Everything you need to know about British Airways’ fare classes

Jul 9, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of, “I’m flying in J” and wondered what on earth they could mean? Or, have you checked your flight on ExpertFlyer and been surprised by the sea of letters showing for each British Airways flight when you know there are only four actual classes the airline flies — first class, Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and World Traveller (economy)?

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Image taken from Expertflyer.com
(Image courtesy of ExpertFlyer)

Well, British Airways has 22 fare classes and four redemption classes. Revenue fare classes are bookable for cash whilst redemption fare classes are for Avios or mileage bookings.

Broadly speaking, the different fare classes within each cabin correlate both to the cost of the ticket as well as the flexibility of the fare offered. The lower classes usually sell first, so as a flight gets busier, the lower classes will fill up and BA will only sell higher, more expensive fare classes. Typically, the closer to your travel date, the higher the fare class — either because the plane has filled up anyway or because BA might only sell higher fare classes closer to the departure date, as it knows it can command higher prices for last-minute bookings.

BA’s fare classes break down as follows:

  • First: F (flexible) and A (discounted) as revenue fare classes and Z for reward redemptions.
  • Club World (business class): J, C, D, R and I (with I being the cheapest) for revenue and U for reward bookings.
  • World Traveller Plus (premium economy), W, E and T for revenue and P for reward bookings.
  • World Traveller (economy): Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N, Q, O, G and P for revenue and X for reward bookings.

It’s worth noting that based on which fare class you’re booked in, the number of Avios you’ll get in return will vary. For example with the lowest economy classes (G, O and Q) you’ll earn 25% of the miles flown and 25% of the Tier Points, whereas the highest economy fare classes (Y, B and H) will earn 100% of miles flown in Avios and Tier Points. You can find the full breakdown of fare classes and how many Avios and Tier Points you’ll earn — even with partners — on the BA site.

It’s also worth noting that G class, one of the most heavily discounted BA fare classes in economy, is reserved for travel agent bookings, including BA holidays. That’s why it sometimes pays to add a car or hotel to your booking — that way, you might be able to book into G even if booking the flight on its own would only let you book into a higher fare class.

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

In the example above, the sea of 9s doesn’t mean that there are only nine seats available in each class. And nor does it mean that can you add up the 9s to work out how many seats are left for sale. Nine is the highest number that can be displayed for BA (for some airlines it’s seven), and the fare classes are all related. For example, if you book nine seats in O class, it’s highly likely that there won’t be nine available in Q and that number goes down. That’s why you might see BA offer four seats for sale on a flight when there’s actually only one left.

Looking at a week-long trip to New York in February next year, a return ticket in Y, which is a fully flexible economy class, costs £2,291. The same ticket can be had for £301 if choosing the cheapest option, O class. The latter does not allow any bags or seat selection, and nor does it allow any changes, whilst the former is fully flexible, as the passenger can change the time, date and receive a full refund if it needs to be cancelled.

Despite the £2,000 price difference between the two tickets, the seat and food for those two tickets would be exactly the same. Of course, there are good and bad seats in each — our guides help you pick the best seats in any BA cabin.

The crazy thing about the fully flexible example economy price is that discounted premium economy can be had for £587, and even discounted business class can be had for £1,333 — a saving of £700 from that fully flexible economy seat. Now, that’s a sale price (and a decent one from London) and has no flexibility. In other words, you couldn’t change dates nor get a refund. But it illustrates the sometimes-crazy difference in prices between booking classes. You could almost book two business-class return trips for the price of a fully flexible economy ticket.

[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Aerial view of one of Terminal 5 buildings of London Heathrow Airport and Boeing 747 and 777 aircrafts operated by British Airways at the gates on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Photo by Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images)

Bottom line

Understanding fare classes and how you can use them in conjunction with ExpertFlyer can help you find cheaper flights. If the particular flight or day you are looking for doesn’t have the price you were expecting or hoping for, it’s worth having a browse on ExpertFlyer to find a date that has lower fare classes available. In addition to also helping you understand what you’ll earn on the flight, you’ll be able to impress your AvGeek friends at the next dinner party.

Featured photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

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