Bizarre trend at United inventory management….

I hate to play armchair CEO, because I have zero “real” knowledge of how inventory or revenue management works at the airlines, but this is something I just have to bring up. Yeah, it’s that bad.

So United has three first class fare buckets: F, P, and A. F is full fare (in other words, basically no one buys it), while A would be discounted first class, and is typically more reasonably priced. Given the economy, the airlines should be happy for any premium seats they can sell.

Anyway, what I’ve been noticing is that a good chunk of United flights show as having plenty of “F” inventory, while having virtually no “P” or “A” inventory. This is truly bizarre. In the past the inventories would be similar. For example, a flight would show as being F5A3, meaning they were willing to sell five more first class seats in the full fare bucket, while being willing to sell three seats in the discounted bucket. Now I’m seeing tons of flights with empty first class cabins showing as F9A0, meaning they’re willing to sell at least nine first class seats at full fare, but none at a discounted level.

Has anyone else noticed this? What the hell? Would United rather fill a first class seat with an upgrader on a $200 ticket or a paid premium passenger? Just as a comparison, for the Washington Dulles to Los Angeles roundtrip flight I was looking at, an “F” fare would be $3,000, while an “A” fare would be about $2,200. Both sound like nice outcomes for United to me. 😉

Either way, I’m perfectly fine with this. As fewer seats are sold, more seats become available for upgraders. 😉

Filed Under: United
  1. I did notice on a flight I was looking at recently that it was F9 P0 A0, and I thought “gee, I don’t remember seeing that before.”

    Didn’t think it through any further, as I figured it might just be that one flight.

  2. If someone’s travel policy let’s them buy a first class ticket, they’re not going to look at the bucket. They’re just going to pick the one that meets their schedule. $800 is not even a rounding error in a travel budget at anyplace that’s putting a dent in an airline’s balance sheet.

    Companies that buy alot of this stuff also usually book through a corporate TA which may one way or another get custom pricing from United. A past employer had an agreement with United and tickets would book into abnormal buckets with custom fares and custom fare rules. Even if for example a cheap bucket was available on the web the portal might book out of something like H and then the fare would still be cheap (compared to retail anyway).

  3. I believe it’s incorrect to assume that F = full fare while P and A are always discounted fares. Buckets are one thing, associated fares are another. Through corporate travel agreements, companies can book all sorts of deeply discounted fares that don’t always book into the bucket that makes the most sense to the naked eye. I’m willing to bet that my company gets a fare that’s not even close to $3,000 on the flight you were looking at, and yet, it would probably book into F if that’s all that’s available.

    What is United trying to prevent by potentially reducing the A and P buckets? Not sure. Maybe discounted first class sales through certain channels like the web (“discounted first” will return F fares if A and P are unavailable, unless there are flavors of QUP or VUP.) Who knows what it means in terms of code share agreements too… I have no clue.

    In terms of upgrades etc. I think the impact is virtually nil. I suspect that few people buy F on the web anyway, most go through their corporate or personal travel agent that will have access to fares that are not published on the web.

  4. United has been weird with F in other dimenstions as well, had always been the case that NF > XF until several months back when XF frequently > NF.

    They used to prefer selling tickets and confirming upgrades but more recently have preferred offering award F.

    Tthough perhaps the explanation is that the two are separate decisions and they’ve just been less inclined to upgrade, though more inclined on transcons at least than a year ago.

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