Reader Steven writes in:

I know that so called y-up fares can be a good way to sit in first class for cheap, but I can’t find them for flights to Europe or Asia. Can you help?

The reason you can’t find them, Steven, is because there are none by that name. International long-haul discount first (and business) class fares go by different names than their domestic equivalents.

Y-UP fares and their ilk are limited to North American flights, and generally refer to an upgrade from coach to first on two-class planes. See here for background on Y-UP fares, and see FareCompare’s Y-UP search tool to find these fares on routes you travel.

For Europe or Asia, you’re generally going to be looking for Z-fares. But there’s no handy-dandy search tool (yet) for Z-fares like there is for Y-UPs. (Neil and Rick, consider this a challenge!…)

Z-fares crop up from time to time, but aren’t available on every route. Traveling in summer or the December holiday season maximizes your chances of finding such a fare.

For international premium class travel, be sure to also consider the startup airlines like Maxjet, Silverjet, Eos Airlines, MiMa, and L’Avion (update: L’Avion is now renamed OpenSkies). These offer all-business class flights to London, Milan, or Paris.

- First class for less than coach?
- More tips on finding discounted first class fares (Y-UP, Q-UP, etc.)
- Update/Correction re: discounted first class fares (Y-UP, Q-UP, etc.)
- Y-UP and Q-UP first class fares apparently not enough: Welcome M-UP and B-UP fares
- More trans-Atlantic flights, but lower prices?

There’s escalation in the Discounted First Class War.

Yesterday’s post about Y-UP and Q-UP fares brought in a few e-mails. Including this one:

Have you seen that United now goes beyond Y-UP and Q-UP and now features M-UP and B-UP fares?

It’s true. Confirmed. Whoo.

Pulling up a list of fares between, say, Washington and Los Angeles on the arbitrary date of October 28, I see these “discounted” premium fares:

Delta USD 983.00+ F06C booking code F
American USD 1159.00+ YUPP7ZN booking code P
United USD 1159.00+ QUA7UPN booking code A
United USD 1159.00+ QUA7UP4Z booking code A
American USD 1533.00+ YUPPMZ booking code P
United USD 1533.00+ QUAUP4Z booking code Z
United USD 1533.00+ QUAUP booking code A
American USD 1933.00+ YUPMZ booking code A
United USD 2433.00+ MUAUP booking code P
United USD 2433.00+ MUAUP4D booking code D

Notice that the Delta fare that doesn’t play these -UP games is actually the cheapest of the discounted premium fares. Go figure. (FYI, the fares with booking code D or Z are business class fares on 3-class planes… hope you’re keeping score.) And none of these fares come close to the discounted economy class prices that most people look for. -UP fares shine when you’re traveling at the last minute and all fares are sky high.

This is getting silly. We have Yuppie and Quppie fares, and now Muppies and Buppies. It’s getting too hard to keep track of all these options. My brain is going to explode.

delta business seat Update/Correction re: discounted first class fares (Y UP, Q UP, etc.)Flying in first class for the price of coach is a beloved subject with this blog’s readers. But reader Alan F. correctly points out via e-mail that I duplicated the Wall Street Journal’s mistake in my two earlier posts on the subject of Y-UP and Q-UP fares (here and here). I erroneously called these fares coach fares with an automatic upgrade to first. They’re not. They are first class fares, period.

The confusion arises because they have a fare code (e.g., “QUAUP”) that starts with an economy-fare letter, “Q.” But the booking code for these fares — the single-letter category the fares fall into — is actually a first-class code, such as “F” or “A.”

So who on earth, beside Alan F., cares?? Why would this matter? At least two important reasons:

1) Some travelers are reporting that they’re not getting seats in first on these fares. They get to the gate and are handed an economy boarding pass, with the comment that their upgrade didn’t clear. What upgrade? They bought a first-class ticket, so an economy boarding pass is a downgrade.

2) Miles, miles, miles. If you buy a first-class ticket, you earn more miles, both redeemable miles and elite-qualifying miles. Make sure you get what you paid for.

This business of the fare code vs. the booking code is silly. It confuses passengers and staff alike. I don’t know if it’s done this way by design or neglect. Or maybe there are travelers who like it this way. I could imagine a company’s accountants, whose job it is to enforce a “no first class travel” policy, not recognizing a Q-UP fare as a first class fare. Anyone?

(Updated August 6, 2006; original text is crossed out, corrections follow in text. Reason for update is here.)

Last week we discussed coach tickets that automatically upgrade actually book into first class (usually Q-UP or Y-UP fares; Z fares book into business class on three-class or international flights). (Updated August 6, 2006: Q-UP and Y-UP fares are first class fares, NOT economy fares with an upgrade. A minor distinction, but an important one in case your flight gets overbooked, or if a gate agent tries to tell you your “upgrade” was denied. See here.)

The folks at FareCompare have come up with two useful tools for finding discounted first class fares. First, they offer a Q-UP and Y-UP fare list for U.S. cities. This link will take you to the y-up (or equivalent) fares for Chicago; change the departure city at the top of the page.

Even better, they offer a handy guide (PDF) for booking Q-UP and Y-UP fares on the airlines’ websites. (Citing problems with the airlines’ homepages, they refer you to instead for USAirways and Delta.)

I’d add a caveat: Some of the discounted first class fares their methods find are nonrefundable first class. For example, a United QUAUPN fare is nonrefundable; a QUAUP fare can usually be refunded.) The fare without the N at the end might just cost a few dollars more (single digits) but it offers much more flexibility. You may need to pick up the phone to buy the refundable version.

Posted by: Mark Ashley

(Updated August 6, 2006; original text is crossed out, corrections follow in text. Reason for update is here.)

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (republished here) advises travelers to look for discounted first class fares: Q-UP, Y-UP, and Z fares. Some of these are technically coach fares, with an automatic upgrade. Though these fares often look like a coach fare, based on the booking codes, they actually book into first (or business, on three-class planes). This is a subject we’ve addressed before, with regard to international travel.

A few observations:

Finding a coach-with-automatic-upgrade discounted first class fare is nice, but it’s not generally rockbottom cheap, so don’t plan on paying $225 for a first class ticket from New York to San Francisco. These tickets are cheaper than last-minute full-fare economy fare, and certainly cheaper than full-fare first class, so undoubtedly preferable, but not cheaper than long-term advance economy purchases.

For example: Chicago-Los Angeles and back, May 16-23 on United. A search for first class fares on automatically yields an itinerary with fare basis code QUAUP. This is one of the fares the WSJ is talking about. The price? $1418.59 round trip. The cheapest upgradable coach fare? $280.60. Sure, that doesn’t mean that the upgrade is guaranteed, but that’s still a big spread between “discounted” first and coach.

The lesson: See if you can upgrade a cheaper fare before you buy one of these fares. They may be less than full-fare first, but if you have upgrades, and the spots are available, use ‘em on a cheap fare. Call your airline first to check upgrade availability.

The article is also a bit glib on how to find these fares. They’re not available for every route, for every date, or every airline. Searching for first class tickets should bring them up, if they’re available. Otherwise, try using this tool from Travelocity, which lists all available fare classes for selected airlines on your chosen date. You’ll see the list of fares, ranked by price. Some of them may read Q***UP or Q***UPN, for example. These are your auto-upgrade discounted first class fares. Once you’ve found the fare you want, (try to) book wherever you like.

Finally, not all Q-UPs, etc. are created equal, and these fares are more restricted than full-fare first (“F” fares). F or A fares are most likely refundable; Q-UPs, etc., may not be. For example, on United, if there is an “N” at the end of the fare basis code, it’s not refundable. Read the rules before you buy.