How to find a fare basis code (And why you’d need to)

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You may have noticed that every flight ticket you’ve ever reserved notes some kind of “letter” on the ticket. Whether you’re booking an award flight, a super cheap mistake fare, or an expensive first class revenue ticket, your boarding pass will indicate your class of service with a letter, known as a fare basis code.

What’s the meaning of these fare basis codes? Are they even important? I’ll give you the basics below, and explain why they’re critical to a miles and points enthusiast.

(Photo by Sarah Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

What is a fare basis code?

A fare basis code is a letter assigned to your ticket which distinguishes a few things about it. It’ll basically tell the airline’s computer what is and isn’t allowed for your ticket.

For example, if you buy a super expensive business class ticket, it may have the fare code “J.” This “J” code loads your ticket with the “J” class allowances and stipulations. This is the code that will tell the computer how many bags you can check for free, what your cancellation fees will be, etc. However, if you booked a business class award flight, your ticket may have the fare code “U.” It comes with a different set of restrictions, policies, etc.

Rates like discounted tickets, full-fare tickets, award flights, refundable fares, Basic Economy, etc. are different categories that warrant different letters.

What do the different fare basis codes mean?

If you’re in the miles and points game, fare codes can really affect your travel game. For example:

  • If you’re booking paid flights, the fare you choose will determine how many redeemable miles and/or elite qualifying miles you’ll earn
  • Your fare type will stipulate whether or not you’re able to be upgraded
  • If you’re using miles, you’ll only find award seats if a particular fare code is available

Airlines code their tickets differently for many flights, but you can pretty well always bank on at least these three being the same:

  • Y – Full-fare coach
  • J – Full-fare business class
  • F – Full-fare first class

Check out American Airlines’ official fare basis code chart below for their partner, Qatar Airways. Looks complicated, right?? It’s showing you a number of things, including how many American Airlines miles you’ll earn for your flight (if you decide to credit the miles to American Airlines instead of Qatar Airways).

Note that different partners offer different returns.

For instance, if you buy a discounted business class flight (R), you’ll earn 100% of the miles you fly on Qatar! If your flight is between, say, Philadelphia and Doha, you’ll have flown 6,797 miles. If you credit your miles to American, you’ll earn 6,797 American Airlines miles each way.

Here are a couple of real-life examples as to how fare basis codes can affect your trip:

  1. My husband and I got an absurd deal for Qatar Airways business class flights to Zurich later this year. The fare we purchased had a fare basis code “R,” meaning we’ll earn 19,000+ American miles.
  2. We had to postpone our Zurich trip for late 2021. When we called to change flights, we were only allowed to change our dates to those with flights that had “R” fares available. We weren’t allowed to jump to another fare.

You can see why it’s important to observe these fare codes. So how can you locate them?

Where do you find the fare basis code?

Oftentimes the fare class code is visible on your flight information when you’re purchasing your ticket. For instance, the screenshot below shows where you might find it for a United flight. This is the results page of United’s search engine. Under the price are the varying fare codes for coach and business class.

More often than not, you’ll have to look a bit harder for your code. You can click on the details of any ticket to see the fare codes of each leg of your journey. Here’s a shot of a flight from Florida to Santiago, Chile. Notice that the United economy class code is “Y” while the Copa economy class code is “K”.

Purchasing a flight through an online travel agency will cause you to do a bit of digging like this. For example, if you are buying a flight on Expedia, you’ll have to click “Show flight details”.

Other third-party booking sites may not give you the option to see further flight details until it redirects you to the site actually providing your ticket. Then, that website will likely have an option to show complete or advanced flight details.

You can always use ITA Matrix to help you out, too. With ITA Matrix, you can find your specific flight and by clicking on the “Details” button all the way to the right, you can see extended details, including the fare class code.

Retroactively finding the fare class for a flight already booked

If you book a ticket online, many times your e-receipt will have the fare class code listed on your flight information, just like we saw in the examples above. Pretty straightforward if you know to look for an “expand details” or “flight details” type button — or sometimes it’s just listed in parentheses next to the fare (e.g. Economy (R) or whatever).

But sometimes if you use resources like Orbitz or Priceline, it can be harder to find.

Basically, for these types of tickets, you’re going to want to search for the words “fare rules” or “fare rules and restrictions.” If you can find these words in the “information” or “changing your ticket” sections of your confirmation/receipt, it will provide a link for more information. This page will show you your fare class code, which you can compare with that airline’s online information to learn about earning, etc.

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 12.21.42 PM

You can also use Check My, though it won’t work for every flight, and sometimes it will give you your fare class title, but not the code — and it’s the code that you really want.

Finding out how much your fare class code earns

As mentioned before, one of the important factors determined by a fare class code is how many miles you’ll earn with a flight of that class. Many of the discount economy flights for instance do not earn full mileage credit for paid flights.

So every time you buy a flight here is the process you should go through:

  1. Identify the major airline partners with great award charts.
  2. Are you going for status? If so, that’s who you should be crediting your miles to.
  3. If not, which one of the big partners do you want to earn “redeemable” miles for?
  4. Google “earn [desired miles] on [airline you’re flying].”

Examples of major airline partners with great award charts include:

  • Star Alliance: United, Aeroplan, Aegean, Lufthansa, Avianca
  • Oneworld: American Airlines, British Airways
  • StyTeam: Delta, Air France

The reason we do this airline-specific Google search is because the relationships from airline to airline are different, even if they’re all part of the same alliance. At least when it comes to mileage earning. So we don’t just want a mileage program’s class code earning chart; we want their class code earning chart for the specific partner airline we’re flying.

Let’s look at an example: “Earn United miles on LOT”

That Google search led me to the following chart:

For an example flight from ORD-WAW-ORD, ITA Matrix showed the following flight with an “L” class.

According to the chart above, “L” class only earns 25% United miles. That’s only 2,342.5 earned miles for 9,370 flown. So let’s see if we’d be better off earning miles for someone else’s mileage program.

Now, googling “Earn Aeroplan miles on LOT” leads to the following chart:

By crediting your miles to Aeroplan, you’ll earn twice as many miles as United! Now we’re earning 4,685 miles for 9,370 flown miles. That’s still less than fabulous, but it’s certainly better.

Bottom line

Whether you’re interested in earning the most miles possible from your upcoming flight, desirous to change your flight to another date, or searching for available award seats, there’s reason to take note of the fare basis code. They’re easy to find by simply clicking on the flight details of your booking site of choice — and you can use ITA Matrix, too! Read our post on how to avoid fuel surcharges to learn the basics of the ITA Matrix.

Let us know if you have any questions! And subscribe to our newsletter for more posts like this delivered to your inbox once per day.

Drew founded the points and miles site in 2011 and has also worked with The Points Guy. He and his wife spent years traveling nomadically until they sold Travel is Free in 2019.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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