FAQs for City Pair Program

First, GSA concentrates on the government's market share to make the most of the competition available. The government traveler's responsibility is to use the contract carrier. The government's delivery of market share drives the program. So, to ensure the fares stay favorable, we encourage federal travelers to use the contract carrier.

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
  • Far pricing on one-way routes that permits agencies to plan multiple destination

The Airfares (City Pair Program) is so attractive that usage is strictly limited. There are a few exceptions, but in general, only federal or military employees on official travel may use the program with an appropriate form of payment. The preferred form of payment is the government travel charge card or centrally-billed account. The acceptance of GTRs is limited to international travel, travel related expenses, and special circumstances for domestic travel. 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.

Federal and military travelers on official business are required to use the contract carrier unless a specific exception applies. This required use is the incentive necessary to obtain airline participation in the Airfares (City Pair Program) and allows the airlines the business volume necessary to offer discounted rates. Choosing not to use the contract carrier because of personal preference, frequent flyer clubs, and more is a violation of the contract.

Commercial airfares can be highly volatile, so an exception to the mandatory use requirement allows government travelers to take advantage of low commercial fares offered by non-contract carriers, if the fares are also offered to the general public. 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 market 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 § 301-10.107) 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.

Absolutely not. Awards are made after measuring both quality of service and price. This allows an award to be made to a higher priced carrier if that carrier has superior service.

A minimum service standard is set for each airline city pair. This minimum applies to the number of flights per day in each direction, a maximum ground time of 90 minutes domestic, and 180 minutes international, and limits on circuit size (how far out of the way the carrier can take the traveler). Service standards change year to year based on service availability.

To determine best value, a technical evaluation is conducted to evaluate the quality of each offeror's service based on the following considerations:

  • Time and Type of Service: This factor looks for flights offered throughout the day. Nonstop service, at convenient times, scores best under this factor.
  • Flight Time: This factor looks for the shortest total flight times based on each carrier's routing. Nonstop service scores best under this factor.
  • Number and Type of Flights: This factor considers the number of flights offered throughout the day in order to provide the traveler with several choices. Carriers with several nonstop flights score best under this factor.
  • Jet Service: This factor gives preference to jets over propeller aircraft. All these factors are weighed against price and a best value decision is made.

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 airline city pair. Some carriers have so much traffic on certain routes that the carrier does not want the government business for the route.
  • The nonstop carrier did not meet the minimum requirements as outlined in the Request For Proposal (RFO). For example, the nonstop flights might be too late at night to be beneficial for our federal traveler.
  • The non-stop carrier has offered an unreasonably high price.
  • The connect service carrier has offered a fare so low that it was the best overall value, even considering all the advantages of nonstop service.

No. Even though the Airfares (City Pair Program) is large, with sales well over $1 Billion per year, it still represents only about two percent 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.

No. Use of contract fares is limited to official travel only. 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.

Travel authorization states the official travel itinerary as:

  • From: Atlanta, GA
  • To: San Francisco, CA and
  • Return to Atlanta, GA

Airline City Pair one-way contract fare from Atlanta, GA, to San Francisco, CA, is $159 with AirTran Airlines.Round trip totals $318.

For personal reasons, an employee wants to go to Chicago for several days resulting in the following:

  • From: Atlanta, GA
  • To: Chicago, IL
  • From: Chicago, IL
  • To: San Francisco, CA and
  • Return to Atlanta, GA

Since the portion of the itinerary from Atlanta to Chicago and Chicago to San Francisco is for personal reasons, the employee is not entitled to use the airline city pair contract fares for this portion of the trip. Commercial fares are applicable to this portion of the trip. The airline city pair contract fare is only applicable to the portion of the trip from San Francisco, CA, to Atlanta, GA, with AirTran Airlines at $318.

Note: See Section 301-10.8 of the Federal Travel Regulation for the employee's liability when for personal convenience the employee travels by an indirect route or interrupts travel by a direct route.

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.

We’re setting the record straight on what Last Seat Availability really means. Some travelers perceived LSA as meaning they do not have seat choice. This is not true. Last seat availability means that if any economy seats are available for purchase, government travelers will be guaranteed the CPP standard YCA fare. LSA simply refers to price guarantee and not where they sit on the plane.

*Last seat availability does not include seat assignment preference, which is addressed via your booking system and at check-in. Please see #22 (seat preference for specifics).

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.

Airline City Pair tickets are issued using one of the following fare basis codes:

  • (1) YCA = Guaranteed GSA economy class Airline City Pair fare.
  • (2) _CA = Limited capacity, GSA economy class Airline City Pair fare. The first letter of the three-letter fare basis code will vary by airline (e.g., QCA, LCA, etc.).

The only difference between the YCA and _CA is that there are a limited number of seats on the lower _CA Airline City Pair rate. Therefore, travelers should make flight reservations as soon as plans are firm. The traveler can ask the agency Travel Management Center or Commercial Travel Office or check on the Airfares (City Pair Program website.

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 Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) § 301-10.106, federal employees on official travel must choose the CPP 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 agencies 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. In line with FTR § 301-10.107, your agency may authorize use of a fare other-than a contract city-pair fare when:

  • They offer a lower fare to the general public that, if used, will result in a lower total trip cost to the Federal Government (the combined costs of transportation, lodging, meals, and related expenses considered)
  • 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 which would increase the total cost of the trip
  • The CPP contractor’s flight schedule is inconsistent with explicit policies of your Federal department or agency with regard to scheduling travel during normal working hours

Both DoD and the civilian government 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 engines.

These booking engines allow travelers to make travel arrangements online. 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 website show the domestic price for the base fare, tax included but without segment, airport and security fees. International Airfares (City Pair) are shown as the base fare only. Exclusive of all fees and taxes.

City Pair Program business class fares may be used when they are more economical, but are only mandated if required by your agency or organization. Use of contract air fares are mandatory for coach class service, City Pair Program only. If other than Coach Class service has been authorized in accordance with the Federal Travel Regulation (301-10.123).

All of the major airlines have made it clear to GSA that, because the contract rates are so low and the terms so favorable, the airlines would drop out of the City Pair Program (CPP) rather than extend the contract rates to contractors.

GSA has made the business decision not to jeopardize the program, or the over $7 Billion savings for taxpayers.

GSA cautions agencies that the purchase of contract fare tickets on behalf of contractors is a misuse of the CPP, and could jeopardize its future success.

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 Airline City Pair contract fares.

Contract carriers will accept payment through the following methods:

  • Individually or centrally billed government travel accounts issued under a GSA contract;
  • See Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) 301-72.3 (41 CFR 301-72.3); and
  • Government Transportation Request (GTR).
  • GTRs may be used when no other method of payment is available or feasible for travel related expenses. For domestic air travel, GTRs can only be used under special circumstances for travel related expenses. Special domestic circumstances are defined as acts of God, emergency situations, and when purchasing a domestic ticket in the United States in conjunction with travel that originated overseas.

To attend Inactive Duty Training (IDT), reservists can use the GSA City Pair Program (CPP) fares.

In order to use these fares, reservists must have a SmartPay® Travel Card issued by the command.

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.

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 Mobility Command Policy Branch, HQ AMC/A4CTC, DSN 779-4951, or Commercial 618-229-4591.

Some airlines have instituted an additional fee for choosing a seat prior to or at check-in and/or offer a seat selection for “premium” seats (i.e., aisle, front of the cabin, larger seats, more legroom etc). Agents may even attempt to "up sell" for seat selection. While booking contract fares is guaranteed, as long as economy class seats are available, choice of a particular seat is not guaranteed. If a traveler, however is prompted to choose a seat prior to or at check-in, it is important to check with the airline carrier's seat policy so that an additional fee is not incurred. Generally, the use of “premium” or upgraded/preferred coach seating options is a traveler's personal choice and is at the traveler's personal expense.

  • Coach class seating upgrade programs are referred to by airlines as “Coach Elite”, “Coach Plus”, “Preferred Coach” or by some other identifier.
  • Under these airline programs a passenger can obtain, for a fee, a more desirable seat choice in the coach class cabin.
  • These upgrades or preferred seat choices within the coach cabin are generally available either for an annual fee, at an airport kiosk or gate, or as a frequent flier benefit.
  • These coach upgrade options are not considered a new or higher class of accommodation since the seating is still in the coach cabin.
  • An agency may authorize and reimburse the additional seat choice fee when it is determined that doing so is in the interest of the government.
  • Travelers should verify their agencies’ current policies and procedures regarding reimbursement for seat choice options.

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 is usually available 24 hours prior to flight departure for domestic flights. For the best seat selection, check-in as soon as possible. An agency may reimburse the additional seat choice fee if it is determined that it is in the best interest of the government.

When you use either the YCA or _CA fare you are (should be) 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 on a discounted airfare. However a government traveler cannot expect 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 as well regarding check-in and gate arrival time frames. Most airlines require a passenger to check-in at the ticket counter (or kiosk) one hour prior to flight departure for domestic flights and two (2) hours prior for an international flight. We recommend 1 1/2 to 2 hours for domestic and 3 hours for international, especially at larger hub airports and during Holiday seasons. You must also be present at the departure gate 30 minutes prior to a domestic flight and 45 minute prior to an international flight.

Most airlines do "oversell" the number reservations for flights. Most often the number of "oversells' equal the number of "no-shows", However there are times that there are actual oversell situations at the time of departure at the gate. When that happens 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 time lines.

It depends. There are two categories of “bumping”:

  • Voluntary – 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 & 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 – 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 “bumping” 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, 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 and haven’t met the timelines you can be bumped. The airlines will use these timelines first because if they are not met the airline will not be required to pay the DBC. If a government passenger is actually involuntarily bumped from a flight 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 by 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
  • Three times the value of the coach fare if the passenger is delayed more than two (2) hours
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