The Different Types of Flight Classes and Codes (Airfares)

Trying to figure out what the single letters on your flight ticket mean? After seeing different numbers on the same type of fare, I became intrigued and wanted to know exactly what the flight codes on the ticket mean. I took a deep dive into types of flight classes and codes, and the results are here!

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Whenever you book an airline flight, you are always asked about the type of seat you want, and they range from basic economy seats all the way up to first class.

Although some people assume there is little difference between the different classes of seats, that is far from the truth. The flight class codes used by airlines each mean something different, and knowing that difference can mean a much more comfortable flight for you the next time you fly.

NWA Airline Ticket
NWA Airline Ticket

Types of Flight Classes

There are more types of seats and classes than you might think, but let’s just start with the basics. In general, there are four different classes of seats on an airplane, and they include the following:

  • Economy seats, commonly called travel or coach class, offer basic accommodations when you fly and are usually purchased by leisure travelers traveling for business or pleasure
  • Premium economy seats, which are a slight improvement over standard economy seats and usually provide more distance between the rows of seats and occasionally may include seats that are a little bit wider and, therefore, more comfortable
  • Business class, also called executive class seats, which are usually purchased by those traveling for business and which are usually a higher quality of seats
  • First class seats, which offer the most comfortable accommodations available and are generally more expensive than all other types of seats

Although the price differences between economy and first-class seats can be quite a lot, some of the other classes offer a lot more luxury for prices that are just a little bit higher, so researching the different classes can make your next flight a lot more accommodating.

Economy Class

The various flight classes codes usually include both the type of seat and a letter that designates a specific attribute of that seat. Often, the lettered codes refer to subtle differences between the fares, such as tickets that allow you to make changes without penalty versus those that are non-refundable and non-upgradeable. 

Mount Cook Airlines Flight Ticket
Mount Cook Airlines Flight Ticket

Although they can vary from one airline carrier to another, in general, this is what the following letter designations mean when you’re flying in economy class:

  • B = Economy/Coach, but is able to be upgradable to Code M or another type
  • E = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • G = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • H = Economy/Coach Discounted, but usually is able to be upgraded to Business Class
  • K = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • L = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • M = Economy/Coach Discounted, but is able to be upgraded to Business Class
  • N = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • O = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • Q = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • S = Economy/Coach Discounted, but on some airlines it stands for “super comfort” and refers to Business Class
  • T = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • U = Shuttle Service, and there is no seat guaranteed nor reservation needed
  • V = Economy/Coach Discounted
  • W = Economy/Coach Discounted (or Premium, or Award)
  • X = Economy/Coach Discounted Award
  • Y = Economy/Coach

If you receive a ticket that has a lower-case “n” after the class code, it indicates some type of nighttime service.

The codes can also affect the mileage points that you receive when making your reservation, so if you receive points through a credit card or even through the airline itself, it’s good to check with them and find out what each letter code means.

After all, if you can receive a lot more points by simply upgrading to the next level or code, it might behoove you to do just that.

IATA standard flight coupon for a jumpseat flight from Frankfurt to Munich
IATA standard flight coupon for a jumpseat flight from Frankfurt to Munich

Business Class

For Business Class seats, there are usually five separate codes: C, D, I, J, and Z. Just like in Economy Class, each code means a specific thing.

Once again, each carrier may have different meanings for each of the classes, so it’s always good to check with the airline you’ve chosen to make sure the codes mean what you think they mean.

In general, however, here is a breakdown of the codes:

  • C = Full Fare Business Class
  • D = Business Class Discounted
  • I = Business Class Discounted
  • J = Full Fare Business Class
  • Z = Business Class Discounted

Just like in Economy Class, the small letter “n” found at the end of a code means that the flight is a nighttime flight. 

A380 First Class Apartment Etihad Airways
A380 First Class Apartment Etihad Airways

First Class

Flight classes codes for first-class seats resemble other classes, and they are most often broken down as follows:

  • A = First Class Discounted
  • F = Full Fare First Class
  • P = First Class
  • R = First Class Suites

If you’re flying domestically on a flight anywhere in the United States, the code “F” usually refers to a seat on a two-cabin plane. The “P” code usually stands for Premium and is used for seats on a three-cabin plane that involves a higher class of service.

The “R” code was originally discontinued when the Concorde ceased being used, but it has come back into use ever since the introduction of the Airbus A380 and certain flights on carriers such as Qantas and Singapore Airlines. 

In general, the A and P codes sometimes indicate that the fare is reduced due to certain terms, such as advanced reservation requirements, refund restrictions, and so on. Once again, the lower-case “n” after any of these codes usually indicates that the flight is a nighttime flight.

As a general rule, the actual miles traveled do not determine how many miles you accrue on a certain flight; instead, the class determines that number.

This is why it is so important to check with the airlines before you book your reservation so that you are sure to get the absolute most miles accrued, especially if this is important to you.

Some General Rules

The flight classes codes tell the airline where you’re sitting and what type of seat you chose. The “Y” class is one of the most common, and it indicates that you paid full price for an economy seat. “T” is an economy seat that has been discounted, “J” is a business class seat that is full price, and “D” is a business class seat that has been discounted.

As mentioned earlier, some of these codes are universal, while others are specific to certain airlines. For example, Etihad Airlines uses a “P” code if you’re on your way to one of their residence suites on an Airbus A380.

Boarding Passes
Boarding Passes

Other codes – such as L, K, and T – can signal different sets of rules with different airlines.

All of these codes can also affect other aspects of the flight, including whether you qualify for frequent flyer points, whether you can make changes to your reservation, and even what type of baggage allowance applies to your seat.

Because there are so many different fares these days, there are many different codes that explain the characteristics of each fare.

This is also the reason that the person sitting in the seat next to you may not have paid the same fare that you did even though they may be traveling to and from the same locations.

Airlines usually utilize a pricing strategy called yield management, and this strategy helps them predict consumer behavior so that they can maximize their revenue.

boarding-pass
boarding-pass

In case you’re wondering about the many things that can influence the price you pay when you make an airline reservation, they include your length of stay, the day of the week you book a flight, and of course, how far in advance the reservation was made.

All of these aspects and more affect not only the price of your ticket, but also the requirements and specifics of the flight itself.

Fortunately, most airlines have excellent websites these days that will explain to you what the many different codes mean, so it behooves you to visit these sites before making your plane reservation.

This is especially important if you’re interested in getting the most airline miles possible from the trip, because those codes will definitely affect that number.

If you’re curious about what these flight classes codes mean for your particular ticket, it is usually found in the “fine print” of your reservation. Think the “fare conditions” or “fare rules” section of your ticket, because that’s where this information is usually found.

Many generic travel websites such as Travelocity do a great job of showing you that code and what it means for you, and usually the details are in all caps, which makes it easy to read and to understand.

Still, the information is not always what you were expecting, so it’s good to read through it and make sure you understand what it says before you purchase your ticket.

If something is particularly important to you, such as the option of staying for a few extra days in the place you’re visiting, you need to read the airline’s website beforehand so that you can make sure that option is available.

The letters on your boarding pass tell a lot about the type of ticket you’ve purchased, but it’s more than just “A” and “F” indicating a first-class ticket and “B” meaning there’s a good chance you could be upgraded.

I hope this will give you a thorough understanding of types of flight classes. Each flight class has a code to make it easily identifiable by airlines, and now by you as well!

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