Award ticket pricing is a black box

passenger2A reader asked us how he could learn the price of an award ticket. He was unable to find a table showing the prices of award tickets.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon as such tables still existed a decade ago. Ticket prices and hotel room prices have in common that there is hardly a relationship with the cost of flights or hotel rooms.

Both airlines and hotels love dynamic pricing, which means that prices depend on demand at a certain moment. As a result, they can change every day and even on 1 day they can vary. If demand is high, prices are high; and when demand is low, prices are low.

Nowadays carriers also use dynamic pricing for award tickets. Gone are the days when there were tables showing how many miles you had to spend on an award ticket from A to B. Note that award tickets are not free, but come with a price that is a combination of miles and cash.

KLM stoelenAmerican Airlines was rather late when it started in late August 2016 experiments with dynamic pricing for its award tickets. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, for example, already embraced it years ago.

Its partner in the USA, Delta Air Lines, did away with the table about a year ago. The only way to ascertain what an award ticket will cost is by calling the carrier or by starting to order it online. Only then carriers will reveal the price of an award ticket in terms of miles and cash.

But you need to be careful. As an example we looked at an award ticket on KLM, a roundtrip Amsterdam-Hong Kong. A ‘classic’ (or saver) award ticket would cost 80,000 miles plus a cash amount that varies by ticket. However, this is only available if you accept plane changes as opposed to nonstop flights. Otherwise you would need to burn considerably more miles.

We started to book the following itinerary.





Thus, the award ticket would cost 80,000 miles plus €245 ($219) according to the booking process. However, when you need to make the final booking and payment it appears a little different:

KLM-cabineInterestingly, the trip’s duration according to the initial total is 15 days, but according to the final total 14 days even though the dates of departure and return are the same. More importantly, however, the number of miles is suddenly 86,000 although the cash amount is still the same.

The lesson is that you should compare the initial total carefully with the final total as the initial total seems deceptive.

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