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Why Does Booking a Second Award Raise the Price per Ticket?

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TPG reader Stacey emailed me to ask about booking flight awards:

I was trying to book an award using Aeroplan miles at the Market Fare rate; I got one price for a single seat, but when I tried to buy two seats (for the same flights), the price per ticket jumped by almost 35%. Why wouldn’t two tickets just cost twice as much as one, and do you have any suggestions to get around this?”

Airline tickets are sold in different classes or fare buckets, which are essentially groups of fares that are priced similarly based on certain rules and restrictions. Most people are familiar with the distinction between economy, business and first, but those categories are further divided into different subcategories within each class. For example, Delta has over a dozen fare buckets that are classified as economy.

When one fare bucket sells out, the next ticket sold will come from a different (generally more expensive) bucket. Depending on how many seats you book, your purchase might straddle the line between two buckets, so some of your tickets will be priced higher than others even if you buy them at the same time. This can also happen with awards whether they’re priced dynamically (like Aeroplan’s Market Fare awards) or according to a fixed chart.

The bad news is that sometimes all of your seats will be drawn from the higher bucket even if there are seats left in the lower one. This appears to be what happened to Stacey: There was likely just one seat left at the lower price, and attempting to purchase two tickets made both of them more expensive (rather than just the second one).

If you sense this is happening, one solution is to buy each ticket separately. You won’t be able to buy all your tickets at the best price, but at least you’ll save on however many are still available in the lower bucket. Of course, there are some risks to splitting your reservation, such as greater exposure to change and cancellation fees. You’ll have to evaluate whether the savings are worthwhile in each case.

When prices are high
You can save by first booking seats in the lowest available bucket, and then booking the rest separately.

Airlines won’t go out of their way to tell you how many seats are left in a given bucket, but there are a few tools you can use to extract more information. The United Airlines website features an Expert Mode that will show you available fare classes and even allow you to search based on those fare classes. You can use ExpertFlyer to see similar information for other airlines, and to set alerts when space opens up in a specific bucket.

Even if you don’t use those tools, it’s a good practice to check how the cost of airfare varies as you add passengers to a reservation. If you regularly travel with a group, that simple step should help you save money and miles in the long run.

For more suggestions, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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