Airline Fare Codes

» Posted by on Jan 12, 2015 in Airlines, Industry Postings | 2 comments

YCA, CA, CB, DG . . . What do all of these airfare codes mean? 

Airfare codes were designed to help us, but they can be very confusing when we don’t know what they mean.  Don’t worry; I was confused too until I did a little research.

First, let’s look at what an airline fare code is.  Fare codes are a way for airlines to differentiate between class of service, cost of ticket, award ticket, etc.  We will be looking at four airline fare codes used for government travel, but let’s first look at the government’s airfare program.

The airline city pair program is a successful program between the US General Services Administration (GSA) and the airlines.  Yearly, GSA contracts with airlines to get discounts off the price of commercial fares.  This successful program saves the federal government billions of dollars annually.  Rest assured, a city pair fare is based on several factors other than price such as nonstop service, convenient flight times, number of flights offered, shortest total flight times,  and whether jet service is offered.

A city pair fare has a city as the point of origin and another city as the point of destination.  These one way fares offer the government flexibility for their travelers.  Other benefits include

  • fully refundable tickets and no charge for cancellations or changes
  • availability of last seat
  • flexibility of multiple destinations since fares are priced with one way routes
  • no advance purchasing required
  • no minimum or maximum length of stay requirements
  • availability of dual fares
  • no blackout periods
  • pricing stability due to locked in fares
  • volume – over 5,000 city pair fares to choose from

It should also be noted that it is mandatory for government employees to use economy class contract fares unless they qualify for an exception.  Exceptions are found in the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR).

Airline City Pair tickets are issued using one of the following contract award (CA) fare codes:

  • YCA
    • city pair fare
    • guaranteed GSA economy class
    • capacity controlled fares
  • _CA
    • city pair fare
    • GSA economy class
    • limited capacity
    • first letter of the _CA will vary by airline (e.g. LCA, QCA, etc)
    • seat availability on a particular flight varies carrier-by-carrier and market-by-market
    • ticketing time limits
    • advance purchase requirements
    • minimum or maximum stay requirements
    • travel time limits
    • extended calendar blackouts of more than five consecutive days’ duration
    • can be subject to penalty, change or cancellation fees

These two contract fare codes are also known as Dual Fares.  YCA is a highly discounted unrestricted fare.  The capacity controlled fare (_CA) offers an even deeper discount.  Because the rate is lower, there is a limited number of seats when the _CA fare is offered.  The _CA flights allow an agency to save the most money with the same quality service available with YCA fares.  For this reason, the _CA fares are encouraged by the Federal Travel Regulation.

 City pair contracts for business class service are awarded for many long-distance international markets.  The contract fare code is

  • _CB
    • city pair fare
    • business class
    • no administrative fee/penalty for reticketing, rebooking or cancelling – with exception of Group Travel Cancellation Policies and certain fees
    • long-distance international markets

 Some airlines offer “Government Fares” or “Government Discounts”.  These are not contract fares even though they appear to be the same price.  The fare code is

  • DG
    • not a government contract city pair fare
    • offered by non contract carriers
    • not offered to the general public
    • also known as “Me Too Fares”
    • may not be used for government travel unless it meets a government exception
    • fare may change between time reservation is made and ticket is issued
    • additional fees may be added that do not apply to contract airfares
    • early ticketing may be charged to traveler’s credit card sooner than with contract airfares

 The DG fares can be used when 

  • a city pair fare is not available
  • space or a scheduled contract flight is not available in time to accomplish the purpose of your travel
  • the contract flight is inconsistent with explicit policies of your agency regarding scheduling travel during normal working hours
  • rail is not available, not cost effective or inconsistent with mission requirements

 Since DG fares are offered by non contract carriers and not available to the general public, they do not qualify for the FTR exception which allows government travelers to take advantage of a lower commercial fare offered by non-contract carriers. 

In summary, if you know your flight schedule well in advance and there is little or no chance you will need to change your flight plan, then look for a _CA city pair fare.   Remember these need to be booked early with little chance of changing your schedule.  If you need to leave on travel in a week or less, chances are likely that you will not find a –CA fare and will need to look for a YCA contract fare.  If a YCA or _CA city pair fare is not available, then look for a DG fare.  If you are traveling internationally, search for a –CB fare.

Take pride in being a frugal government traveler who follows the FTR. 

By Dean Cox

“The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.”


  1. Appendix P lists several classes of travelers who may not use contract city pair fares. One example is foreign military personnel. Does this prohibition extend to DG fares, since the above article states that DG fares are not contract city pair fares.

    • It does extend to all “government” fares

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