Fare Loopholes - The Ultimate Airline Bluff?
Back to back,
throwaway, and hidden city tickets are loopholes that the
airlines have created themselves.
Now they try to bully
us - their customers - into pretending they don't exist.
1 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
If you want to hire a rental
car for six days, it is cheaper to pay a full seven day weekly
rate than it is to buy six days at the daily rate. And, if you
return the car before the full seven days is up, the rental car
company thanks you for giving them back their car early. They
don't insist you leave it parked on the street for another day!
Amusement parks sells ride
tickets at 70c each, or 20 for $12. If you want 18 rides, it is
cheaper to buy 20 bulk rides for $12 than 18 single rides for
$12.60. But when you leave the amusement park, no-one searches
you to make sure you have used up all your ride tickets. They're
happy to have sold you 20 tickets, even if you didn't use them
The local bus operator sells
one month passes that are cheaper than buying a bunch of
individual tickets for daily travel. They don't insist you ride
the bus every day, or even at all! They're happy to sell you the
pass whether you use it or not.
But, buy an airline roundtrip
ticket and the airline claims that you must fly every flight on
the ticket you purchased, even though it costs them more money
than if you only fly some but not all the flights on the ticket.
The Three Classic Loopholes
These are the three classic
loopholes in the airlines' current fare rules. Exploiting
one of these may help you to get the
cheapest flights and
fares. The are :
1. Back to Back Ticketing
This is primarily a way to
avoid the 'stay over a Saturday night' requirement. For example,
let's consider the following travel needs :
In three weeks time, you
want to fly to Syracuse on Monday, and return back home on
Another two weeks later, you
want to fly to Syracuse again, traveling there on Tuesday and
returning home on Friday.
Because neither itinerary
includes a 'stay over a Saturday night', the chances are that
none of the discounted fares will apply, and instead of paying
$200-400 per roundtrip, you might be paying $600-900.
So, this is how the
back-to-back ticketing works.
You buy a ticket that has
you traveling from home to Syracuse on the Monday of your first
trip, and returning home again from Syracuse on the Friday of
the second trip.
You buy a second ticket that
has you traveling from Syracuse to the city you live in on the
Thursday of your first trip, and then returning back to Syracuse
on the Tuesday of your second trip.
What does this mean? You now
have two tickets, each of which include a Saturday night stay,
and so probably qualify for the lowest fare. And you've saved
hundreds of dollars, too.
On the face of it, these are
two totally proper tickets - you're flying every sector of every
ticket. But the airlines claim that they can control everything
you do, even when you're not flying on the tickets that you
bought! They want you to pay the highest possible fare, not the
lowest possible fare, for your travels.
2. Throwaway Ticketing
This is a slightly darker
variation on the back to back ticket example. In this case,
let's again suppose that you want to fly to Syracuse, but this
time, you only need to travel there once. The price for your 'no
Saturday night stay' fare is $650. The price for a regular
roundtrip fare with a Saturday night stay is $285.
So, what you do is you buy a
ticket to travel to Syracuse on the day you wish to fly there,
and with a return flight a couple of weeks later. Then you buy a
second ticket for travel from Syracuse back home on the day you
want to actually fly home, and book a flight back to Syracuse a
couple of weeks further out.
You use the first half of
your first ticket and then throw away the other half of it. You
use the first half of the second ticket and throw away its
second half. You've spent $285x2 = $570, which is a decent
saving compared to the $650 full fare.
Throwaway Ticketing - Bonus
You can improve your
savings, and make it harder for the airline to realize what
you're doing, if you make the second half of each ticket not be
a simple return back to the place you started your travel from,
but instead, a flight to somewhere else that is in a different
location and which costs less to fly to.
That way, your total ticket
cost is lower (due to a cheaper throwaway flight) and it is less
obvious to an airline computer audit that you're doing throwaway
As for the airline, its
costs have been halved. It no longer needs to pay the costs
associated with flying you on the other half of the flights you
booked and paid for - you'd think they'd be pleased! Not only
does it save the costs associated with your cancelled flights,
but it can also sell the same seats a second time to some other
passenger - you'd think they'd be delighted.
But, no, the airlines
stubbornly insist that 'if you paid for it, you've got to fly
it, whether you want to or not'! Their insistence on controlling
what you do is only one gentle step removed from coercion and
3. Hidden City Fares
In this example, let's say
that you live on the west coast, and the fare to Syracuse is
more expensive than the fare all the way to New York (a very
So, you book your itinerary
such that your travel includes a stop in Syracuse, and, when the
plane arrives in Syracuse, you simply walk off the plane and out
of the terminal. Fortunately airport security presently only
checks that you have a valid ticket to fly out of airports
before letting you enter - they don't (yet?) check that you have
a valid ticket to arrive into an airport before letting you
Note that this only works if
you do not check luggage - if you check luggage, the airline
will of course check it all the way to your official
destination. Either carry it on to the plane or use one of the
new luggage transportation services such as Luggage Express or
Virtual Bellhop that will save you having to check luggage, at a
cost of about $50 per piece.
This also only works if you
don't want to use all the other flights on your ticket, because
as soon as the airline detects an unflown flight, it will cancel
all other flights on your itinerary. But if you're using a
throwaway ticket, that's not a problem.
Indeed, the only problem is,
again, the airline. As recounted in
Brancatelli's famous example about Diet Coke, although
you're under no obligation to drink all the Diet Coke in the 2
liter bottle, the airlines claim that you must fly every flight
on your discount ticket.
Read more in Parts 2 & 3
If you believe what the
airlines claim, these three strategies are apparently all
'illegal'. The reality of this is discussed in
part two. How to avoid coming to
the airlines' attention is discussed in the
third part of the series. Until
you've read these other two columns, you're probably better
advised to hold off using your new found knowledge!
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9 August 2002, last update
19 Dec 2013
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.