41 Responses

  1. Deceptive pricing on connecting itineraries - FlyerTalk Forums

    […] will UA charge on an itinerary with connecting flights? It depends on how you query the systems. The same exact flights can vary by more than 40% in cost depending on the search parameters used. […]

  2. ken
    ken at |

    DOT should charge them a huge penalty so that UA doesn’t do this anymore! Awful!

    1. Jimmy
      Jimmy at |

      Well, the funny thing is, the added searches Seth has gone through is actually a benefit to the consumer. Allow me to explain. As others have mentioned, this all has to do with married segment logic. The more specific searches enables the ITA fare matrix to search for two local fares (PIT-IAH and IAH-PHX) where as the initial search stopped when it found the W fare that is priced for the PIT-PHX market. This pricing is standard across the industry. But why did ITA stop at the W fare? Because technically the initial search only asked for the lowest filed fare available in that market.

      The reason I am calling this a consumer benefit is because of the ability to add broken segment logic to the search. Other airlines have solved this issue by adding fare rules or limiting the ability to search for the two local fares. If Seth had gone to delta.com for example, he would not have been able to find the two local fares to begin with (and yes, I understand DL wouldn’t have connected over IAH to begin with and that the fare environment another market – say ATL – adds additional complexities, but I digress..). Instead if the inventory availability was the same on DL, the only fare that would ever be show, regardless of how the search is performed would have been the W fare.

      I do agree with Seth that the fare rules for the the PIT-IAH and IAH-PHX K fares are misleading, but I believe that boils down to the way ITA’s decided to present the two KA7FN fares. Essentially what we have here is UA’s inability to stop fairly basic searches from finding potentially cheaper routing options, albeit on the same flights.

  3. rick b
    rick b at |

    Excellent info!

  4. Mike
    Mike at |

    Quick question, but what do ticket codes like K and W represent?

    1. dennis
      dennis at |

      Different fare classes. Economy class probably has 10-15 different classes each identified by a letter. Pricing, upgrade ability, flexibility varies among them.

      1. Mike
        Mike at |

        I don’t suppose United (or any other airline) has a fare class chart that lists the differences?

        Do fare class codes cross airlines?

        1. dennis
          dennis at |

          Fare classes do not exactly line up across airlines or even within alliances. Its a bit of a minefield when trying to navigate them to know exactly what you are getting with your fare!

          AFAIK, there is no clear/concise chart for what each fare class provides as a benefit, etc. There are some obvious ones like C, Z, P, J which are biz class, A, F usually represent 1st class. Most other letters are Economy class. Also, different fare classes sometimes will represent different amounts of miles earned. For example, a full fare economy ticket on United is usually a Y fare, and you’d earn 150% miles. There are way too many options, etc to get through in one reply! 🙂

        2. Nick Summy
          Nick Summy at |
        3. Jason C
          Jason C at |

          @Mike this chart explains United’s fare classes in pretty good detail: http://cwsi.net/united.htm

          @Seth Thanks for this post, man. I had no idea United was pulling shit like this, and while I’m discontinuing my elite status / no longer flying with them I will take it a step further and tell friends/family about this.

  5. Angelina
    Angelina at |

    This is awful. Another reason for me to break up with united.

    1. Ryan Lile
      Ryan Lile at |

      Break up is the right phrase. United under Continental’s “leadership” has gone from decent to awful. I’m done and there won’t be any backsliding!

  6. mgcsinc
    mgcsinc at |

    The fare that UA intends to offer for sale is the one you get when you do not do a multi-city search. It does not intend to sell the other fares, be they higher or lower – it’s only by virtue of a bug that these fares are offered. Other airlines have no problem preventing sales of the unmarried segments, and their customers are worse off as a result. Pretending like this is an anti-consumer thing is wildly off-base.

    1. Golfingboy
      Golfingboy at |

      Uh? I would agree with you if the fare was broken down as PIT-IAH/IAH-PHX/PHX-EWR/EWR-PIT with four fare components.

      Not the case here, the fare is filed as PIT-PHX and PHX-PIT. If you look in Expertflyer fare information for PIT-PHX there is actually a legit K fare filed for $284 R/T (excluding tax). T is $370.

      So UA.com is having problems displaying the fares accordingly.

  7. AM
    AM at |

    How did Kayak and Hipmunk do?

  8. dennis
    dennis at |

    maybe / maybe not on a related note, but I was booking our Z tickets to JNB and was unpleasantly surprised when Z fares from ORD to JNB via FRA on LH ran $5027, but when I tossed in GRR the fare went to $7200 for the same exact itinerary, except for the addition of the 120 mile flight from GRR. Welcome to the Friendly skies…….

  9. Ted
    Ted at |


  10. DB
    DB at |

    Thanks, Seth. That’s useful information.

  11. Scottrick
    Scottrick at |

    All of these searches you show were done using ITA, which doesn’t book tickets, except one case where you search on an OTA. Were you able to replicate the results when searching on United.com?

    1. Golfingboy
      Golfingboy at |

      Yes, only if you use multi-city feature. If you do a simple straightforward r/t search you won’t see the lower fare.

    2. Greg
      Greg at |

      Uhhh…Scott…why didn’t you just check for yourself on United.com…

      Not that hard

      1. Scottrick
        Scottrick at |

        Why do I have to search all these fares myself? If he’s presenting evidence that it’s a problem when he searches elsewhere, it could be a problem with a third party. All Seth had to say is that he tested it on United.com and found the same result. He just said so and I believe him.

        1. Carl
          Carl at |

          I don’t think it’s a website issue. I believe it originates within UA’s revenue and inventory management and is presented to all channels.

  12. Scott
    Scott at |

    PLS send this to the DOT, they are supposed to list the lowest fare, not most convenient time.

  13. Brian
    Brian at |

    Very interesting. So, what’s the bottom line on how to minimize the fare? Price out the simple round trip fare request first, then experiment with the different permutations of connecting cities and see which prices better?

    For a more fundamental question, how do we know the round trip we’ve selected is actually the cheapest (assuming our goal is to minimize cost) set of commections in the first place?

  14. Coby
    Coby at |

    You’ve discovered married segment availability. Something UA (and other airlines) have done for years.

    You can often find the same type of result on ITA when searching for Delta flights, but Delta’s site is smart enough to not allow use of the multi-city function to break up married segments.

    As mgcsinc mentions, UA is not intending to offer the lower fares in this market – it’s only the fact that their site isn’t coded to prevent breaking the married segment logic that allows you to price these cheaper fares. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  15. Nick
    Nick at |

    It looks like UA has caught the same enthusiasm for married segment pricing that LH has. Maybe they’re using the same pricing algorithms?

    I’m sure someone at UA is being praised for raising yield by exploiting apparent passenger tolerance for paying more for more demanded trips, even if the individual legs they’re composed of are between low yield city pairs.

  16. Erik
    Erik at |

    I don’t think this behavior is unique to United. Over the last decade I was booking business class revenue tickets to Europe and Asia for work. I was always under pressure to meet budgetary parameters and was frustrated by the inability of the corporate travel agency or their search engine to find the absolute lowest fares when our (jaw-dropping) corporate rates were sold out. When ITA Matrix was released, it became my new best friend, using the exact same multi-city process that you described and then feeding the info to the travel agent. I live in the middle of the country, so another trick I used for international travel is booking 2 separate tickets linked together in the PNR: 1 domestic and 1 international from a large gateway city (JFK, EWR, ORD, LAX, etc.) For example, a domestic non-stop roundtrip to JFK, then a separate international roundtrip ticket for JFK-LHR. If you priced that same trip on AA.com or DL.com as one ticket, it was typically at least $1000 more expensive. I saved so much money using these strategies.

  17. Julian
    Julian at |

    Seth, this has existed for a while. It is easy to blame UA for being sneaky, or stupid, etc. Another, more favorable explanation is that the price could be $640 (the higher) no matter how to do the search, but if you do it in the more complicated way (spend more time, effort, learning, etc), you get a discount. This is akin to using a coupon, and it is a clever way to extract more sales, without lowering the price for everyone. It’s called 3rd degree price discrimination. Of course, i might be giving United too much credit, but it is something else to consider before bashing them too much.

  18. Changes to MileagePlus Award and Upgrade Policies - Eff. 3 Feb. 2014 - Page 171 - FlyerTalk Forums

    […] excellent "United’s best fare: Only if you ask VERY nicely" proves .bomb's twisted logic. It's unfortunate their goal of 10cpm will disenfranchise the […]

  19. Bill
    Bill at |

    Is this just another version of the hidden city trick?

  20. Holy Hidden Fares Batman (aka UA Rip-Offs 101) - FlyerTalk Forums

    […] Dirty Tricks, UA Style Quote: […]