I have written two articles before on code shares. As I discussed in those articles, code shares can be helpful to traveller, but also confusing. One area where code shares defy logic is in the area of how code shares are priced.
To recap, code shares are where one airline sells seats on a flight operated by another airline. So, Continental sells seats on a United flight. When Continental actually sells the ticket on the United flight, it sells it under it’s own flight number, which is what is called a code shared flight.
Logic would dictate that when Continental sells the seat on the United flight, as it is United that is eventually getting paid for the seat, the price charged by Continental for the ticket should be pretty much the same as the price United would charge. But as we have noted when it comes to airlines, not everything is based on logic. Sometimes the fare charged may be higher than that charged by the opreating carrier. Makes sense, the airline selling the ticket wants to make something on top of what it will pay the operating carrier. But the reverse is also true. Often, the airline selling the code shared flight charges LESS than the operating carrier for the same flight! This truly defies logic.
Whether you are looking for cheap flights to Orlando or to New Delhi, this happens all the time. I just did a few searches. At this very moment, A round trip from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Orlando, FL (MCO) is being sold by United airlines for $182 (I did a search for the last week of July). The very same United operated flights are being sold by Continental for $210. Conversely, on a Washington Dulles (IAD) to New Delhi (DEL) trip, there is Continental operated flights that Continental is selling for $1,382 and United is selling the same flights as a code share for less at $1,262. Go figure.
I am not picking on United and Continental here. This trend is seen across the board. I could quote you similar examples on KLM flights code shrared by Delta.
My understanding here is that these fares are in different fare buckets. While the operating airline may have sold out a particular fare bucket, the code share seller may still have the lower fare buckets available.
My advice, search on a website that searches multiple airlines. That will show you all the code-shared offering on the route you want to fly. Pick the cheapest one. Just remember, if the ticket is issued by the code-share airline, you have to know where you stand with the operating airline. Read my previous articles on code shares for details.