How to Decipher Your Boarding Pass

fare classes and airline codes explained by Ahoy Travel

Your boarding pass is a minefield of information, and learning how to decipher it could mean faster, worry-free and more informed travel.

Each airline has its own set of rules when it comes to fare classes and abbreviations, however there are some commonalities that will help you understand what your fare code means and how this understanding will help in knowing exactly what you’re getting on your next flight.

fare classes and airline codes explained by Ahoy Travel

The Basics

Okay, so let’s start with the basics! Fare classes separate every single seat on the plane into different categories which each have their own price and rules. The most universally used across all airlines are:

Y – Full fare economy class ticket

J – Full fare business class ticket

F – Full fare first class ticket

Fare classes help the airline to separate which seats are still available to be sold on that journey. There can be a full range of different fare classes between these full fare codes, which can differ depending on airline and seasonality. Each different class will indicate restrictions and how discounted the fare was.

This is why when you search for a flight one day it may be a certain price, then the next day when searching for the exact same flight it might be a slightly higher price. The reason for this will most likely be because the fare class that was available yesterday has now sold out, so you’re getting perhaps a slightly more flexible economy ticket than previously.

Fare Basis Code

Once you have purchased your ticket, the airline will now combine your fare class with other codes that indicate everything they need to know about you and your journey. For example, if the ticket is refundable, one way, high season, long haul or if you’re using miles. There is a comprehensive list of a range of codes that are used by different American airlines here. As well as this, you can find out more about your specific airlines coding system on their website, or ask us at Ahoy and we would be happy to find out what your codes mean for you!


What may feel like an arbitrary SSSS on your boarding pass, actually stands for “Secondary Security Screening Selection”. This measure means you will receive additional security checks during your time at the airport. Airlines will either randomly select people for SSSS, or base it on certain criteria after looking at your journey.

There are a couple of red flags to the airlines such as buying a ticket very last minute, buying a one-way flight and paying cash for your flight, which might make you eligible for SSSS. Whilst annoying, it is put in place as an extra precaution to flag unusual travel patterns and perhaps those with incomplete travel documents. It is at the control of the airline as it is them who will take on any extra costs, say for example, if someone is refused entry to a country, then the airline must pay for their flight back.

SSSS code when travelling explained by Ahoy Travel

But why should you care…?

Being able to decipher the coding on your boarding pass is important in a couple of different cases, especially as a frequent flyer. It can help when booking through partner airlines, or using your miles for a different airline. You’ll be able to assure yourself that you’re in the correct cabin without having to get in touch with your airline, and that no mistakes have been made on the type of ticket you have. Which can save you the seconds when it comes to frequently travelling. Similarly, you’ll be able to tell the frequent flyer miles you’ll earn, if your ticket is upgradeable and where you are in the free upgrade priority line. Also, if anything goes wrong or you need to make a change, understanding your fare class will let you know if your ticket is refundable and help you plan your strategy.

However, as a frequent flyer, finding the time to spend deciphering your boarding pass may be unrealistic. If you’re short on time, and want to know what type of ticket you’re booking, how many miles you’ll earn on it and what flexibility you’ll have with it then Ahoy can help you manage this. With 24/7 chat support, you can ask any questions you have about your ticket any time during your journey. Discover more about Ahoy here.