of course I don't know. It is likely that Orbitz has access to consolidator or other non-published fares. (Even various airlines own vacation package deals often use such non-published fares.) – jetset May 27 '17 at 0:03

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