When you go online to book an airline ticket, the web site often shows you a list of different flights to choose from. All of them will show a price, but some of them have a little addition, such as “5 seats left” or “2 left from”. What does that really mean?

I remember when someone I knew told me how surprised they were when they saw 1 seat remaining, booked their ticket, and yet their friend was able to get a ticket on the same flight booked at a later date.

Airlines Saying Things Differently

A quick sample of five airlines shows that each one does it differently. For example, American Airlines will use the text “3 seats left” underneath the price, as you can see below.

Anyone knowing English would expect that to literally mean there are three seats left to buy. British Airways is not too much better, using the text “2 left”. Again, it would lead you to believe there are two seats available to purchase.

Other airlines dispense with the numbers completely, with Qantas giving us our first real clue. They use the text, “Price nearly gone” rather than a number.

That is an unusual way of doing it and it isn’t down to local laws, either. Their competitor Virgin Australia uses an identical system to Aer Lingus.

Irish Airlines Uncover The 5 Seats Left Chicanery

Aer Lingus uses the text “5 fares left” rather than “5 seats left” which indicates that there are five tickets available at the price displayed on screen.

Europe’s largest airline, low fares carrier Ryanair is even more explicit. The text is “5 seats remaining at this price”, which is exactly what it is.

Once the 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 seat left at a particular price are sold, the ticket cost will increase and the next person will pay more. That is how it works. In simple terms, the price will get higher as more seats are sold and the closer it is to departure. I am generalising, as prices do fluctuate both up and down depending on how well the flight is selling.

Overall Thoughts

As you can see, “5 seats left” doesn’t actually mean there are just five seats remaining on the aeroplane. The real reason behind it is to spur you into making a purchase decision. “Oh no, the price will go up soon, I’d better buy now!” – that’s the thought it is trying to inspire.

I generally pay close attention to this, as I know from long experience that on the routes I fly, the price will usually always increase once the X number of seats has been sold.

What do you think of this? Is this a good indicator that you pay attention to, or total subterfuge and shenanigans from airlines that should know better? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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