The Basics of Unrestricted Airfare

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Getty Images / Vladimir Zakharov

There's almost no end to the different types of fares and fare codes that business travelers can encounter when booking an airline ticket. One of the cleanest (and usually most expensive) fares is an unrestricted fare.

Unrestricted fares are airline fares that do not have restrictions, such as a Saturday night stay, a 14-day advance purchase, or a required number of nights booked. Many unrestricted fares are refundable and easily changeable, which is why business travelers prefer them.

Unrestricted fares are typically the fares that you would get if you walked up to an airline counter right before a flight and wanted to book a ticket. They're expensive, but they also tend to be very flexible.

Examples of Unrestricted Fares

First-class tickets are a great example of unrestricted fares. Such tickets are usually fully refundable with complete flexibility. For business travelers, this is a huge benefit because it allows them to change flights, add layovers in different cities, and extend work trips if needed.

American Airlines states that its unrestricted fares are "fully refundable and do not have advance purchase requirements. If you purchase a ticket that is an unrestricted fare, you can make changes to your flight with no change fee (based on seat availability)."

Of course, as with any airline ticket, additional charges will apply if the new ticket or route is more expensive than your existing ticket.

Upgrading to Unrestricted Fares

Business travelers or frequent flyers may also want to check if their airline miles could be used to upgrade to an unrestricted fare.

Delta states that its upgrades are "based on the difference between the Main Cabin fare selected and the lowest Delta One®, First, Business Class or Delta Comfort+ fare for the itinerary, which is converted into miles." Mid-week, early-morning, and late-night flights usually have the best deals for upgrades with miles.

American Airlines has a similar policy that allows AAdvantage members to use their miles to upgrade on American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia flights. These upgrades are valid to the next cabin of service as well as for a single one-way trip.

Getting the Best Airline Fares

Unrestricted fares are not the cheapest. In fact, it's hard to find more expensive tickets than full-fare, unrestricted tickets. For frugal business travelers, look to book discounted travel and last-minute sales on websites such as CheapTickets and The Flight Deal.

Also, keep in mind that it can be more economical NOT to book an unrestricted fare (because they're so expensive) and instead book two non-refundable, restricted fares, even with the assumption you'll possibly have to throw one away. Although, be careful the airline doesn't catch on and cancel one or both tickets. (Usually, as long as the travel is logistically feasible, they won't.)

Unrestricted fares do provide the most flexibility, but at a cost. Business travelers hoping to save money should consider other wallet-friendly fare categories.

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