Are Airlines Cracking Down On Throwaway Ticketing?

There’s a lot which frustrates consumers about airlines. We’ve seen airfare increase significantly recently as airlines are turning record profits. But I think the frustration doesn’t just come from airfare going up (which is perfectly reasonable, since the cost of airfare isn’t pegged to the cost of providing it, but rather to supply/demand), but rather from how irrational airline pricing is.

As a passenger it’s tough to rationalize how a ticket from San Diego to Los Angeles could cost more than a ticket from San Diego to Honolulu.

For example, I book a lot of tickets originating in Cairo and Colombo, since paid first & business class fares are cheap out of there. I fly all the segments of the ticket, and am not in any way violating any airline rules. Is having to position to Cairo or Colombo the most convenient thing in the world? Not really. But it’s totally worth the cost savings to me. Oh, and I do love staying at Le Meridien Cairo Airport.

Le-Meridien-Cairo-Airport-17

If you want to take that a step further, some people will do throwaway ticketing, which does violate airline rules. In other words, a ticket on American from Los Angeles to Chicago to Detroit might be cheaper than a ticket just from Los Angeles to Chicago. Generally speaking airlines have higher fares between their own hubs on nonstop flights.

In the above example, American has hubs in both Los Angeles and Chicago, so they’ll charge a premium for nonstop flights between the two markets. Meanwhile Detroit is a Delta hub, so since American can only offer one stop service there, the fare might be quite a bit cheaper.

Throwaway ticketing violates airline rules, though the question is how enforceable it is. Common wisdom suggests that doing it in moderation is fine. In theory airlines could shut down your frequent flyer account over it. But beyond that we haven’t really seen airlines “pursue” passengers. I suppose they could try to charge you the fare difference after the fact, but that might have to go to court, and doesn’t seem worth anyone’s time.

Anyway, Head for Points had an interesting article today about how British Airways apparently plans on clamping down on throwaway ticketing.

British Airways typically has the highest fares if originating in London, while they’ll offer huge discounts if originating in places like Ireland, Germany, etc.

For example, British Airways presently has a business class fare sale between Germany and Hong Kong, with roundtrip fares of ~£1,000.

BA-2

Meanwhile if you booked those exact same flights between London and Hong Kong without the connecting flights from Germany, the fare would be nearly four times as much:

BA-1

If you skip any segment on a trip then the remaining segments will automatically be canceled. So historically some London based flyers might book a positioning flight to Frankfurt to take advantage of the fare, then fly Frankfurt to London to Hong Kong to London, and then “drop” that last segment.

British-Airways-A380-Business-Class

As far as the above situation goes, Head for Points explains:

Two people, independently, told me last week that British Airways will begin to take a harder line.  Both of these people are very close to the situation.

If the final leg of your Germany to Hong Kong ticket is a few months after the Hong Kong to London leg, be aware.  Your card is marked.  British Airways will be watching to make sure you take the final flight to Germany.

If you do not take the final leg of a booked flight, BA has the right to reassess your fare and charge you for the cost of a Germany – Hong Kong – London ticket.  This would be a bill for a large amount of money.

This could all be ‘talk’ by British Airways, of course.  If you refused to pay their invoice, they would need to pursue you in court for the money and I doubt that they would want to risk a judgement going against them.

Anyway, my guess is that this is mostly talk, and that in practice British Airways won’t actually pursue those doing throwaway ticketing. And if I had to guess, I’d say it’s more likely that British Airways would simply remove all Avios earned from a trip from an account for throwaway ticketing, rather than pursuing passengers for throwaway ticketing. But I doubt they’d even do that.

Regardless, Head for Points is typically a very reliable source, so it’s interesting to note that an airline actually seems to be at least talking about cracking down on those doing throwaway ticketing.

What do you think — do you think British Airways will actually go after those doing throwaway ticketing, or is it all talk?

Comments

  1. They are already doing it! – maybe not on a big scale – however our corporate travel agency have used this trick often, however, lately, we have had some significant bills coming our way because of this…

  2. Simply say “my plans changed, I no longer need to take that flight.” That’s it. Not much the airlines can do.

  3. What if one become sick, delayed or for others reasons unable to take the flight? Would the airline still charge the passenger? This seems to be a dangerous road for the airline to choose.

  4. Sad state of affairs. No sympathy for British Airways with their heavy handed tactics
    After years of ripping folks off with outrageous fuel surcharges not following up emails or calls when they deliver sub par service or failures they are suddenly the poster child for everything by the book and being above board in all regards
    They are the ultimate double standard
    Do I add to that ruining their frequent flyer program with a massive devaluation for their One World partners
    I continue to lose respect for this once great airline who should take a hard look in the mirror and try harder at improving the passenger experience and customer loyalty
    They have ruined my once great perception of their company. I avoid them where possible. This was once the good standard in International carriers years ago before the Middle East carriers walked all over them
    Sooooo sad

  5. Technically, if you were to fly, say, JFK-CMB (expensive) / CMB-JFK-CMB (cheap) / CMB-JFK (expensive), you would be violated nested ticketing / end-to-end ticketing rules, so it is not strictly accurate to say you aren’t violating any airline rules. Of course, as long as those bookings are on different airlines there is very little chance you would get caught, but those cheap CAI and CMB fares are not meant for your American consumption 🙂

  6. Slight tangent… I’m fine with paying top dollar as long as I get a top dollar service/product in return. The reason everyone is pissed about airlines today is because we are paying a lot of money for a significantly inferior product from even a few years back. Same old planes but with more seats/less space and crappy AV systems including some that still have the one big screen everyone is supposed to watch or some that have seatbacks but if you miss the start of the movie then you have to wait for it to cycle all the way around, wtf!!! These planes/products are an embarrassment. If every flight I took was on a new 787 it would be one thing but to date I’ve flown it only once. Loyalty programs totally gutted which in general I am for but so far this year I’ve flown 43k and spent $2600 on United and my status is “member” which is just wrong IMO. I am not expecting free upgrades to domestic biz first at all but I can’t even get a free bump to E+! Conversely life up front has never been better, I’m guessing…

  7. Ben:
    Has AA shut down parts of its reservation system? I’m trying to book tix to NRT, SIN and HKG for the next few months but I only see partner flights loaded?

  8. Wow! That’s a huge difference! I never thought it could be this much! I’ve tried a few routes directly from LHR and also with connections from other European cities and mine results were the same. It’s shocking. A first class ticket costs less with one connection then a non-stop business class ticket to the same destination on the same flight.

    I’m just curious so what happens if I want to fly from LHR to SIN but a ticket with one connection from CDG, FCO, etc. is significantly cheaper and I decide to book that cheaper ticket but since I’m London I won’t actually fly on that connection flight, instead I would just take the LHR to SIN direct flight. What if I do this with another airline?

  9. A few airlines are already enforcing a “no-show” fee for passengers who miss a connection or flight (on either a paid or award ticket.)
    I have no idea how you pulled it off but kudos to you for getting on the Etihad A380 inaugural! I recall you missed your positioning flight to CMB but you managed to go to AUH and somehow someway Etihad made an exception for you so you can fly it AUH-LHR non-stop without flying the CMB-AUH leg! 🙂

  10. Lucky – for a change, I got totally lost on this post, and I sense it’s a nugget !! I understand buying cheap tickets from Colombo or Cairo, but how does one GET THERE in order to use it ?
    Also the throwaway tickets – can it be used for mileage runs – I am looking to take the platinum challenge with AA and cannot seem to figure out which is the best route from Austin that can take that can get me 10k miles in one trip . Any suggestions ?

  11. One thing to watch out for is IRROP. I recently fly SFO-EWR-NAS in F on UA which was cheaper than SFO-NYC in Y. Unfortunately my SFO-EWR flight was delayed and I would have missed my connection from EWR-NAS. I don’t really care since I’m getting off at EWR, but I was afraid UA would proactively change my itinerary. There was a flight SFO-ORD-NAS that was available. Luckily due to UA’s poor customer service, I was never notified about the miss connection until I landed in EWR. Phew.

  12. You could probably getaway with it IF you don’t enter your frequent flyer information. If you habitually do it and enter the FF information, I believe they can place you on a blacklist.
    I don’t think it’s a good idea to skip the last leg. The airlines will make those ex-CAI or wherever fares higher. I’ve already seen this with a oneworld airline that always fly.

  13. The airlines have your address on file. They see you have a London address and saw you skip the final London-Frankfurt flight they would be suspicious.

  14. I’m guessing people who do this will only take hand luggage? Otherwise how do people get their luggage?

  15. There’s a lively discussion on the linked post. There’s thinking that these comments are coming from people in travel agencies or related places and that it’d be agencies getting huge bills from BA as opposed to individuals because BA would, supposedly, have to take an individual to court to collect.

    The first reply here kind of supports this point.

  16. @ Ivan Y – as our travel agency have our corporate credit card on file to pay for tickets – What happens is that when the ticket is re-valued, BA charge this to the travel agency which then debit the credit card – from the travel agency side, all the legal framework is in place so no issue for them to pass the bill on and debit the corporate CC – For the same reason we have terminated our agreement with BA and are no longer booking with them – Just to be on the safe.
    And just to clarify – I’m not working in the travel industry, but travel 100% of my work time either on corporate money or client money so a lot of attention is paid towards air fare construction and travel patterns.

  17. @ Ivan Y – Continued: As BA also have the individual travelers (when booked privately) on file, I cannot see that they should act differently – as long as the legal framework is in place and the traveler is clearly notified before purchasing the ticket… I do see that they will debit people’s credit card going forward – Just easiest to start with the travel agencies first

  18. @31583:

    If you buy a ticket CDG-LHR-SIN and miss the CDG-LHR segment (with the intention of getting on the flight at LHR-SIN), it is almost certain that the airline will cancel ALL segments of the ticket after the missed one. So it will not work.

  19. Next month I’m traveling BA DUB-MCO biz rtn for £1,057. The same LHR-MCO that is included within my total flight is £2,700.

    My extra cost is a LCC LGW-DUB and for safety a £60 airport hotel.

    Overall I earn more miles and tier points. Crazy.

  20. A long-time travel writer said that airlines enforcing thow-away ticketing is like Coca-Cola selling you a 2liter bottle and demanding more money if you consume less than the full two liters.

  21. Airlines will lose this 100% of the time in court. Like Billiken mentioned, I buy a product or service at a cost and what I do with the product is up to my discretion. If I scheduled and paid for a 1 hour message and get up and leave after 30 minutes, I should not be charge an additional fee.

  22. BA will do it. they’re in a bad mood recently. They’re obsessed with keeping Awardwallet out of BA accounts and they’ll be just as snarky about staunching the “losses”. They already have the highest airfare on award tickets in the industry.

    I expect them to charge credit cards after the fact and I expect them to cover themselves with legal language in the T&C.

  23. @ Ben — Indeed, this only works if you only have carry-ons, or otherwise if you plan a long stopover between flights, and then just no show for the last flight.

  24. @ Andrew F — You do have to book a ticket to get to Cairo or Colombo, though I typically just book them as roundtrips, so I’m “nesting” trips. But you do have to position at least once.

    With throwaway ticketing any segment after the one you skip will be voided, so generally it’s not all that practical for mileage runs.

  25. @ 31583 — If you just show up at LHR and skipped the previous segment then your ticket would be canceled. Once you no show for a segment, the remaining ticket is canceled.

  26. @ Bgriff — Not sure I follow. I’m not doing it to get around minimum stay requirements, so which rule is it violating? There’s no violating of rules if you book segments separately because it’s cheaper that way, unless I’m missing something.

  27. The only airline I would consider doing this on is United, and only if the price is significantly less than other options. My opinion of United is so low that I would take pleasure in pissing them off in this way.

    If you’re worried about a carrier charging your card for the fare difference, why not use a prepaid debit card? That way, your potential liability is limited, and their only option would be to go after you in court. No jury in the world would side with an evil airline over an average person who is just trying to save a few bucks.

    BA is just talking, and nothing will come of this.

  28. Wouldn’t you use the last leg as a positioning flight for your next ex-EU BA flight?

    A little bit of planning will get you ahead. Not sure what the drama is here?

  29. Why have CMB and CAI been short-listed for this special treatment? I mean, there are many cities in the third world with the same economic argument.

  30. @hasse: Charing someone’s credit/debit card without them having agreed to that is clearly illegal (even if they would own them money), so I doubt BA would try doing that.
    @ Ben, lucky: If you want to check in luggage, can’t you ask for your luggage to not be checked through to the final destination?

  31. @ abc — Nowadays most airlines won’t let you “short check” luggage, specifically to avoid having people do what’s being described.

  32. @ AKTCHI — Airfare is irrational at times. I can’t really explain why it’s the cheapest out of those markets, but it consistently is.

  33. I would like to book a flight from Europe round trip to the US and only use the first part of the round trip. Madrid to Heathrow to Phoenix. Then just not use the return Phoenix Heathrow to Madrid. Since I am not getting off on the first part of the round trip, I could check baggage all of the way through. I can’t figure out how the airline would penalize me if I decide not to take the return trip back. I am thinking on booking on a foreign carrier as they seem to have better prices. Booking this round trip is half the price of booking one way.

  34. Fair enough that airlines enforce starting points for these fares (I can understand the logic in that, and that’s the cost of using geographic leverage), but it crosses a major line in my book to demand your final flight must be flown (OR ELSE!). At the maximum, I would only see “no refund” of the last sector being appropriate here, this is utter overkill (they’ve already started in the right place, who cares if they end there). Let’s say you fall ill during your transit for that final leg, are airlines really going to *coerce* an ill person onto that final leg out of pedantry (and potentially risk an expensive medical emergency mid-flight), by threat of a bloody big charge to your credit card?

    Commonsense needs to prevail here.

    @Mike Couldn’t agree more with your comments – I’ll happily pay big money as long as I get what I pay for (which is that which the airline marketed to me, and is reflective of the price paid). Sadly airlines are the biggest crooks here (BA included) in regularly over-promising and under-delivering, and I note you’ll be hard up getting any restitution for such fraud/failures out of them. So it’s bloody cheeky what BA are attempting to do here, given they regularly tilt the table in their favour constantly when it comes to avoiding it’s own responsibilities.

  35. @Lucky

    On a side note, what’s your thoughts on this (reported in Australian Aviation):
    “at the 2015 International Air Transport Association annual general meeting in Miami, airline bosses raised the prospect of customers being offered airfares based on their place of residence and flying patterns rather than demand.”

    It is being reported that airlines project that they’ll be leveraging their customer intelligence/customer transactional data they’ve been amassing in their data warehouses, to give individually dynamic fare pricing (pinned to their home address and flying history) to consumers.

    If you think country of departure based pricing has created some quirks, imagine the impact of full blown individual based dynamic pricing! A person residing in a poor suburb who rarely flies may be offered a vastly different price from someone residing in a rich suburb who flies all the time, despite booking at the same time, for the same flight, in the same cabin.

  36. Well, maybe the airlines should stop ripping off 1-way flight tickets. They know the majority of 1-ways are for business travel so they purposely jack the prices up. Boo hoo, “throwaway” means we aren’t playing their game, suck it airlines.

  37. Hi Lucky,
    I was planning on combining a BA-United ticket: Dublin-LHR (BA)–LHR-NYC(United) and on the return skip the LHR-Dublin sector altogether. I have a friend who booked the same but skipped the Dublin-LHR segment altogether as he took a flight earlier to London and checked in at the counter for the LHR-NYC (United) flight with no issue. His rationale was that BA and United don’t have an arrangement with each other and he had two different record locator numbers. Is this something that can be done or was it a fluke that the United agent checked him in at Heathrow even though he missed the first leg of his flight?

  38. Hi
    I want to book a flight on British Airways (PHX – DUB – London). I want to get off in Dublin (layover of 1 hour and 45 minutes). I plan on doing carry on so when i get off the plane in Dublin I won’t be getting back on.
    The return flight is 3 weeks later on Iberia Airlines from Paris to LAX.
    My question is do you think British Airways will notify Iberia Airlines that i skipped the segment to London.?
    And do you think that 1 hour and 45 minute layover – we will be allowed to disembark with out carry on luggage?
    Thanks for your responses

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