Gambling with Unadvertised Sale Fares

Jason Ma, February 11, 2009
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q.  Initially, earlier today I was able to schedule my flight from DTW to LAX, but when I checked again later all the dates were "x"-ed out.   What happened?  Was this one of those "unadvertised" sales that you say can "disappear" at any moment?  How does this work anyway?  Why do they come and go like this?



    A.  We have likened the unadvertised sales that we list to the stock market on our FAQ page (a great place to visit any time you need info or answers!).  The prices can be volatile, changing up to three times a day and inventory can sell out quickly, so acting sooner than later is always recommended. 

    Advertised vs. Unadvertised
    That said, we do understand that it can be confusing as to what's really going on.  When the airlines have an advertised sale, the rules seem pretty clear:  They set a price.  They set a fare period, usually denoted by the phrase, "Good for travel until..." and they set an end date for the sale, usually with something like "Must be purchased by..."  easy to understand, yes?  The unadvertised sale fare is a little more, shall we say, lawless.  It is hardcore unfettered free-market capitalism in its raw state!  Sounds like the "wild, wild west" of yore, doesn't it?  Let's expound upon this analogy, shall we?

    A Fable
    Imagine, if you will, a darkened saloon, empty of life but for a shadowy trio sitting at a small corner table, playing poker.  It is silent as a tomb except for the melancholy, out-of-tune strains coming from the old dusty player-piano.  Each of the trio is holding cards closely to their person, deep in thought and studying their hand and their table-mates with ferocious intensity.  The cards are marked, "DFW to LAX."  These are the regulars at "The Red Asterisk Saloon" and they are playing The Game...

    The first to speak is the old guy - Conrad "Continental" LeGacy.  He's been around forever and knows how the game is played.  "I'll lower it by $75 RT and extend the fare period by 30 days."  The man on his right startles, but quickly regains his composure and speaks, " I'll see that price and the fare period."   The man - Ted "Hub" O'Hare- pauses, then adds casually, "And I'll make it good for weekends too."  Continental narrows his eyes, exhales the smoke from the nub of his cigar and grunts, " I'm in."  The lilting, mocking laughter of the third breaks the mood.  "Oh boys, that's the best y'all got?!"  It's Delta Hartsfield-Jackson.  She's a woman, but she ain't no lady.  "I will see your weekends, lower it another $25 RT and there will be absolutely no advance purchase requirement nor a minimum stay, y'all!" 

    Suddenly, a door bangs open and Kelly the "Southwest Kid" shouts, "That's it ?!  Ha!  I'll lower it by another $25, make it good for another month and they can buy it as a one-way ticket for half the price every single day!"  The others fold... they know they've been beat by the pipsqueak... yet again.

    How This Affects You and Us
    Okay, story time is over.  These hands of "airfare poker" as we imagine them, are played three times a day during the week and even on weekends, though not quite as often.  These folks are trying to bluff, undercut and undermine each other every time a new hand is "dealt." They could suddenly raise their prices during the last fare change of the day, hoping that someone gets left out and is stuck with being the only one at the lower price over night.  They could lower the price, but only make a few seats available for each travel day, hoping to lure a competitor into likewise lowering their prices, but selling more seats. They engage in tactics which can affect the price you pay and the availability of the tickets you want, creating disappearing fares or "x"-ed out dates on the fare calendars. 

    We always note with our little red asterisk when a fare is part of an unadvertised sale, so you'll know that it may not be around for a long time.  We try to keep up with the changes as best we can, but we recommend being vigilant, opening your emails promptly and hopefully, being nicer to us when a fare is no longer available (now that you understand a bit better why these fares are so time-sensitive.)  If it was up to us, these fares would stay put until everyone who wanted one was able to purchase to their hearts content.  But that's just a nice story, right?!
     

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