By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate…
A few weeks ago I shared how the bank rewards programs, such as Chase’s Ultimate Rewards and Amex’s Membership Rewards, were quietly selling bulk fares via their travel portals.
Bulk fares can be problematic, though they’re not always bad news. In fact, they can be extremely useful in certain circumstances. For more info, see my post “Bet You Didn’t Know: Is Chase Using Bulk Fares for Sapphire Reserve Tickets?”
The problem is that banks are not clearly disclosing when a particular fare is in fact a bulk fare (as opposed to a regular “published” fare). As a result, often the only way a passenger finds out they’ve purchased a bulk fare is when they have an issue before or during travel and discover their fare doesn’t give them the same protections as a regular fare.
Even if everything goes as planned, a bulk fare can lead some pretty unpleasant surprises after the trip is over. Buy a bulk fare and you’ll likely find your flight crediting to your frequent flyer account much differently than you expected, especially when it comes to earning redeemable miles or elite status dollars.
However, I’ve been exploring the problem more in depth since my original post, and it appears there is a way to determine when an American Airlines airfare being sold on the various bank travel portals is in fact a bulk fare.
Find the fare rules.
Every airfare comes with its own set of specific rules that govern how it’s put together and what you can do with it. Very few people ever actually read these rules because they’re roughly a million lines long and written in Portuguese. (OK, maybe not literally, but they’re extremely dense and hypertechnical, so they might as well be.)
Fortunately, the info we want in regards to bulk fares can be reduced to a pretty simple word search. But first, we have to actually find the fare rules for the flight we’re considering.
Chase Ultimate Rewards offers a way to see these rules while searching, though it takes a few clicks. When you’re searching for flights in their travel portal, you’ll find a link on the left side under each flight in the results that reads “View Details.”
Clicking that link will reveal the specifics of the flights, but more importantly it will also show another link that reads “View Rules and Policies.” Clicking on that link will open up some basic rules about cancellations and refunds.
But we’re still not quite to the fare rules themselves. To get those, you’ll need to click on the blue “Airline Fare Rules” link. That will reveal each flight in your proposed itinerary, and for each flight, you can finally reveal the specific fare rule gobbledygook.
Unfortunately finding fare rules while searching can’t be done on either the Citi ThankYou portal or via Amex’s Membership Rewards. Instead, you’ll have to put the flight in your actual shopping cart without buying it in order to see what’s going on.
For the Citi ThankYou portal, once you’ve got a flight added to your itinerary, the fare rules can be found under the Summary side of the page on the left by clicking the words “Rules & Policies.”
And when using Amex’s Membership Rewards portal, after you’ve selected a flight, on the “Review Your Flight Booking” page you’ll see the words “Fare Rules” in the upper left corner…
When you click on that link, the fare rules will pop up in a separate box. Unlike Chase and Citibank, Amex’s portal organizes the fare rules into categories, which makes them a bit more readable.
But what the heck are we looking for?
“OK, great,” you’re saying. “But I don’t speak gobbledygook. So how do I read this to find out if it’s a bulk fare?”
Well, there are actually quite a few clues in the fare rules, but fortunately at least for American flights on the Chase and Citi portals, we can boil it down to one word…
Open up the fare rules and then just do a CTRL-F “Find” search for the word “wholesale.” If it comes up… bingo! That’s a bulk fare.
If you look a little closer at the fare rules, you’ll also likely see some other bulk fare indications. For instance, bulk fares are often sold as part of tours or vacation packages, so the language governing that may be listed as well.
Or you might see warnings that the ticket’s airfare cannot be applied to a published fare.
Now, for American Express, things appear to be a little different. To be frank, unlike the above examples, I have not yet confirmed this Amex portion with data points, so this is an educated guess and I may turn out to be mistaken. However, it seems that on the Amex portal, instead of seeing the word “wholesale” in the fare rules, if it’s a bulk fare you simply won’t find the fare rules at all. Instead, you’ll get a message that the fare rules are unavailable.
If your fare rules are there and you do not find the word “wholesale” or language about vacation packages or the like, you likely have a normal published fare. It won’t say “published fare” but it should have basic language about it being an economy fare and which areas it can be booked for. If you want to be certain, you can compare the fare rules to the identical itinerary on aa.com — if it matches, it’s a published fare.
Some very important caveats.
Just because a particular flight comes up as a bulk fare in one search doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bulk fare in every search. Bulk fares are sold for specific routes or combinations of flights, which means depending on what you’re booking, you can end up with either a bulk fare or a published fare on the exact same flight.
Here’s an example. If I search Ultimate Rewards for an American routing from Columbia, Missouri to Los Angeles on December 15th, the Ultimate Rewards portal comes back with an itinerary from Columbia to Dallas, then onwards to LAX. In this case, the flight from COU to DFW is a bulk fare.
If I search for Columbia to Hong Kong on December 15th instead, I get the same connection from COU to DFW to start. But now since it’s in combination with the Dallas to Hong Kong leg, it’s a published international fare with this language…
…which is identical to the fare rules you get when booking this flight directly on aa.com.
Same flight. Same day. Different rules.
Along the same lines, just because one bank is selling a particular flight as a bulk fare doesn’t mean every portal will have that same flight as a bulk fare. You’ll need to check the specific fare rules on each flight in each portal to be certain.
Finally, one other important note. Even when you buy a published fare, if there are any changes to your flights after booking or while traveling (for instance, due to a weather delay or mechanical malfunction) and your ticket is reissued as a result, it may end up accruing miles and/or elite dollars as a non-revenue ticket. This doesn’t make it a bulk ticket, but it may appear like one because it would credit to your frequent flyer account in a similar manner.
What about United and Delta?
Does this trick work for other airlines selling bulk fares? Well, let me tell you… I don’t know. I fly primarily on American so I’ve only been able to confirm how American’s bulk fare rules work. But I’ll continue this research and if readers would like to add their own data points to these experiments in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to write a follow-up post once we know more about other airlines.
Clearly, fare rules are incredibly complicated, but hopefully these tips will give you an idea of where and what to look for when booking American flights on travel portals. That way you can try to keep the surprises to a minimum.
Other Recent Posts From The “Bet You Didn’t Know” Series:
• Two Quirks in the Hyatt Changeover That Might Be Mattress Run Worthy
• A Quicker Way to Finish Draining Prepaid Gift Cards at Amazon
• Is Chase Using Bulk Fares for Sapphire Reserve Tickets?
Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.
[…] still check out this guide to see if special fares can help you with your quest for elite status. You should also check the fare rules of your flight to make sure your ticket will actually code as a special fare before you […]
Has AA stopped selling bulk fares through credit portals? I can’t find any wholesale fares on TYP anymore
Good question. I don’t know.
[…] We checked the fare rules when purchasing our flight and expected that these would qualify as special fares. Less than 12 hours after landing in Beijing, we saw that the fares did indeed post as such. […]
[…] and I’ve had some good success with Amex’s travel portal in the past as well. You can check out this post on Frequent Miler for a lot more detail on how to decode some of the fare […]
Thanks for this post. I have been educated and benefited a lot from this. That said, within the past week I have booked 5+ reservations with Chase and Citi (2 legit others for test and learn), all of those showed “WHOSESALE” in the fare rules while on aa dot com, actual dollar amounts are correctly displayed in the Cost Summary section. That sign led me to speculate the trick is no longer effective? Hope I am wrong. Any advice or idea?
I don’t know
Thank you so much for this info. It has come in handy a few times already in the past month as I try to requalify for EXP. On that note – does anyone here have any clarity on if applying a SWU chages the fare from bulk to revenue? I purchased JFK-LAX-HKG through chase UR and I am sure it’s a bulk fare where EQD will be calculated based on distance. I want to use an SWU but have been reading that it AA then somehow finds the fare and credits EQD based on the price paid, not distance. I’m taking this trip solely for EQD so the fare changing over would defeat the purpose of the entire thing! Thanks.
Thank you! This is one of the most helpful posts I’ve read. Appreciate the in deity analysis.
Wanted to share a complication I experienced with Chase portal this week. I purchased AA bulk fare and added my AA Freq Flyer number, which automatically added me to upgrade list as EXP. Upgrades were confirmed within hours and before the ticket was ticketed (Chase indicates they ticket each midnight). Chase was unable to ticket because the ticket had been ‘changed’ and it remained stuck in Confirmed status. I had to purchase again without Freq Flyer number, wait to be ticketed at midnight, and then add AA Freq Flyer number to try to get upgrades again when I canceled the first ticket.
Do you know whether it is possible to get the Amex travel special fares that have relaxed change rules from the website? I bought four tickets (via the Amex Platinum travel desk) that don’t have change fees from AA (although there is still the $39/ticket charge from Amex). I don’t see those same fare rules when I try to book the same itinerary on the web site, which is too bad because I’d rather not pay the $39/ticket issuance fee if I didn’t have to.
Great info. Also really eerie that you used those specific examples…I flew COU-DFW-LAX last week and COU-DFW-HKG in February. Not exactly common routes! Also the HKG trip I booked through the Chase UR Portal, but sadly it was not credited as a special fare. Now I know what to look for though, so thanks!
[…] Chase travel portal: Reliably Special Fares. However, check the fare rules to be sure. […]
Oh, how I wish this worked for United. Ugh.
[…] Cracking the Bulk Fare Code! How to Tell When a Flight is a Bulk Fare • Two Quirks in the Hyatt Changeover That Might Be Mattress Run Worthy • A Quicker Way to […]
[…] Cracking the bulk fare code! How to tell when a flight is a bulk fare. […]
[…] Bet You Didn’t Know: Cracking the Bulk Fare Code! How to Tell When a Flight is a Bulk Fare by Frequent Miler. Another great post by Julian. […]
Specifically w/ regard to using Cit/TYP – is there any way to find this info after I’ve purchased? Your example shows how to find the info before purchasing. I can’t find it anywhere on a flight I’ve already booked.
Unfortunately, no. At least as far as Citi/TYP goes, it doesn’t appear you can find the fare rules anywhere after you’ve booked.
We bought an tickets through UR on Air Berlin for a Berlin-Warsaw flight and it was only when we went to check luggage that we found out we’d bought a ticket that would charge us $60 per bag! We’d carried on the bags crossing the pond, but they were a bit too big and heavy for the intra-Europe flight we had booked for a week later.
The ticket was a little under $100 OW which seemed reasonable at the time, given the distance. We never dreamed it would have such fare rules. Anyway, the rep checking us in took pity and accepted our bags at no charge, but it could have easily been a $120 mistake, esp. in a country where most are sticklers to rules.
Thanks for the post. It will help me going forward!
Your experience is unrelated to this article. As the author stated, his details pertain to cancellations and mileage credits. And your story matches the usual “Economy” ticket rules for oversized bags on intra-Europe flights.
We did not have oversized bags. The charge was directly related to the ticket we bought.
But what I missed is why this is such a big deal……..credit for status?
Bulk fares earn redeemable miles at different rates than regular fares, which can work to your advantage (or against you in some cases).
You hit a home run with this one 🙂
In your research was the bulk fare less expensive than the least expensive published fare? I realize you would have to do a point/$ conversion to tell.
Great question. I only have a limited number of data points, but the bulk fares I saw were almost always NOT any cheaper than the published fare. The one exception to this was Amex, which does seem to offer some cheaper bulk fares, though you have to pay entirely with points to buy them (no splitting between points and cash).
great article and and kudos for the research.
Personally i never cared abt the fare rules . If it is cheap then buy it. If iam able to use my points…then buy it. Its better then spending cash.
Great report. I appreciate the amount of research and time you spent.
Does anyone know if this is an issue with USBank Flexperks purchased tickets? I have an AA flexperks perchased ticket that I’m crediting to AS Mileage Plan for RDM and elite status credit. Am I going to have issues? Do I just look at the fare class?
I don’t have a FlexPerks card so I can’t speak to whether this is also true of that program. However, unfortunately the fare class itself won’t tell you if it’s a bulk ticket or a published fare. It’s only disclosed in the fare rules.