While I have no experience working in inventory/revenue management, I feel compelled to make this post since it’s something that has always mystified me. It never ceases to amaze me how bad the US legacy carriers are at taking money from people, outside of nickel-and-diming. Some airlines have impractical websites that make it tough to pay a premium for a higher fare ticket (just look how most airline websites hide the “first class” button when trying to make a reservation), while others have long lines at airport ticketing, which is where a lot of their money comes in.
Anyway, the one thing I’ve never understood is why airlines “zero out” flights, or refuse to sell more seats. I propose that airlines always offer “Y” (true full fare, not government discounts, etc.) availability, regardless of how overbooked a flight is. When you’re bringing in the “rack rate” there’s no reason to turn down customers, even if you have to bump dozens of others. Think about it, while the normal passenger is paying $100, a full fare ticket would probably be $1,000. It’s amazing how often we see flights days out that are sold out, when we know not all of their sales have been on high fares. Obviously the job of inventory management is to attract both the leisure traveler with cheap, restrictive fares, while trying to get business travelers to purchase the higher fares. All too often the most valuable customers to an airline — the last minute business travelers that are willing to pay full fare — are out of luck because the airlines aren’t selling seats anymore.
The one practical obstacle here (which also results in a lot of overbooking), at least at United, is that agents can use the “Y” bucket for rebooking people, which means a lot of people booked in “Y” the day of didn’t really pay, but instead got conveniently placed in it due to a cancellation, bump, misconnect, etc.