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Using restricted airfares

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Department of Defense travelers frequently ask why they can't use low airfares that they find on Internet travel sites. DOD policy requires tickets for official travel be purchased through the contracted commercial travel office. However, the truth is, under the right circumstances they can purchase lower-cost, restricted airfares for official travel

To do so, they must first get approval from their travel authorizing official and they must be sure that they don't violate any of the rules related to the General Services Administration's contract City-Pair Program. In addition, they need to weigh the savings against the potential additional costs related to changing or canceling a ticket. Under the rules for the city-pair program, travelers can purchase any ticket at a cost lower than the City-Pair fare if the fare is available to the general public. They cannot use a lower-cost fare that is limited to government travelers such as a discount government or category "Z" fare. In addition, they must use a U.S. flag carrier, if available, and they can only fly on DOD approved airlines.

Finally, if the airline that has the contract for the City-Pair also offers the same reduced fare, then the traveler must purchase the reduced fare ticket from that City-Pair carrier. The advantage with the City-Pair Program is that the tickets are unrestricted, which means they can be changed without any penalties and are fully refundable, if canceled. With restricted fare tickets, they are non-refundable, and the value of any canceled tickets can only be applied towards a new ticket purchased by the same traveler within the time frame established by the airline, generally with a hefty penalty.

Whenever a traveler changes a restricted ticket, the traveler must pay a change fee in addition to any increase in the ticket based on what fares are available at the time the change is made. Therefore, the traveler and approving official must consider how likely it is that the trip will not be changed or canceled, as well as what the likelihood is that the traveler will be able to re-use the ticket within the timeframe required by the airline if the trip is canceled.

Travelers whose plans change frequently, or travel at the last minute, generally are not good candidates for restricted tickets. Each airline has different rules, change fees, and penalties, so the traveler and approving official must read the particular airline's fare rules carefully before deciding to purchase a restricted ticket. Purchasing a cheaper restricted ticket should be considered if a trip has very firm start and end dates, such as a conference, and the traveler is unlikely to be recalled home or elsewhere. If the cost difference between a restricted ticket and a City-Pair ticket is greater than any change fee penalty, the restricted ticket could be a good way to save government resources.

For more travel related concerns, call the 21st Space Wing Passenger Travel Office at 556-5179.

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