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Old 02 January 2015, 04:11 AM
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Airplane Is It OK to Cheat Airlines if It Saves You Money?

Would you “scam” an airline’s ticketing policy if it saved $25? $70? $400?

A federal lawsuit is bringing public attention to “hidden city” ticketing, the technique of buying an airline ticket between two cities with a connection but ditching the rest of the trip. Say, for example, you want to fly from Boston to San Francisco but notice that a ticket from Boston to Seattle — with a connection in San Francisco — is cheaper. Once your flight lands in San Francisco, you prance out of the airport at your intended destination, pocketing the savings.

http://www.businessweek.com/articles...ical-questions
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  #2  
Old 02 January 2015, 04:51 AM
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I don't think that's scamming airlines anymore than using several different websites to find the cheapest rates on an airline ticket is scamming them.
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Old 02 January 2015, 04:52 AM
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With the disclaimer that I haven't worked in 'res' for almost two decades, it seems to me that all this guy did was make public the dirty little not-so-secret that the airlines don't seem to want to make generally known.

You can't check baggage using this method, because they'll go where the final destination in the itinerary says you've bought the ticket to go. Still, we in res used whatever methods we legally could to save our customers money... including using the "hidden city" method if necessary.

I can't believe it was something only we did, because when I came home from overseas, the airline that I contacted directly for my flight home did this very thing for me to save me money.

There may be some other concerns that I'm not considering or that may have changed drastically since I worked in this area, though.

~Psihala
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Old 02 January 2015, 04:59 AM
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The ticketing technique “interferes with United’s ability to sell unused seats on the final leg(s) of connecting flights, resulting in the loss of revenue that United would have earned by selling the unused seats,”
But you've already paid for the seat. They have their money; passengers aren't getting a refund if they skip the last leg of their trip. Basically the airlines are saying they want to double-dip. And they already intentionally overbook flights and have standby passengers anyway. They will get no sympathy from the public. It's not a matter of whether one is "cheating" a big corporation; you're pre-paying for a service at the price they've set. If they don't want people to do this, then they shouldn't price their fares this way.

Most of the commenters actually have some good analogies, likening this to a restaurant that complains if you only eat half the food you paid for, because they could have sold that extra food to someone else; or buying a ticket to a concert and then not attending, and the venue complains because they could have re-sold your empty seat to someone else.
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:00 AM
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The ticketing technique “interferes with United’s ability to sell unused seats on the final leg(s) of connecting flights, resulting in the loss of revenue that United would have earned by selling the unused seats,” the company said in its lawsuit.
I don't see how that follows, as the airline wouldn't be able to sell the unused seats on the final legs if the original passengers flew both legs as the airline is demanding they do. It's kind of like saying that a customer's taking advantage of a 2-for-1 deal to buy two cans of soda and then throwing one can away is wrong because it "interferes with the store's ability to sell the unused can." Well, the unused can doesn't belong to the store any more, because they already sold it to the previous customer -- they don't get to demand they be allowed to sell it twice just because they don't like the way the first customer used it.
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:17 AM
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It was also one of the reasons airlines would 'overbook' a flight... to minimize empty seats as much as possible by accounting for people changing their minds/plans, changing their class, or any number of other reasons a passenger that booked their flight weeks or months in advance might not show up for their flight.

~Psihala
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:27 AM
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The only problem I can think on is don't airlines cancel flights if there aren't enough people on it?

Granted, I don't imagine enough people do this for this to be a problem, but let's say it did become a common practice--a flight from New York to Seattle stops in Denver, and say 75% of the passengers get off in Denver, because it's ski season. But now there's not enough people to justify the Denver-Seattle leg, even with getting people on standby on the plane?

Actually, the other problem I can think of is this--you get off the plane in Denver. You're supposed to check in on your return flight at Seattle. You don't, so the airline gives your seat to somebody who *is* in Seattle and checks in. How do you get on the Denver-New York segment if somebody else now has your seat?

Magdalene
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:31 AM
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Psihala, I used this method myself, though for a slightly different reason (which kind of backfired, but the point is I was not a travel professional and I figured it out. I think you're right that it wasn't much of a secret.

I was on a business trip in Northern California. The airport where I was was socked in on the day we were leaving. My colleague lived in Medford, OR, so he went and rented a car. I had the airline schedule me on a flight out of Medford to my destination city. When they booked it, I got scheduled to fly to Portland (not where I lived at the time), then I had to wait something like 4 hours to board another flight to my destination. Well, it only took a couple of hours to drive to my city from Portland, and I wanted to get home, so I asked my then-partner to come pick me up. A little before boarding, the gate agent called me up to the desk and told me the plane I was getting on actually would continue to my city, and there hadn't been a seat available before, but there was now. So she rebooked me into that seat.

I tried calling my partner, but she'd already left (it was before she had a cell phone). So I got off in PDX and got home later than if I'd stayed on the plane. It did occur to me that it would affect their "count", but I didn't think it wouldn't be allowed or that it would cause more than a quick computer check to confirm that I hadn't checked any bags.
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  #9  
Old 02 January 2015, 05:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
It's kind of like saying that a customer's taking advantage of a 2-for-1 deal to buy two cans of soda and then throwing one can away is wrong because it "interferes with the store's ability to sell the unused can."
They're not selling a 2 for 1, though, they're trying to make a profit, plugging some numbers into a table, and trying to figure out what optimum prices will give them the greatest profit based on the constraints.

One of those constraints has probably been "passengers will complete their itinerary." It's not that the airlines are selling you two tickets for the price of one, it's that they're selling you one itinerary that you, assuming you were going to follow it fully, would consider "sub-optimal" (because other things equal, we'd probably all like the fastest most direct flight) and in order to incentivize you to take that longeritineraey, giving it to you at a cheaper price. It may just so happen that people making a stop along your route would actually be willing to pay more for just that one stop.

Is it wrong to cheat the airlines? I don't know, but the numbers probably make perfect sense from an operations research perspective. Until of course passengers come along and operate outside of the assumed constraints, at which point the entire system equation could be derailed. If they were to remove that constraint, stop assuming customers would follow their full itinerary, I suspect they'd find they either get less profit or have to raise ticket prices (or both, considering the raise in ticket prices may result in fewer people willing to fly).

Bottom line: the flying public and the airlines may (note I said may, I obviously don't have a book or excel file of spreadsheets used by the airlines in front of me) both lose if airlines have to adjust ticket prices to account for people jumping off mid-itinerary.
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Magdalene View Post
Actually, the other problem I can think of is this--you get off the plane in Denver. You're supposed to check in on your return flight at Seattle. You don't, so the airline gives your seat to somebody who *is* in Seattle and checks in. How do you get on the Denver-New York segment if somebody else now has your seat?
You can't. If you miss one leg of your flight, the airline cancels the remainder of your ticket, so in this scenario you wouldn't be able to board the return flight, regardless of whether or not they've re-sold your seat. (The way to get around this is to buy two one-way tickets, which are generally the same price as a round-trip if you're flying domestically.) I'm pretty sure that most, if not all, airlines have this rule.

The only time this works in a customer's favor is if you're flying overseas and staying long-term without a fixed return date. It's usually far cheaper to book a round-trip ticket and throw away the second leg if you're not sure when you're coming back. Then just do the same thing again when you're ready to come home (but don't do it on the same airline too often or they'll flag you.) It also is handy when flying into countries that only give you a 30-day visa waiver (such as Thailand). If you're flying to Thailand, most airlines won't even allow you to board the plane without proof of an outbound plane ticket within the dates of your visa. This is an airline rule, not an immigration rule. It's stupid, and there are many travel websites explaining how to get around these rules and still save money on flights.
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:43 AM
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Originally Posted by ASL View Post
Is it wrong to cheat the airlines?
It's not cheating, because you're legally purchasing the ticket at the price they're selling it. To even suggest that this is dishonest behavior on the part of the consumer is ludicrous.
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:44 AM
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Actually, the other problem I can think of is this--you get off the plane in Denver. You're supposed to check in on your return flight at Seattle. You don't, so the airline gives your seat to somebody who *is* in Seattle and checks in. How do you get on the Denver-New York segment if somebody else now has your seat?
In your second example, you don't because you were a no-show in Seattle. When we sold these kinds of tickets, they were one-way. We made it clear to the customer that if they didn't complete the last leg, they wouldn't be able to come back from the connecting city on a round-trip ticket.

I can't imagine anything like the first example taking place... all of the 75% would have to bring everything they need on board, and somehow I just don't find that very likely.

~Psihala

ETA: Spanked
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:46 AM
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Re: Cervus, it is cheating if it violates a contract entered into at the time of purchase that requires a good faith intent to execute the full itinerary.
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:56 AM
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I'm curious, how is it cheating the airline when those very airlines sold these types of tickets themselves?

~Psihala
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Old 02 January 2015, 05:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Magdalene View Post
The only problem I can think on is don't airlines cancel flights if there aren't enough people on it?
No, because that throws off the whole schedule. The plane in your example might have been scheduled to fly the Seattle - Chicago flight next, which does have passengers on it, so the airline has to fly it to Seattle no matter what. They do drop flights from the schedule if they have long term data showing there's little demand for that flight, but that's not really the same thing.

Quote:
Actually, the other problem I can think of is this--you get off the plane in Denver. You're supposed to check in on your return flight at Seattle. You don't, so the airline gives your seat to somebody who *is* in Seattle and checks in. How do you get on the Denver-New York segment if somebody else now has your seat?
That's exactly why hidden city ticketing only works in a very specific situation -- a one-way flight with no checked baggage. As you point out, if you don't check in for your return flight in Seattle in your example, the airline will assume you're a no-show, cancel the rest of your itinerary, and give your seats to someone else.
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Old 02 January 2015, 06:02 AM
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That also brings up the point that it's incredibly common to throw away the other half of a round trip ticket. I did that several times domestically too. When I've wanted a one-way ticket, it's never been cheaper to buy it than to get a round trip. (Though this was in the days before the discount airlines flew nationally. IOW, a long time ago).
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Old 02 January 2015, 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Psihala View Post
I'm curious, how is it cheating the airline when those very airlines sold these types of tickets themselves?

~Psihala
They sell people tickets under the assumption that someone might well pay more for a 2-hour flight from A to B than for a pair of flights with 6 hours of layover in between for a grand total of 10 hours from A to C with a layover in B. They probably figure you'd pay most of all, though, for a 3 hour direct flight from A to C, but that's neither here nor there. Is it that surprising that a 10 hour itinerary from A to C via B might (because of the opportunity cost to the traveller) command a lesser price than a 2 hour flight from A to B? And may it not also follow that the airline might (or might not, numbers are tricky) be able to make more combined on 2 separate itineraries of A to B and B to C than just one A to C via B itinerary? Of course maybe that B to C flight is not normally full, which is why the airline is willing to sell that reduced fare ticket. But law of large numbers, every now and then that flight might actually be full, in which case the airline might have lost out on a B to C fare. And on and on and on. It's all very complex, I'm sure. I can't fully defend the airlines pricing policies because of the degree of complexity involved, only outline some of the issues I suspect are at play and end with confessing my own inadequacy and asserting that I have to believe the airlines are generally rational actors when it comes to prices.

Bottom line, of this response: it all really depends on what the customer and airline agree to at time of sale, I suppose. Oh, and then whether the airlines can make a case for some kind of "suborning breach of contract" (or whatever, I'm sure that's not a real thing) against a third party that made no contractual agreement with the airline. Maybe there's some obscure federal law written ostensibly to protect interstate travel that they could base the suit on?

Quote:
Originally Posted by WildaBeast View Post
That's exactly why hidden city ticketing only works in a very specific situation -- a one-way flight with no checked baggage. As you point out, if you don't check in for your return flight in Seattle in your example, the airline will assume you're a no-show, cancel the rest of your itinerary, and give your seats to someone else.
Perhaps one way for the airlines to sidestep the problem would be for them to raise ticket prices for itineraries with layovers so that the total itinerary costs as much as either leg by itself, but then offer a sizeable discount for checked bags (which almost seems counter-intuitive given the recent trend to charge for checked bags). But then I'm sure it wouldn't be long before people started buying a cheaper duffel bag, filling it full of trash, and checking it through just to get the discount with no intention of picking it up... It could be the next life hack!

Last edited by ASL; 02 January 2015 at 06:24 AM.
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Old 02 January 2015, 06:20 AM
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The thing is, I think people are assuming air fares should be priced based on the actual cost of transporting you from point A to point B, but that's not really the case. They're based on supply and demand and on the amount of competition between points. For example no one flies from Sacramento to Miami non-stop, so if United is selling a Sacramento-Houston-Miami itinerary for $299 and American is selling Sacramento-Dallas-Miami for $299, then Delta has to sell Sacramento-Atlanta-Miami for $299 to be competitive. But no one else flies Sacramento-Atlanta non-stop, and many people are willing to pay a premium for a non-stop flight, so they might be able to sell a Sacramento-Atlanta ticket for $350, even on the same flight as the aforementioned itinerary to Miami.

Last edited by WildaBeast; 02 January 2015 at 06:26 AM.
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Old 02 January 2015, 06:24 AM
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Re: Cervus, it is cheating if it violates a contract entered into at the time of purchase that requires a good faith intent to execute the full itinerary.
If the airline is selling a ticket for the same seat on the same flight at two different rates depending on whether or not you're buying another seat on another flight at the same time, I'd argue that they're not acting in all that good of faith to begin with.
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Old 02 January 2015, 06:28 AM
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I'd argue that they're not acting in all that good of faith to begin with.
And I'd argue they are. See my discussion of a hypothetical 10-hour itinerary from A to C via B vs a 2-hour itinerary from A to B.
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