Subject: Holding flight reservations

The excellent explanations about airline upgrades (BTW, may be useful for determining whether an exit row is desirable on the aircraft you're taking) have spurred me to ask a technical question about airline reservations and ticketing. It doesn't have anything to do with any travel I'm booking now; it's just something I've been wondering about for a long time. Travel agents and airlines, online or not, often give a customer the option of holding a reservation for a period from a day to a week while thinking or talking over whether to purchase the tickets. What isn't always made clear is that this holds a reservation on the flights, but it doesn't guarantee the fare that has been quoted. I learned this the hard way many years ago, before I started my current job, when I was invited for a job interview. A travel agent quoted me a non-refundable fare that was notably lower than what was otherwise available for this midweek trip. At that time it was a pretty new concept for there to be a completely non- refundable fare, so I wanted to check with the place where I was interviewing, which was reimbursing the cost, that it was o.k. for me to take this. The agency held the reservation, I found that it was o.k. with the interviewer, and I called the agency back and they told me the fare was gone, so I lost face with a prospective employer.

Since then, I've had other cases where an agent has offered to hold a reservation but hasn't volunteered that it doesn't guarantee the fare; they've said it's never guaranteed when I've asked about it. I have a pretty good understanding of the range of fare codes and airlines' yield management, so I'd like to ask what happens when we hold a reservation. Let's say that I'm quoted a fare at the V fare class (one of the lower fares) at a time when there are five V places available for my trip. I see the possibilities when I hold a reservation as:

A. I've made no claim on any of the V places, there might already be ten people holding V reservations without having been ticketed, so any five of them or people who book right away get those spots.

B. I've made a claim for a place at the V fare (the inventory is reduced) but the fare isn't guaranteed because the airline might decide to raise the V fare or reduce the number of places at that fare.

For a long time I thought it was A, and I wondered what the point was of holding a reservation. It guarantees a spot on the flight, but if the flight is close to selling out the fare will probably be higher than leisure travelers will want to pay. It saves people from searching the fare again when they're ready to book, but I think one would want to search again to see if a lower fare, or a similar fare on more convenient flights, has become available. If it's something more like B, it makes more sense to hold the reservation: I have a claim on the good fare, but there's the small chance that it will go up. In recent times, booking over the Internet, I've found results that point more to B, but it could be a matter of different airfare search engines giving different results at the same time. Sorry to be so long-winded about an arcane topic, but this could help with a bottom-line question that travelers may have: if I find a good fare today but can't commit to it until tomorrow after I've talked to people, does it make sense to hold a reservation today?

Andrew Missouri