redesignAnswer – Why I was able to buy a $140 ticket for $91 on Expedia

The key to solving this puzzle was checking the dates and the times.

Airfares, as many people know, have advance purchase requirements. Although these vary based on market, these are generally 21, 14, 7, 3 and 1. The closer you get to the travel date, the higher the fares are. A 21-day advance purchase is usually the cheapest. It gets more expensive at 14 days, more at 7 and so on. (These are general guidelines; airfare pricing is mind-numbingly complicated.)

There are various systems that price tickets. (Known in the industry as GDSs.) These systems are based in different places. Virgin America uses Sabre. Sabre’s systems are in the central time zone. (Even though Virgin America itself is based in San Francisco and the flight was originating in Los Angeles.)

To me, the most logical way to test if you met the advance purchase requirement would be based on airport of departure. But it’s tested based on where the computers processing the ticket are.

My flight date was two weeks from yesterday.

So as soon as the clock struck 12:01 a.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I didn’t meet the 14-day advance purchase requirements and Virgin America upped my fare to $140. But because Expedia’s tickets are processed on the West Coast, I still met the 14-day mark. So I got the 14-day advance purchase fare of $91, instead of the 7-day advance purchase fare of $140.

2 Comments

  1. Does any GDS allow carriers to add their data sets (beyond the obvious ones of routes, capacity etc)? If no, and a carrier has limited influence over the algorithm, how does it get competitive advantage?

    Obviously Easyjet et al primarily relies on direct bookings, but that is cumbersome for consumers to compare prices (and frustrating, since the direct prices are often higher and the search engines are clunky).

    There has to be something that combines a GDS meta search with custom data sets/algorithms? Perhaps no ..

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