A Brief Guide to Airline Ticket Fare Classes and Codes

Whenever you purchase an airline ticket, you may have noticed that it always has an alphabetic or alphanumeric code used to identify a fare type. Fare types range from economy class to first class.

Since computer algorithms determine ticket prices, many factors go into determining how much you will pay for your ticket. Plane tickets are always more expensive during peak periods like summer or school holidays and vacations. Other factors also determine how much you will pay based on availability and how long before you purchased your ticket. There was a time, now sadly gone, when you could show up at an airport without a ticket, and if an empty seat was available, easily buy a “waiting ticket” for a huge discount.


Inside the economy class cabin of a Boeing 777-300er.

Photo: Emirates

Airlines offer between one and four classes of service

Today, generally speaking, on airlines, there are four types of classes:

  • Economy: Almost always at the rear of the aircraft, a dense seating section that caters to leisure travelers. On low-cost carriers like Ryanair and easyJet, their planes are configured in an all-economy configuration.
  • Premium Economy: Located behind business class, premium economy seats are slightly wider than economy seats and offer more legroom. Some airlines even offer an upgraded catering service.

Inside the Emirates premium economy cabin.

Photo: Emirates

  • Business class: As the name suggests, catering to people traveling on business, Business Class seats offer more privacy and can often be configured into a flat bed perfect for napping on long-haul overnight flights.
  • First class: The big three US carriers Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines all got rid of their first class seats on long-haul flights and replaced them with business class seats. Although similar to what you’ll find in business class, the first class flight can include a chauffeured limo to and from your hotel. First class passengers are also pampered from start to finish with à la carte meals on request and a wine list to match the dishes on offer. If you have the funds, you can still travel first class with carriers such as Emirates, Etihad, Air France, British Airways, Japan Airways, All Nippon Airways, Lufthansa, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Inside an Emirates Boeing 777 First Class Suite.

Photo: Emirates

Select the best class of service based on your needs

As you can see, only some travelers are looking for the cheapest ticket, and paying extra for a premium economy ticket may have more benefits, like extra air miles or an increase in your baggage allowance.

A friend discovered it on a recent TAP Portugal flight from Miami to Lisbon. He had to travel with two suitcases, but his allowance on an economy class ticket was only one. This meant that if he traveled economy class, he would have to pay for the second suitcase. In premium economy class, the allowance was two suitcases and additional airline miles. However, the cost of upgrading to premium economy was the same as paying for excess baggage, so the choice was simple.

Codes have a letter and a number

Each of the above fare classes is identified by a one-letter code:

  • Y = A full fare economy class ticket
  • W= A full fare ticket in premium economy class
  • J= A full fare business class ticket
  • F= A full fare first class ticket

There are various other letters to also describe the lower fares of the same class. After the letter, you will see a number ranging from zero to nine. For example, if your ticket says D2, two seats are still available in business class on your flight. Nine is the highest possible number and indicates that there are more than nine seats available in your class of service. An example of this would be Y9 in economy class.

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