Utterly Bizarre Ticket Pricing

Old Jul 15, 18, 11:33 am
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Question Utterly Bizarre Ticket Pricing

OK, I know that airlines can have some unusual fare pricing schemes, but this one from United has me completely stumped. First of all, let me jump to the conclusion: I ended up booking on American, although I would have preferred United because I'm a silver member and have the United Club card. Now for the back story: I need to travel on business from Tucson to Houston later this month. United has a direct flight from Tucson to Houston which is very attractive -- however, they want over $900 for a round trip (are they kidding me?). That's about THREE times the American fare (which involves a stop in Dallas, but that's not such a big deal). Some other facts:
- The particular flight (on a Monday morning) is nowhere near full. Plenty of seats available going and returning.
- The competition is a third of the price. The odds of my client (a very large company) reimbursing me for a $900 airfare just to go from Tucson to Houston is less than zero.
- Interestingly, if I were book United to Dallas instead of Houston, the fare would be around $350 -- AND I would have been on that exact same flight to Houston to change planes.
- There is no incentive for someone to fly to Dallas from Tucson on United, because there's a direct flight on American for the same or less.
- I've been monitoring the United flight for days and they aren't selling any more seats. Yet, their computers are keeping the fare to Houston at an absurd level.
I'm curious about this. What is United thinking? Have their computers taken over and no human sees how utterly non-competitive that Houston fare is?
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Old Jul 15, 18, 11:37 am
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Originally Posted by flyerfmaz View Post
I'm curious about this. What is United thinking? Have their computers taken over and no human sees how utterly non-competitive that Houston fare is?
No.

Two things: 1 - they may be more interested in selling connecting traffic than nonstop traffic.
2 - UA commonly charges a nonstop premium, which gets paid more frequently than you'd imagine. For you, the stop in Dallas is no big deal. For others, it's a dealbreaker.

ETA: The fact that there are plenty of seats on the seat map doesn't necessarily mean anything. UA may have sold a ton of tickets to passengers who haven't selected seats. This is increasingly common with Basic Economy, since those passengers have to pay for a seat assignment (originally, they couldn't even do that).

However, if "a Monday, later this month," means 7/30 -- yes, the inventory is wide open. UA simply isn't interested in selling a discount fare on that route.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 11:46 am
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Thanks for the info! Since the options on American can put arrival in Houston within a few minutes of the arrival of the United flight, I'd guess that using American instead of United wouldn't be a dealbreaker for most people. This may be, as you've pointed out, a situation where United wants to sell more thru tickets than direct connects. Or, as you've said, the seat map may not reflect the actual number of pax. A $900 fare would be a dealbreaker for lots of business travelers except for the most financially endowed.

And yes, it's the 7/30 flight, returning on 8/3.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 11:48 am
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This is extremely common in the IAH/DFW market. XXX-IAH-DFW on UA is the same price as XXX-DFW-IAH on American. I think there really is that much demand for domestic traffic for the direct flight that they can sell last minute tickets to the business travelers. In addition, there’s a lot of UA elites in Houston (and comparatively a lot of AA elites in DFW).

Its against the rules, but you could book a one way flight from Tucson to DFW and abandon the second leg.

Curious, did you check just Tucson to DFW on AA to see if that was closer to the $900 price for the direct on UA?
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Old Jul 15, 18, 11:53 am
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Originally Posted by flyerfmaz View Post
Thanks for the info! Since the options on American can put arrival in Houston within a few minutes of the arrival of the United flight, I'd guess that using American instead of United wouldn't be a dealbreaker for most people. This may be, as you've pointed out, a situation where United wants to sell more thru tickets than direct connects. Or, as you've said, the seat map may not reflect the actual number of pax. A $900 fare would be a dealbreaker for lots of business travelers except for the most financially endowed.

And yes, it's the 7/30 flight, returning on 8/3.
You'd be amazed how many travelers only consider nonstop flights. You'd also be amazed how liberal some companies' travel policies are.

Also, not every business travel plan can be made two weeks in advance. If you were traveling tomorrow through Friday, instead of 7/30-8/3, you'd find that UA's price ($988) is the cheapest reasonable fare. (DL is cheaper, but the earliest flight doesn't get you into IAH until 3 PM, since it goes via ATL).

Also, if you change the return on your flight to Sunday 8/5, instead of Friday 8/3, the UA fare drops to $360 (or $310 for Basic Economy). The higher price is entirely a way to extract value from business travelers whose travel policies allow for it. The discount fare requires a Saturday night stay, which fits most leisure travel patterns but which is often a showstopper for business travel.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 11:58 am
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Note in case you did not know, although it will not be very convenient: you can use your United Club membership while flying AA.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 12:01 pm
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Originally Posted by txaggiemiles View Post
Curious, did you check just Tucson to DFW on AA to see if that was closer to the $900 price for the direct on UA?
TUS-DFW direct on American (7/30 to 8/3) is $453 R/T.
TUS-DFW-IAH on American (7/30 to 8/3) is $462 R/T.

TUS-IAH direct on United (7/30 to 8/3) is $915 R/T
TUS-IAH-DFW on United (7/30 to 8/3) is $454 R/T

Originally Posted by fumje View Post
Note in case you did not know, although it will not be very convenient: you can use your United Club membership while flying AA.
Yep, I intend to if time permits! I recently got the MileagePlus Club credit card. I was hoping to stick with United so I could take advantage of my Silver benefits. I have no status whatsoever with AA. Most of my travels and points have been on Southwest, but I'm considering moving away from Southwest for business travel for a number of reasons.

Last edited by WineCountryUA; Jul 15, 18 at 1:51 pm Reason: merging consecutive posts by same member
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Old Jul 15, 18, 12:13 pm
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OP...do you ever consider driving to PHX? $427 RT on UA.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 12:15 pm
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Originally Posted by flyerfmaz View Post
TUS-DFW direct on American (7/30 to 8/3) is $453 R/T.
TUS-DFW-IAH on American (7/30 to 8/3) is $462 R/T.

TUS-IAH direct on United (7/30 to 8/3) is $915 R/T
TUS-IAH-DFW on United (7/30 to 8/3) is $454 R/T
This apparent oddness is probably a legacy from Continental. Whereas pre-merger United tended to sprawl all over the place, with many hubs and focus cities, PMCO focused on utter domination and ownership of EWR and IAH. And having largely achieved that, they charged through the nose for certain routes (mostly notably EWR-IAH nonstop, but also a fair number of other routes out of IAH). Some of those policies are still in place. I think it's exacerbated by the fact that IAH is -- unlike DFW -- an oil hub. If there's oil business in TUS, then there are probably a few companies with UA corporate contracts who have no problem paying the premium for nonstop. DFW is a different market, and AA has a different corporate cultural legacy.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 12:21 pm
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The high level fare is market-specific and depends on whether there were other competitors flying non-stop. As an example, before VX joined the party, AA routinely charge over $1000 r/t for LGA-DFW 14 days out.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 1:43 pm
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Originally Posted by jsloan View Post
You'd be amazed how many travelers only consider nonstop flights. You'd also be amazed how liberal some companies' travel policies are.
Even the extremely miserly companies I have seen still permit LCLF on the fewest-stops routing (often excluding WN and ULCCs), so if UA has a monopoly on the nonstop market then they should have no problem having employees reimburse a $900 ticket. It's one of my many pet peeves with the absurdity of big corporation travel.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 2:30 pm
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UA and AA have different revenue strategies.

UA prices very aggressively for obvious business travel to/from IAH.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 2:44 pm
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Originally Posted by Bonehead View Post
OP...do you ever consider driving to PHX? $427 RT on UA.
Consider it all time time. In fact, it's possible to grab a Lyft and get there for about $100. Probably the only reason I didn't was the existence of the AA fare.

Originally Posted by findark View Post
Even the extremely miserly companies I have seen still permit LCLF on the fewest-stops routing (often excluding WN and ULCCs), so if UA has a monopoly on the nonstop market then they should have no problem having employees reimburse a $900 ticket. It's one of my many pet peeves with the absurdity of big corporation travel.
I work as an independent consultant and have to manage my own travel -- which means that those companies who wouldn't think twice about paying $900 for a ticket for their employees will pull out the stops to scrutinize my billing. I try to keep things defensible just in case, and often go to the extreme of capturing screen shots of the options while I'm in the process of booking travel. I've only had to produce evidence once, but it's handy to have available.

Last edited by WineCountryUA; Jul 15, 18 at 6:33 pm Reason: merging consecutive posts by same member
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Old Jul 15, 18, 2:50 pm
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UA may well be selling TUS seats to people connecting out of IAH rather than for O&D traffic. If it can't sell the seats, it can always open fare buckets closer in.

As others note, most travel bookers would look at the route, see that UA has the only nonstop and book that.
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Old Jul 15, 18, 2:59 pm
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Originally Posted by flyerfmaz View Post
OK, I know that airlines can have some unusual fare pricing schemes, but this one from United has me completely stumped. First of all, let me jump to the conclusion: I ended up booking on American, although I would have preferred United because I'm a silver member and have the United Club card. Now for the back story: I need to travel on business from Tucson to Houston later this month. United has a direct flight from Tucson to Houston which is very attractive -- however, they want over $900 for a round trip (are they kidding me?). That's about THREE times the American fare (which involves a stop in Dallas, but that's not such a big deal). Some other facts:
- The particular flight (on a Monday morning) is nowhere near full. Plenty of seats available going and returning.
- The competition is a third of the price. The odds of my client (a very large company) reimbursing me for a $900 airfare just to go from Tucson to Houston is less than zero.
- Interestingly, if I were book United to Dallas instead of Houston, the fare would be around $350 -- AND I would have been on that exact same flight to Houston to change planes.
- There is no incentive for someone to fly to Dallas from Tucson on United, because there's a direct flight on American for the same or less.
- I've been monitoring the United flight for days and they aren't selling any more seats. Yet, their computers are keeping the fare to Houston at an absurd level.
I'm curious about this. What is United thinking? Have their computers taken over and no human sees how utterly non-competitive that Houston fare is?

How much earlier do you have to get to the airport to take the one stop flight?

For instance - we charge $175/hr for travel, so if it is more than 3 hours earlier and you get there at the same time, then it is cheaper to my client to take te direct flight even thought the price of the ticket is higher.
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