Make it Difficult for the Airlines to Catch You
If you feel the
opportunity to save money is too good to miss, your choices
are either to become a test case or else to obey the
'eleventh commandment - the one that says 'Don't Get
3 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
I'm not advising you to break
the rules. I'm not encouraging you to make use of the loopholes
discussed in the previous two articles; indeed, I'm cautioning
you that if you do, you may be committing criminal acts (theft
of services) as well as definitely contravening the airlines'
conditions of carriage.
But, if you're merely
interested in understanding (for educational purposes!) how the
airlines track and catch offenders, read on.
No One Forces the Airlines to
Sell Cheaper Roundtrip Tickets
A More Legal Variation of Back
The more closely legal your
strategy is, the less likely it is to attract negative scrutiny.
Using again my Syracuse examples, let's say that you fly
regularly to Syracuse for each working week, but return home for
the weekends. Here is a close to 100% legal way of enjoying back
to back tickets.
Buy a one way ticket from
home to Syracuse. Then, buy roundtrip tickets from Syracuse back
home for each weekend, and back to Syracuse again. You are now
traveling on each ticket, in perfect order, with no other
tickets in the middle.
But the airline audit
computers may still spot this behavior, and they might have a
confrontation with you, if they know that your home address is
not in Syracuse. How would they know this? By your frequent
flier details! Read on....
Frequent Flier Numbers Tell All
The easiest way for an
airline to track everything you do is by your frequent flier
number. This immediately enables the airline to conveniently
match up all the tickets you buy (and they know where you bought
each ticket from, when you made the booking, when you paid for
the ticket, and everything else about your travels) and the way
you use them, and where you live.
If you want to 'stay under
the radar screen' then any dubious ticket you use must not
contain your frequent flier number. Don't feel bad about this -
the money you save is worth a great deal more than the miles you
The key thing is to make it
difficult for the airlines to match your various flights up with
each other. Frequent flier numbers make this easy. And what
makes it difficult? Read on.....
Joe Smith and Joseph Smith, at
Home and at Work
Make it more difficult for
the airline to match your travels. Do some of your traveling
with one variant of your name, and the rest of your traveling
with a different variant.
Maybe your name is Mary
Susan Jones. Who isn't to know that you prefer to be called
Susan rather than Mary (as long as your driver's license or
other photo ID such as passport shows both names in full - mine
do and yours probably do too), so sometimes buy tickets as Mary
Jones and sometimes as Susan Jones.
Reader Phil adds 'You might
also try to mis-spell or transpose some letters in your last
name. That seems to foil their computers as well.'
And, to encourage the
appearance of different personas, use a home phone number for
one variation of your name and a business phone number for the
other. Perhaps even sometimes use a cellphone number. Buy the
tickets from different agencies (or, better still, when buying
dubious tickets, buy them direct from the airline so as to be
able to say 'but you sold me the ticket yourself and never told
me I couldn't do this').
Don't forget to use
different credit cards, too!
Remember, anything that goes
into your airline record can be matched against other records,
so try and keep your two personalities as different from each
other as possible, with little or nothing in common that could
match them together.
Keep a Low Profile at the
Conventional wisdom says to
be as friendly as possible with gate agents in the hope of being
remembered and therefore being more likely to get upgrades.
But, if you're trying to
beat their systems, try to avoid being recognized by airline
gate agents. You don't want them to get curious about your
travel patterns. It is fine to be as friendly as you like with
the cabin crews on board, but avoid the gate agents.
There are exceptions to this
situation, of course, but don't rely on this! Even some airline
people have retained some common sense - they'd rather have all
of your business, even at low yield, as this story from reader
John confirms :
Had an interesting
experience with American several years ago, at a time when I
was flying from home to Chicago and back about 50 times a
year, using back-to-back round trip tickets to hold the
costs within reason.
At the time American had a
downtown ticket office in my home city, and when I came in
to pick up my tickets, the lady at the desk gave me sort of
a funny look. . . like a "keep your mouth shut, dummy." I
realized that a supervisor from Dallas was in the back room,
only a few feet away, and could hear all our conversation.
He came out, we chatted a
bit, and he remarked that I must fly American a lot, and we
got into a discussion about some of their weird rules. He
said "The suits in Dallas don't have any understanding of
the real world. They put in idiotic rules to forbid back to
back tickets, without understanding that if they try to
enforce them, they wind up losing half the business they do
with the passenger, since he can use AA for one set of
tickets and United for the other."
He continued "Not only do
we lose half the revenue we have been getting, the passenger
gets a premium status with a competitor, and maybe winds up
liking them better than they do AA. They are so arrogant in
HQ they just don't have a clue about the real world."
Did he know I was doing
that? I don't know. He might have. My friend at the desk
said later he had been looking at records of some of their
Platinum customers, and it may have jumped out at him.
But what I do know is that
he had a lot better understanding of his customers than his
rule-making bosses in Dallas.
The Beauty of Competition - and
the Danger of Cooperation
This is the closest to a
bulletproof strategy that exists.
Fly two different
airlines for the two halves of your travel. The chances of
two completely unrelated airlines being able to look and see
what your travels are like on each other are minimal to zero -
for example, it is highly unlikely that American would allow
Delta to access their computer flight records.
But the chance of an airline
being able to see what you are doing with a partner airline are
much greater, especially if you use the same frequent flier
number with both airlines. For example, don't fly Northwest one
way and Alaska the other way, and certainly don't use your same
Alaska frequent flier number with both airlines. Don't fly on
two Star Alliance (or oneworld) partner carriers.
Can the airlines legally
require you to buy the highest, rather than lowest, fare
applicable to your travels? The airlines insist they can, and
because they control who gets on their plane, they have the
ability to enforce this.
As to the ultimate legality
of their case, they have conspicuously avoided any opportunity
to have their claim tested in court.
If you feel that the
airlines are wrong in their claim, and choose to fly in the way
that suits you and gives you the lowest cost, you are probably
best advised to do so in an inconspicuous manner, so as to avoid
the risk of a nasty confrontation at the gate just as your
flight is about to depart, or unless you have the time and money
to become a 'test case' through the courts.
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23 August 2002, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.