I honestly wish I knew the answer to this question. Sometimes I think I have it figured out and then another ridiculous situation comes along and shatters my world view. I mostly understand how fare rules, inventory allotments and various other restrictions interact in the GDS networks to produce a fare calculation. And I believe that those systems are set to show lowest fares based on the parameters you input. So why don’t they always work? I really have no idea. But it is definitely broken.
Trips to Istanbul have been all the rage lately thanks to very good fares in the market. And this past weekend a friend was looking at flying over from Cleveland for a long weekend in January; the $838 fare offered some motivation. And then, suddenly, the fare went up to $1,044. Normally I’d say this is just inventory buckets shifting or a fare disappearing (in fact, I did suggest that initially) but something piqued my curiosity and I started digging more. Running a search on ITA gave these results:
Not surprisingly, all the OTAs and the airline website showed a similar price. But what if we ask the system for a lower fare? ITA allows you to set all sorts of details in the search parameters so rather than just asking for United Airlines flights I specified the lower fare class which had been showing the cheaper fare earlier:
Much to my surprise, it comes back with the exact same flights for $200 less:
Part of me got excited, thinking that this could be leveraged into a best rate guarantee since certainly one of the various OTAs would properly price the cheaper fare, right? Alas, I cannot find a single one which does. I obviously haven’t checked them all, but the fact that the ITA engine isn’t automatically pricing it properly suggests that there is something bigger afoot than just one company messing things up.
This is most definitely a bizarre situation and, unfortunately, seems to have no basis in reason. Makes being an airline customer all that much more challenging. And since United pulled inventory data from their website this weekend it also means that double-checking a fare like this is even harder. After all, how would I know that there was K inventory available if I hadn’t previously known about the cheaper K fare in the market?
This is not good for consumers. Not at all.
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