FAQs for City Pair Program

First, GSA concentrates on the government's market share to make the most of the competition available. The government's delivery of market share drives the program. So, to ensure the fares stay favorable, federal travelers must use the contract carrier unless an exception applies.

Second, GSA works with other government agencies to make sure the federal traveler's needs and concerns are fully met. This ensures that you have a good choice of convenient and timely flights.

Third, GSA works in partnership with the airline industry and respects their concerns. For example, because the fares are so attractive, the airlines insist that only federal employees traveling on official business be allowed to use them. With a few limited exceptions, no one else can use the government rates. GSA understands and accepts this in order to bring the federal traveler the best value in the sky.

The City Pair Program provides the following core benefits:
  • No advance purchases required;
  • No minimum or maximum length of stay required;
  • Fully refundable tickets and no charge for cancellations or changes;
  • No capacity controlled YCA fare seating. If there is a coach class seat on the plane, the traveler can purchase it;
  • No blackout dates;
  • Locked-in fares to facilitate travel budgeting;
  • Significant discounts over regular walk-up fares; and

In general, federal (civilian and military) employees on official travel and persons authorized to travel directly at the government's expense (with the exception of contractors) are required to use the City Pair Program unless one of the limited exceptions in Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) 301-10.111 applies. Please refer to the annual contract for a full list of mandatory users.

The preferred form of payment is the government travel charge card or centrally-billed account (FTR 301-72.3), however, the contract carrier also agrees to accept payment through Government Transportation Requests (GTRs). GTRs may be used to pay for international air travel and other travel related expenses. For domestic air travel, GTRs may be used only under special circumstances and for travel related expenses. Special circumstances are defined as acts of God, emergency situations, and when purchasing a domestic ticket in the USA in conjunction with travel that originated overseas.

Yes, mandatory users of the City Pair Program are required to use the contract carrier unless a specific exception applies per FTR 301-10.111 (see below). Choosing not to use the contract carrier because of personal preference, frequent flyer clubs, etc. is a violation of policy.

Commercial airfares can be highly volatile, so an exception to the mandatory use requirement allows government travelers to take advantage of a lower fare offered by non-contract carriers, if the fare is also offered to the general public and, if used, will result in a lower total trip cost to the government. Non-contract fares that are offered only to government travelers (sometimes called "DG" fares) are not included in this exception.

If the contract carrier for the particular route offers the lower fare, you still must use them, but at the lower fare. Travelers that use this exception must abide by the restrictions that typically go along with lower commercial fares. Restrictions on discounted commercial fares usually include: no refunds, additional change or cancellation fees, minimum or maximum stay requirements or extended calendar blackout periods.

Additional exceptions to the mandatory use requirement are contained in the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR § 301-10.111) and include:

  • Space on a scheduled contract flight is not available in time to accomplish the purpose of your travel, or use of contract service would require you to incur unnecessary overnight lodging costs, increasing the total cost of the trip;
  • The contractor's flight schedule is inconsistent with explicit policies of your federal department or agency regarding scheduling travel during normal working hours;
  • Rail service is available, and such service is cost effective and is consistent with mission requirements; and
  • Smoking is permitted on the contract flight and the nonsmoking section of the aircraft for the contract flight is not acceptable to you.

How an offer is evaluated depends on the evaluation "Group" the offered fare falls into. Some Groups are evaluated using a price/technical tradeoff methodology where award may be made to a higher priced carrier with a higher quality of service. Other Groups, typically those with fewer passengers flying these routes, are evaluated using a lowest price technically acceptable methodology where award is made to the offeror that meets minimum service requirements and offers the lowest fare to the government.

Quality of Service is evaluated in a price/technical tradeoff scenario based on the following three (3) subfactors:

  1. Timeband/Service Distribution
  2. Average Elapsed Flight Time
  3. Number/Type of Flights

Subfactor 1: Timeband/Service Distribution considers all offered inbound and outbound flights across timebands comparing nonstop vs. direct and connecting service. Nonstop service and flights in more desirable timeband score best under this subfactor.

Subfactor 2: Average Elapsed Flight Time considers the average total flight times based on each airline’s routing. Nonstop service and flights in score best under this subfactor.

Subfactor 3: Number/Type of Flights considers the number of inbound and outbound flights offered daily/weekly, as applicable. Airlines that offer multiple flights score best under this subfactor.

A minimum service standard is set for each airline city pair and may include, as an example, minimums for nonstop vs. connecting service, connecting time limitations, circuity, and timeband limitations.

Even though nonstop service is heavily favored, it is not always available or the best value. Some of the reasons that connect service is awarded are as follows:

  • There is no nonstop carrier for a specific route;
  • The nonstop carrier did not offer on the city pair;
  • The nonstop carrier did not meet the minimum service requirements;
  • The nonstop carrier has offered an unreasonably high price; or
  • The connect service carrier has offered a fare so low that it was the best overall value, despite the advantages of nonstop service.

No. Even though the City Pair Program is large, with sales over $2.5 Billion per year, it still represents a very small percentage of the airlines' business. Unless the commercial traffic warrants it, a carrier will not add a new route or improved service levels (such as nonstop) or larger aircraft for the government

Use of contract fares is limited to official travel as authorized and approved in advance by the government agency. If personal travel is being taken in conjunction with official government travel, the contract fares cannot be used for that portion of the trip that is personal.

See FTR 301-10.8 for the employee's liability when for personal convenience the employee travels by an indirect route or interrupts travel by a direct route.

Generally, no. If there is already a contract fare from the origin to the end destination, other contract fares may not be combined to circumvent the award already made.

However, if there is no contract fare for the route (again, origin to final destination), other contract fares may be combined. In fact, if there is no contract fare, a combination of contract fares and/or any other available fare may be used so that the price results in the lowest cost alternative to the government and meets the traveler's needs.

As defined in the CPP contract, Last seat availability means as long as there is coach class inventory available to sell on the plane, the government traveler can purchase it. No reference to a specific Seat Assignment (Seat Choice) is implied.

Contract fares are identifiable because normally the fare designator "YCA" is reflected. The ticket will show a three-letter fare basis code with CA (Contract Award) as part of it.

Fiscal year contract fares are provided for informational purposes on the City Pair Program website.

Fares will also be listed at time of booking through your agency's E-Gov Travel Service (ETS) booking channel.

Contract fares are identifiable by the three-letter fare basis code. City Pair tickets are issued using one of the following fare basis codes:

  • YCA = Unrestricted, guaranteed coach class fare;
  • _CA = Lower cost, coach class capacity-controlled fare that is only restricted by the availability of seats; and
  • _CB = Contract fare offered by carriers in some domestic and international line items for business class service. If an employee is authorized to travel in business class air accommodations, and a _CB fare has been awarded for the route, the employee MUST use the _CB fare unless an exception applies.
  • _CP = Contract fare offered by carriers in some international line items for premium economy class service. If an employee is authorized to travel in premium economy class air accommodation and a _CP has been awarded for the route, the employee is not mandated to use the _CP fare.

The only difference between a YCA and _CA fare is that _CA has a limited number of seats due to its lower fare. Therefore, travelers should make flight reservations as soon as plans are firm. For more on _CA fares, see Dual Fares.

The federal government is often exempt from state and local taxes, however, the airline passenger excise tax is a federal tax and the federal government is subject to it. While the base fare and taxes are required to be the same for all of a contract carrier's flights (using the same fare basis) between two cities, the airport and security fees may vary. The fees are based on the number of airports used, even if you do not change planes.

In accordance with FTR 301-10.110, federal employees on official travel must choose the City Pair contract carrier if the contract carrier fare is offered and has seats available. Travelers should utilize the contract carrier from the airport that offers established City Pair fares. If multiple sister airports (i.e. IAD, DCA, BWI are considered sister airports) offered on the city pair or a lower airfare is found, a traveler should always review its agency's internal travel policies to ensure they incorporate the use of both CPP contract and non-contract air carriers in a way that results in an overall cost savings to the federal government.

Yes. In accordance with FTR 301-50.3, if you are an employee of an agency as defined in FTR 301-1.1, you must use the E-Gov Travel Service for booking travel.

Both DoD and civilian agencies use online booking engines to arrange for travel. DoD uses the Defense Travel System (DTS) while civilian agencies use the E-Gov Travel Service (ETS) booking engine. However, ETS2 is also available for optional DoD use.

Some booking engines display base contract fares (fares without tax) while other booking engines display the total cost of the trip, including taxes plus airport and security fees.

Because of the difference in displays, do not be alarmed if the prices reflected on an agency's booking engine do not "match" the fares posted on the GSA City Pair Program website.

Domestic fares posted on the City Pair Program website show the domestic price for the base fare, tax included but without segment, airport and security fees. International fares are shown as the base fare only, exclusive of all fees and taxes.

Per FTR 301-10.111 Note 3, contractors are not authorized to use contract city pair fares to perform travel under their contracts.

GSA cautions agencies that the purchase of contract fare tickets on behalf of contractors is a misuse of the CPP.

In addition, invitational travel orders and the agency's Centrally Billed Account (CBA) should not be issued or used to allow contractors access/use of Contract City Pair fares.

The numbering sequence on the government charge card indicates official government employee travel. If a contractor's commercial fare is put on a CBA, the CBA identifies the traveler as eligible for City Pair contract fares.

To attend Inactive Duty Training (IDT), reservists can use the City Pair fares. In order to use City Pair fares, reservists must have a GSA SmartPay® Travel Card issued by their commanding officer.

Once the official government travel card has been received, reservists must contact the Commercial Travel Office (CTO) at their base or duty station to make travel reservations.

Groups of 10 or more passengers traveling together on the same day, on the same flight, for the same mission requiring group integrity, and identified when booking as a "group" by the travel management system, are non-mandatory users of the contract fares. Note 2 to FTR 301-10.111.

Such groups can choose the carrier that best meets their travel needs.

Groups of 10 or more passengers will be booked through the carrier's group booking procedures and follow that carrier's commercial group reservation, ticketing, and cancellation policies.

Current policy states that Department of Defense (DoD) organizations must not make duplicate military and commercial air transportation reservations to move DoD group travelers (defined for this purpose as 10 or more seats). For additional questions concerning this issue, please contact Headquarters Air Air Mobility Command Policy Branch, HQ AMC/A4CTC, DSN 779-4951, or Commercial 618-229-4591.

No. A contract carrier that offers a specific seat assignment (seat choice) to travelers will follow the same access and process for offering seat assignments to government travelers as it does for commercial customers in the same fare class of service. If there aren't any no-additional charge seats available for assignment at the time of the confirmed reservation (because for example, all seats have been pre-distributed or carriers only board groups at the time of departure), then government travelers will receive their seat assignments at the airport ticket counter or gate, in accordance with the contract carrier's commercial practices. When contract carriers do not offer seat assignments prior to boarding, government travelers are not required to pay additional money for a ticket that includes a seat assignment in order to board the flight.

Seat assignments are at the discretion of the carriers. Some airlines do not make seat selection available. Some may allow for a selection at check-in which is usually available 24 hours prior to flight departure for domestic flights. For the best seat selection, check-in as soon as possible.

Yes. You may upgrade to other than coach-class accommodations at your personal expense, including through redemption of frequent flyer benefits. Upgraded/preferred coach seating is also generally a traveler's personal choice and therefore is at the traveler's personal expense. However, your agency's travel authorization approving official may reimburse the additional seat choice fee if it is in accordance with internal agency policy.

When you use either the YCA or _CA fare you are processed by the airline just as any other passenger using a commercial fare. Contract airlines cannot discriminate against government travelers just because they are traveling at the City Pair fare. However, a government traveler cannot receive preferential consideration just because they are a government employee. A government passenger must also abide by the rules of carriage set forth by the airline, including those pertaining to check-in and gate show time parameters.

In the event of an oversell situation, the gate agent will ask for volunteers to go on a later flight and compensate those passengers with future flight coupons. If they don't get enough volunteers they will start canceling reservations of those who have not met the check-in and gate show time parameters first. That is why you should ensure that you meet all of the arrival and check-in requirements.

It depends. There are two categories of "bumping":
  • Voluntary (FTR 301-10.123) - When there is an actual oversell situation at the gate, the agent will ask for volunteers to give up their seat and take a later flight for a negotiated compensation. This is normally in the form of various valued flight coupons for future flights. If a government traveler volunteers AND still meets the mission requirements then the traveler can keep and use the negotiated compensation for their personal use. A government traveler should never volunteer if giving up their seat for the later flight(s) would result in not meeting the mission requirements;
  • Involuntary (FTR 301-10.122) - When the occasion occurs that there are too many passengers to be accommodated on the flight and not enough volunteers have been found, the gate agent will then "bump" people from the flight. This is where timely check-in times become critical. Passengers who have not met the advertised check-in times either via the internet or at the check-in counter/kiosk at the airport and at the gate will be the first ones bumped. Even if you have a seat assignment, if you haven't met the timelines you can be bumped. The airlines will bump those who have not met the timelines first because if a traveler has not met them, the airline will not be required to pay the DBC. If a government traveler is involuntarily bumped from a flight and receives a DBC, the compensation belongs to the government as it is the government who is inconvenienced and is due the compensation. The passenger (and the airline) is required to have the compensation in the form of a check (no flight coupons) made out to The Treasurer of the United States.

This cannot be looked at as a refund, but a penalty for non-performance as set forth by law by the DOT. When a passenger is involuntary denied boarding due to an actual oversell, the passenger, or in this case the government is compensated at:

  • Twice the value of the one way coach fare if the passenger is delayed more than an hour or more to their destination; or
  • Three times the value of the coach fare if the passenger is delayed more than two (2) hours.

More information regarding Airline Consumer Rights can be found at Bumping and Oversales and Airline Consumers' Rights FAQ.

Last Reviewed: 2023-05-02