17 November 2011

Amtrak Service and Fares - # 12 - Fares, reserved coach

In markets served by its long-distance trains, Amtrak uses a yield management system under which coach travel is sold at four different price levels depending on availability.

While similar to the system used by the airlines, the number of fares is far fewer, and the complexity of the fares far less.

Let's take a look at an example for travel between Seattle and Chicago for travel on 18 December.

First, here is a fare display:

Four different levels of coach fares appear.  In ascending order of price (top to bottom in the display), they are $156, $205, $267, and $347 one way.  Under the class column ("CL"), is the respective inventory code that must be reserved for each fare: YD, YB, YA, or Y.

This is Amtrak's tame alphabet soup recipe for coach travel.  By comparison, the airlines use a bewildering array of inventory codes and fare basis codes with rules that go on and on.

So in this market (or pretty much any market served by long-distance Amtrak trains) four fares apply for coach travel.

Using the fare on line 1 as our first example, the fare basis code is DOF1, it is $156, it's a one-way fare, it must be booked in the YD inventory code, it's valid for a year, etc.

The next lowest fare is the BOF1 at $205, booked in YB.

Then after that is the AOF1 at $267 booked in YA.

Last of all is the full fare coach YOFC at $347 booked in Y.

Amtrak uses a convention similar to that of the airlines when it comes to its fare basis codes: the first letter of the fare basis denotes the inventory code that must be booked.  Amtrak also uses the Y inventory code for full fare, while the most deeply discounted is booked in YD (as in DOF1), the next lowest fare is booked in YB (BOF1), and the next fare up in YA (AOF1).

Now let's look at an availability display, to see what the lowest fare that could actually be confirmed for travel from Seattle to Chicago on 18 December.  Remember that we need a YD seat to get the lowest price.

To begin with, what you see above is one train (train 8, the Empire Builder) on line 1 that operates directly from Seattle to Chicago, while on lines 2 and 3 is a connection via Portland, Ore. (PDX).  The arrival time for train 8 in Chicago has a +2 after it, meaning that it arrives 2 days later.

Let's look at line 1.  (Note: this is a detailed view of only coach seat availability.  It does not show the availability of sleeping accommodations.)

The highest level inventory appears first: Y.  There are 8 (or more) seats in Y inventory available to sell.  Next comes YA, of which there also are at least 8 seats available.

But YB and YD are not available.  (YE and YF are inventory codes for which fares are seldom if ever published.)

The result of this is that the lowest coach fare available to sell on this train is $267, the fare that corresponds to the YA inventory code or bucket.

Here's how a reservation would look for one seat sold in the YA inventory code for Linda Test on 18 December:

And here is how it would look to a consumer booking through Amtrak.com:

Let's look at another example to make sure the point is clear, and then introduce another concept.

Here's a fare display between Chicago and New York for 13 March.

And below is the availability display.  (There are two direct trains - the one with the longer elapsed time on line 1 is the Cardinal, the train that makes a more circuitous journey.)  Looking at the train on line 2, train 48 (Lake Shore Limited), you see that YD seats are available, so the lowest price, the DOF1 at $97 per person one way, can be sold.

We sell two YD seats to create an itinerary for Jack and Jill Test, which will result in a total price of $194 ($97 x 2).

And then how it looks to a consumer using Amtrak.com

Now is a good time to introduce the concept of passenger type discounts.  Amtrak is far more generous in giving discounts than airlines are.  Right now let's consider two of these discounts: seniors (age 62 and above) and children (ages 2-15).

Seniors get a 15% discount off of coach rail fares, and accompanied children get a 50% discount.

Two children may receive the child's discount for every one adult.  Thus two children traveling with one adult would both get the children's discount.  Or four children traveling with two adults would get the child's discount.  However if there were three children traveling with  only one adult, the reservation would be priced as two adults and two children.

Let's see what happens to Jack and Jill Test's reservation when it is priced for two seniors.

$194 less 15% = $164.90.

Or for an adult and a child.

$97 for an adult + $48.50 for a child = $145.50.

In Amtrak.com these same scenarios would appear respectively in the following ways:

As a reminder, in the initial chapter about basic principles I laid out that passenger type discounts are only for coach rail fares; they do not apply to the additional charges assessed for business class service and sleeping accommodations.

Speaking of those additional charges, in the next chapter you'll get your first taste of how Amtrak applies accommodations charges as we look at pricing for business class service.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to # 11 - Fares, unreserved coach
Forward to # 13 - Fares, business (non-Acela Express)

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