Airline booking ploys

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Airline booking ploys are tactics used by travelers in commercial aviation to lower the costs of flying to a desired destination. These tactics take advantage of inefficiencies in pricing by working around the airline's fare and route systems, often due to the airlines' use of fortress hubs. Several of these tactics exist.

Throwaway ticketing[edit]

Throwaway ticketing is purchasing a ticket with the intent to use only a portion of the included travel. This situation may arise when a passenger wants to travel only one way, but where the discounted round-trip excursion fare is cheaper than a one-way ticket. This can happen on mainline carriers where all one-way tickets are full price. For instance, a passenger only intending to fly from Los Angeles to New York may find the one-way ticket costs $800, but that the round-trip fare is $500. The passenger, therefore, purchases the round trip from Los Angeles to New York and back to Los Angeles, boards the flight to New York, but stays in New York and "throws away" the second half of the ticket by not showing up for the return flight. It is only possible to "throw away" the final segment(s) of a ticket, because throwing away a segment by not showing up for the outbound trip will often lead to the airline's canceling the entire reservation.[1]

Hidden city ticketing[edit]

Hidden city ticketing is a variant of throwaway ticketing. The passenger books a ticket to a fictitious destination (the "hidden" city) with a connection at the intended destination, walks away at the connection node, and discards the remaining segment. Flight fares are subject to market forces, and therefore do not necessarily correlate to the distance flown.[2][3] As a result, a flight between point A to point C, with a connection node at point B, might be cheaper than a flight between point A and point B. It is then possible to purchase a flight ticket from point A to point C, disembark at the connection node (B), and discard the remaining segment (B to C).

Using the hidden city tactic is usually practical only for one-way trips, as the airlines will cancel the subsequent parts of the trip once a traveler has disembarked. Thus, round-trip itineraries need to be created by piecing two one-way flights together. This tactic also requires that the traveler have carry-on luggage only, as any checked baggage items will be unloaded only at the flight's ticketed final destination.[4] Exceptions to this requirement occur when re-entering a country where luggage must be processed by customs agents, when changing airports, or when train travel is involved in the flight ticket. This allows for a traveler to reclaim their luggage before checking in for their final destination, and therefore to simply leave the airport.[5] Hidden-city ticketing carries the risk of the initial flight's being overbooked or cancelled, and the airline's transferring the passenger to a different route that bypasses the connection node.[6]

Hidden city ticketing violates most airlines' contract of carriage.[7] (A notable exception is Southwest Airlines, whose fare rules do not specifically prohibit the practice.)[citation needed] Someone doing it infrequently is unlikely to be pursued by the airline, but some frequent fliers have reported either losing their frequent flier accounts or being threatened with such a loss.[citation needed] Experienced fliers recommend that if doing it more than very occasionally, passengers either not associate their frequent flier numbers with reservations using the hidden city trick or instead crediting the miles to a partner airline.[8] In 2014, United Airlines and Orbitz filed a lawsuit against a search engine dedicated to finding hidden city tickets, alleging damages from lost revenues, but were unsuccessful.[9][10]

Back-to-back ticketing[edit]

Back-to-back ticketing is a type of nested ticketing whereby a traveler tries to circumvent minimum stay requirements. For example, say a traveler wants to make two round trips midweek in two different weeks. At one time, airlines typically charged more for midweek round trips than for trips that involved a Saturday-night stay. The back-to-back ticketing ploy allows the traveler to book two round-trip tickets with Saturday stays even though the actual travel is all midweek. If a business traveler wanted to make two round trips from New York to Los Angeles in two consecutive weeks, instead of booking two round-trips in separate weeks in the following way:

  • Ticket 1 outbound: week 1 Monday New York to Los Angeles
  • Ticket 1 return: week 1 Friday Los Angeles to New York
  • Ticket 2 outbound: week 2 Monday New York to Los Angeles
  • Ticket 2 return: week 2 Friday Los Angeles to New York

The traveler could rearrange the itinerary, nesting a round-trip home within the round-trip to Los Angeles such that the outbound trips on both tickets are in the first week and the return trips are on second week.

  • Ticket 1 outbound: week 1 Monday New York to Los Angeles
  • Ticket 2 outbound: week 1 Friday Los Angeles to New York
  • Ticket 2 return: week 2 Monday New York to Los Angeles
  • Ticket 1 return: week 2 Friday Los Angeles to New York

In such case, the traveler appears to stay at the destination on the weekend for both tickets (staying at Los Angeles for ticket 1, and at New York for ticket 2), thus taking advantage of the Saturday-night requirement for both tickets.

Within North America, the usefulness of this strategy has diminished materially, as most airlines have abandoned the discount for a Saturday-night stay-over for these types of trips. However, many intercontinental round-trip tickets still have minimum length of stay requirements. Back-to-back ticketing is useful with tickets when there is a minimum length of stay on the discount (e.g., 7 days), and the traveler needs to stay only in the destination for a shorter period of time.

Legal status[edit]

Airlines are strongly opposed to booking ploys for financial reasons. Other reasons cited by airlines include "public safety" concerns, but these are usually not explained.[11] Many airlines have established means of identifying and penalizing travelers who take advantage of such tactics, most notably through their frequent flier programs.[12]

Booking ploys are generally a breach of the contract of carriage between the passenger and the airline. Violating the contract is generally a civil, not a criminal matter.[4] When a traveler is shown to have practiced such methods, airlines may respond by confiscating tickets, canceling frequent flier status, and billing travel agents for the fare difference.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "FAQ: Air Traveler's Handbook 1/4 [Monthly posting]Section - [1-1a] Standard Tricks: Advance Booking Discounts". FAQ.org. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  2. ^ on, C. F. "Why Airlines Need Hidden City Ticketing to Be Possible but They Also Can't Let You Take Advantage of It". Cranky Flier. Retrieved 2016-09-25. 
  3. ^ "Airlines to public: please ignore this blog post". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2016-09-25. 
  4. ^ a b Silver, Nate (4 May 2011). "How to Beat High Airfares". The New York Times Magazine. 
  5. ^ "View From The Wing - How to Use Hidden City and Throwaway Ticketing to Save Money on Airfare". USA Today. 7 January 2012. 
  6. ^ "Last-Minute Airfare Bargains". AirFareIQ. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  7. ^ "Last-Minute Airfare Bargains". AirFareIQ. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  8. ^ "The dangers of hidden city ticketing and should you be doing it?". airlinehotelcreditcards.com. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  9. ^ Gillespie, Patrick (2014-12-30). "Why is United Airlines suing a 22-year-old?". CNN Money. Archived from the original on 2014-12-30. Retrieved 2014-12-30. 
  10. ^ Gillespie, Patrick (2015-12-31). "How a 23-year-old beat United Airlines". CNN Money. Retrieved 2017-04-05. 
  11. ^ Harris, Andrew (November 18, 2014). "United, Orbitz sue over 'Hidden City' tickets". Bloomberg. 
  12. ^ Welt, Sarah (October 11, 1999). "Airlines: Get Out Of The Gray Area (Enhanced Systems Target Back-To-Back, Hidden Ticketing Practices)". Anolik Law Group. 

Further reading[edit]