Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Luggage: or How much can I take on my flight?

Luggage Salesman: Have you thought much about luggage Mr. Banks?
Joe Banks: No.
Luggage Salesman: Luggage is the central preoccupation of my life.
– Joe Versus the Volcano

Airline Luggage allowance

In this installment of the Sir-Trips-A Lot Blog we take on the topic of airline baggage. If you think that this is a fairly straight-forward and simple topic, you will probably be surprised how complicated it can be. The airlines love to make everything as complicated as possible because it affords them more opportunities to charge extra fees or to provide you with poor service and to fall back on their terms of service as an excuse.

Pieces vs. Weight. All airlines are not created equal. You already instinctively if not experientially know this, but it comes more clearly into focus when talking about airline baggage policies. There are no standards for checked and hand luggage and the rules vary greatly from carrier to carrier. What might be true for one carrier is often not true for the next. Here is a basic difference that is common among carriers; most follow either a piece concept or weight concept for checked baggage. The piece concept is fairly common in the United States and Europe; in the middle east, and particualy
among Asian carriers, the weight concept is more common. The difference is that the limit for checked baggage is based on the number of pieces, or the total weight. With the weight concept, a passenger can have as many bags as they want so long as the total weight does not exceed the weight limit. So when you fly with Turkish Airlines between Europe and Turkey, you are allowed 20kg (44lbs) of luggage. Technically, this means you could have 20 bags weighing 1kg each if you wanted. According to the piece concept, the passenger is limited by the number of pieces. The number of pieces is determined by the route, and the cabin class, or fare that the customer has purchased. So, an international flight from the US to Europe would have a baggage allowance of one piece for economy class, two pieces for premium economy and business class, and four ( or more) pieces for first class. The confusing part about the piece concept is that there is also a weight limit involved. The maximum weight for a normal bag is 23kg (50lbs); however, it is possible to have “overweight” bags which weigh more than 23kg.
The absolute maximum weight for any one piece of luggage is 32kg (70lbs). The reason for this upper limit is because the baggage has to be lifted by actual people on and off the aircraft. The airlines will
absolutely love you to death if you go over the weight limit because then they can charge you obscenely high excess baggage fees. The policies for excess baggage fees also vary from airline to airline and are outrageously expensive. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to customers who “just want to check an extra bag” only to recoil in shock and irritation at the fact that an extra bag
will cost $250. They almost always decide it is not worth it.

How do the airlines figure the baggage allowance? It is completely capricious. I am old enough to remember when the airlines allowed two bags per passenger for domestic flights in the US for every
passenger in coach. Those days are long gone. Up until 2007 is was still common to find carriers that allowed one checked bag for domestic economy and two checked bags for international flights. Sadly, that time has also passed. Now, most airlines shrewdly use checked baggage as another avenue for profit. As the pendulum has swung to the extreme of trying to charge customers for every checked bag,and the airlines have accelerated their race to the bottom, the airlines are now having to deal with the customers trying to shove as much as possible into carry-on luggage. Now in-cabin bag space is increasingly fought over by customers, particularly the overhead bins.

Low-Cost Airlines. Up to this point we have spoken about normal airlines, but when you are flying with Budget, or Low-Cost Carriers (LCC), the rules are also different. For LCC, you always have to pay for luggage. In the rare cases, the LCC will have fare levels which will have baggage included (Germanwings is a good example). Trust me when I say that you are paying for the baggage with this fare, you are also paying for the privilege of being able to rebook the ticket, which will also have extra fees. So, the rule of thumb with LCC is there is NO free checked baggage allowance. You will have to pay per piece, and sometimes per kilogram, for any checked baggage. The good thing about this is that you can check as many pieces as you want, or closer to the truth, as much as you can afford. Another important fact to be aware of with LCC is that you should always pay for the checked luggage at the time you make the booking because they usually charge more when you check bags at the counter.

The best advice that I can give the average airline customer is to contact the airline directly when you have questions about the baggage allowance. Most people who work as travel agents have
general knowledge about the “normal” baggage allowance, but it is important to remember that a customer service agents for an online travel agency will be responsible for assisting customers who have purchased tickets from possibly hundreds of different airlines and it is not possible to know the exact information for every carrier in every case. Inform yourself before you buy a ticket, there are many websites that have basic information for many of the most popular airlines and if you do not understand the baggage policy of a particular airline from their complicated explanation on their website, well that is why they have toll free customer service numbers. Do not be afraid to call the airline with these questions, if they want your business they will have to explain the policy for their
customers.

An Introduction to Airline Fare Rules: critical information in planning any trip

Airline Fare Rules

Fare rules determine how much you actually pay

Fare rules are designated by the airline booking codes we discussed in our article about airline booking codes, and we learned that there’s more to fares than just first, business and economy. If you have not read our previous article, we strongly encourage you to read it as this article builds on the content of the last article.  We learned there are many grades of these tickets with varying prices and flexibility.We also learned that there are some types of tickets only available to travel agents called Nego fares. Now we’re going to discuss fare rules and how to read them correctly so that you can know what you’re buying before you buy. Knowing the class of economy is nice, and its a good way to predict how flexible your ticket is, but since each airline is slightly different, knowing the fare rules is a good way of knowing exactly what to expect. Below in Illustration 1 is an example fare rules for a round trip KLM flight from London Heathrow to Chicago, IL.

An example of fare rules

PENALTIES

FOR APEX NONREFUNDABLE FARES
CHANGES
BEFORE DEPARTURE
CHARGE GBP100.00.
CHILD/INFANT DISCOUNTS APPLY.
NOTE –
A CHANGE ISA ROUTING / DATE / FLIGHT MODIFICATION
WHEN MORE THAN ONE FARE COMPONENT IS BEING CHANGED
THE HIGHEST PENALTY OF ALL CHANGE DFARE COMPONENTS
WILL APPLY
////
// BEFORE OUT BOUND DEPARTURE //
////
NEW RESERVATION AND REISSUANCE MUST BE MADE AT THE
SAME TIME PRIOR TO DEPARTURE OF THE ORIGINALLY
SCHEDULED FLIGHT. IF CHANGE DOES NOT OCCUR ON THE
FIRST FARE COMPONENT OF THE JOURNEY THE NEW FARE
WILL BE RECALCULATED USING FARES IN EFFECT ON THE
PREVIOUS TICKETING DATE AND UNDER FOLLOWING
CONDITIONS
– IF SAME BOOKING CLASS IS USED NEW FARE MAY BE
LOWER OR EQUAL OR HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS AND
A / MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
ORIGINALLY TICKETED FARE
B / OR MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
NEW FARE BEING APPLIED
-IF A DIFFERENT BOOKING CLASS IS USED NEW FARE
MAY BE EQUAL OR HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS AND
A / MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
NEW FARE BEING APPLIED
———————–
NEW RESERVATION AND REISSUANCE MUST BE MADE AT THE
SAME TIME PRIOR TO DEPARTURE OF THE ORIGINALLY
SCHEDULED FLIGHT. WHEN CHANGE OCCURS ON THE FIRST
FARE COMPONENT OF A PRICING UNIT ONLY OR ON THE
FIRST FARE COMPONENT AND OTHER FARE COMPONENT OF A
PRICING UNIT NEW FARE WILL BE RECALCULATED USING
FARES IN EFFECT ON DATE OF REISSUE AND UNDER
FOLLOWING CONDITIONS
– IF SAME BOOKING CLASS IS USED NEW FARE MAY BE
LOWER OR EQUAL OR HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS AND
A / MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
ORIGINALLY TICKETED FARE
B / OR MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
NEW FARE BEING APPLIED
– IF A DIFFERENT BOOKING CLASS IS USED NEW FARE
MAY BE EQUAL OR HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS AND
A / MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
NEW FARE BEING APPLIED
CHANGES NOT PERMITTED IN CASE OF NO-SHOW.
NOTE –
// BEFORE OUTBOUND DEPARTURE //
// NO SHOW //
IN THE EVENT OF NO SHOW – WHEN CHANGES ARE
REQUESTED AFTER DEPARTURE OF THE ORIGINALLY
SCHEDULED FLIGHT – CHANGES ARE NOT PERMITTED AND
CANCELLATION RULES SHALL APPLY
AFTER DEPARTURE
CHARGE GBP 100.00.
CHILD/INFANT DISCOUNTS APPLY.
NOTE –
/////
// AFTER OUTBOUND DEPARTURE //
////
NEW RESERVATION AND REISSUANCE MUST BE MADE AT THE
SAME TIME. NEW FARE WILL BE RECALCULATED USING
FARES IN EFFECT ON THE PREVIOUS TICKETING DATE
AND UNDER FOLLOWING CONDITIONS
– IF SAME BOOKING CLASS IS USED NEW FARE MAY BE
LOWER OR EQUAL OR HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS AND
A / MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
ORIGINALLY TICKETED FARE
B / OR MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE
NEW FARE BEING APPLIED
– IF A DIFFERENT BOOKING CLASS IS USED NEW FARE
MAY BE EQUAL OR HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS AND
A / MUST COMPLY WITH ALL PROVISIONS OF THE NEW
FARE BEING APPLIED
CANCELLATIONS
ANY TIME
TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL.
TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF NO-SHOW.
NOTE –
ANY TIME
CANCELLATIONS RULES APPLY BY FARE COMPONENT
WHEN COMBINING A REFUNDABLE TICKET WITH A
NON REFUNDABLE TICKET PROVISIONS WILL APPLY
AS FOLLOWS
– THE AMOUNT PAID ON THE REFUNDABLE FARE
COMPONENT WILL BE REFUNDED UPON PAYMENT
OF THE PENALTY AMOUNT IF APPLICABLE
– THE AMOUNT PAID ON THE NON REFUNDABLE
FARE COMPONENT WILL NOT BE REFUNDED
————————————————–
FOR NONREFUNDABLE TICKETS THE YQ/YR CARRIER
IMPOSED SURCHARGE WILL NOT BE REFUNDED
—————————–
FOR DEATH/ILLNESSWAIVERS SEE GGAIRKLDEATH/
GGAIRKLHOSPITAL OR KLAF.BIZ/AFKL.BIZ

Sample Fare Rules: Source KLM

Pretty confusing isn’t it? The first question you might ask is: Why are there two sets of rules? Did the airline make a mistake? No, I can assure you they did not. The reason there are two sets of fare rules is because this is a round trip ticket. Round trip tickets take one half of the one way fare (and the conditions) for the outbound flight and one half of the one way return (and it’s conditions). Still, that doesn’t answer the question, which one is valid. Unless stated otherwise, the airline will always want the most restrictive conditions to apply. That is if one set of rules says you can do something, and the other part says you cannot, the rules that say you cannot do a specific action apply. In this case both sets of fare rules say that the ticket is non-refundable. Suppose the first part of the fare said the ticket was refundable minus a fee of X GBP and the other set of rules continue to say “non-refundable”. In this case, the ticket is probably more money, yet still non-refundable. As we have mentioned in the article on cancellations, a non-refundable ticket means that only the airport taxes are refunded…This is a source of pain and suffering, especially if the ticket was issued in Europe. In the United States and elsewhere, the fuel surcharge,referenced in this condition as “YQ/YR” is always part of the fare. In Europe, the YQ/YR is allowed to be billed as “fuel tax”,“fuel surcharge”or any other way suggesting that this is a legitimate tax from the government. In reality this is nothing more than the airline charging each passenger for fuel. In this ticket,the “fuel surcharge” or YQ/YR is non-refundable. As a rule of thumb if the fare is non-refundable the fuel surcharge is also non-refundable. If you are in Europe, please take this into account that if you have a non-refundable ticket, you won’t be getting what looks like half of your money back…you’ll get far less.

Let’s continue. In this set of fare rules, both state that the penalty for rebooking is 100GBP. This is NOT, I want to stress this again NOT the total cost of re-booking. The the minimum amount you will pay to change your flight to another date or time and it assumes you rebook to the same class (remember the fare display from the fare rulestutorial?). Suppose this ticket corresponded to “X” class, thecheapest in the example. Now suppose “X” isn’t available for the date or time you want to when you request the rebooking. Suppose that in our hypothetical re-booking the next available fare is 2 classes higher and the airline chooses to increase the fare by 50GBP per class. Your total price is now 100GBP plus the penalty of 100GBP plus the increase in fuel costs. If you booked with an online travel agency, sometimes they charge a fee on top of the fare difference,fuel surcharge and penalties. I will point out one other thing to bear in mind. If you buy a discounted ticket, your ticket is in high demand. If you need to rebook a week before departure or god forbid,the day of, the chances of finding the same fare are non-existent.

We hope you have enjoyed our tutorial in airline fare rules. Please join us next time when we discuss re-booking/rerouting your flight.

Airline Booking Codes: An in Depth Look at Airline Pricing

Critical to planning any trip starts with understanding airline booking codes.
Just what does the “class” mean on your boarding pass?

What are airline booking codes anyway?

Let’s talk about airline booking codes.  Most people, even if they’ve never flown before, are aware that airlines divide the tickets they sell in classes, and not every one is treated the same. We all know that those of us who pay more get better seats, better service, and additional luggage, but airline tickets are so much more than first class, business class and economy class. I am going to give you an in depth explanation of airline tickets that goes beyond the basics you already know.  Airline booking codes are the building blocks of any air fare. I will first discuss the way fares are sub-divided into cabins and booking classes. I will then explain how these classes can be sub-divided into public and nego (a.k.a negotiated fares).

Airline tickets are divided into 3 cabins: First, Business, and Economy class These cabins are sub-divided into many classes of tickets,each with it’s own individual pricing and terms of carriage (with economy having the most sub-categories).  If you notice, withing these main cabins, theses sub-catagories contain letters.   These letters are airline booking codes.  As you may have already guessed, the prices for each ticket varies based not just on the service provided, but also distance traveled and the favor-ability  of the ticket conditions (a.k.a fare rules). To help illustrate how the airline or travel agent sees the fare rules, below in the illustration marked Fare display, a query from the Amadeus Global Distribution System (GDS) for a flight from Amsterdam(AMS) to Nice (NCE) .

    airline booking codes as displayed in Amadeus

Illustration : Fare Display

Airline booking codes structure the air fares.

As a general rule, the most expensive fares are located on the left most portion of the fare display, while the cheapest are located on the left hand side of the display.Most airlines use “J” as the most expensive business class or “full fare business”. Similarly, most airlines use “Y” class as the most expensive economy class ticket. A question you maybe asking yourself already is: What’s the difference between full fare economy and discount economy? Full fare economy has the most expensive fare and often cost 2-3 times what the lowest priced discounted fare costs and can even cost more than the cheapest business class ticket. However, a full fare economy ticket is fully refundable, generally with no fee. Full fare economy can also be re-booked at any time for no charge. The maximum discounted fare is always non-refundable and non-changeable. As the price of the fare slowly increases, the terms of the ticket become more flexible. The next step up from the cheapest might be changeable(with a stiff penalty and possible upgrade), but not refundable. The next level might be cheap to re-book, but still very expensive to cancel. Finally at the top, you reach the aforementioned fully changeable/refundable ticket.

If you have a fully discounted ticket (e.g. A 500GBP round trip ticket from London to Melbourne), and you absolutely have to make a change,there’s only one option; upgrading. No you won’t get a nicer seat. If you agree to upgrade, the airline will charge you the difference between the non-changeable fare and the changeable fare which can cost a fortune (could be more than buying a new discounted ticket). You also won’t be able to get are fund, even if you upgrade as the cancellation terms for the original fare still apply. If this sounds excessive, I would encourage you to think if the costs you already paid as sunk costs.If you bought a discounted ticket, you paid for a ticket on a specific date, specific time and you received a cheaper fare in exchange for you commitment. This depends a lot on the airline. Many airlines such as British Airways and United Airlines have begun offering “premium economy” where the passenger has access to slightly wider seats and more leg room. A common premium economy perk is an extra bag on an international flight, and luggage on a domestic flight. Most of the time, there’s little difference in cabin experience, and absolutely no difference in business or first class.Since the small extra perks aren’t enough to incentivize people to spend the extra money, and since most tickets are booked online,tickets usually sell in order from cheapest available to the most expensive. For this reason, booking in advance is always a wise decision because flights are sold on a first come first serve basis.

Finally,you might ask the question that so many have asked and that’s “why book with a travel agent”. I will answer it this way, like all other factors when booking a ticket, it depends on your priorities.Travel agencies, especially online travel agencies have incredibly large volumes and work wither with a consolidator (a wholesaler for airline tickets) or they are so large like Expedia, that they are a consolidator themselves. Consolidators have a lot of negotiating power with the airlines and are able to get “ Nego” fares from the airlines. These nego fares are exclusive to that vendor and can be discounted anywhere from 50USD or more. The fares are so exclusive that even the airlines don’t have access to fares themselves (hence why the airlines are reluctant to re-book customers who book with a travel agency). There is a severe catch with nego fares. Nego fares are often assigned to a limited number of booking classes. If the fare display in illustration 1 were a travel agency’s login, it’s likely that the travel agency would only have 2 or 3 or those above letters as nego fares, and nego fares can only be re-booked to other nego fares. If you have to make an emergency re-booking, finding a fare is very difficult and can be very expensive.

In conclusion the above chart will help summarize the difference type of fares. You aren’t just buying an first,business or economy class ticket. You are buying a ticket in:

Cabin: First, ( F, sometimes P) Business (J, C, D, I,sometimes Z) ,or Economy
Class: Y(full fare flex ticket), W(premium econ for some airlines), B, M, H, O, N ,Q, L, T, U , V,G (sometimes a group fa re) ,K, X. It is important to note that these booking classes and the order vary considerably from airline to airline. For instance, R class at British Airways is a more expensive economy fare, but the same class may be lower, or not exist at other airlines.

Fare type:

Negotiated( Nego) or Public . Within the category of negotiated fares there is also some variation. In General, the airlines agree to a limited number of negotiated fares for a particular consolidator and they are allowed to sell these fares for 30EUR ( $50) cheaper than the corresponding published fare.

IT Fares: There are even steeper discounted fares that are only allowed to be sold under certain conditions (package tours where hotel stay of at least one night must be booked in combination) which make the fare also more restrictive. Here a good example would be the fares that are charged in combination with a cruise ship reservation.The cruise is for particular dates and the boat leaves from a particular port city and the cruise ship line can negotiate very favorable rates because they sell a lot of cruises leaving from the same city but not everyone booking a cruise lives in that city and thus they must fly there. These fares are usually very restrictive for changes (non-re-routable) and non-refundable. Obviously the airline and the cruise line do not want to sell you a cheap flight to Miami so that you can change it to a flight to Cancun.

Corporate fares: A further class of fares that is handled in a similar fashion to negotiated fares is the corporate fare. These are fares that are negotiated between the airline and large businesses.These fares are not usually available to the public but they generally exist with the same booking classes as the published fare and the business will be able to get the discounted price by using a corporate code for pricing. If for some reason you have a corporate fare and you have to change directly with the airline, chances are they will not be able to give you the corporate rate in their system.

We hope this article will give you a better understanding of airline fares. Now it should make sense as to why some people pay very little while others pay a fortune for the same flight. You should also have a better idea of what you can expect if you have to change. We hope this article was enjoyable and we hope you will join us for the next article on fare rules.