Saving Money With Throwaway Ticketing: Useful AND Ethical!

The New York Times’ Ethicist declared that throwaway ticketing is perfectly fine.

A reader asks if it’s ok to book tickets where you don’t intend to fly all of the segments in order to save money. The reply:

Absolutely. Purchasing something doesn’t mean you’re obligated to consume it in totality. You can use whatever portion of the purchase you choose. If you buy a loaf of bread, you don’t have to eat every slice.

So far, so good.

There’s a fundamental difference in perspectives between what most airlines think they are selling from what most passengers think they are buying.

  • Airlines seem themselves as selling transportation between A and C at a certain price. That the itinerary stops at B is immaterial.
  • A passenger believes they are buying a seat on a flight from A to B and then on to C. So it’s ok to use only the seat from A to B.
  • But the airline thinks travel between A to B is a totally different product with a different price.

The Ethicist shares the perspective of the passenger and declares throwaway ticket A-OK.

Unfortunately the Ethicist doesn’t stop there, offering more analysis that’s far less sound.

It’s blatantly obvious these flight prices are not based on the amount of fuel, maintenance and labor required for the respective journeys. The airlines are manipulating the prices based on demand.

Prices which correspond to the cost of inputs is something I haven’t given much credence to since studying Piero Sraffa and having to work through his Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities as an undergraduate. I’m not even sure what it means to be sinisterly ‘manipulating’ prices based on demand.

Fundamentally the issue is what you are buying when you buy an airline ticket, whether it’s what the contract of carriage says or whether it’s what a common understanding reflects.

What the New York Times doesn’t do is:

  • Walk customers through the technique, or
  • Warn them about the pitfalls

Fortunately two years ago I wrote an extensive guide to Using Hidden City and Throwaway Ticketing to Save Big Money on Airfare.

Here are the risks:

  • Do this only as the last segment of a reservation. Throw away the final leg of a roundtrip or book two one-ways if you want to do a throwaway in each direction. When you miss a flight, the airline is likely to cancel the rest of your itinerary.
  • Don’t check luggage. Most airlines used to let you ‘short check’ baggage, or check it to an intermediate stop and not your final destination. Your bags will go to the final city on your ticket, you will not. So this only works with carry-ons (except for international flights arriving in the U.S. and a few other countries where you have to pick up your bags on arrival and walk them through customs and then drop them back off).
  • Don’t gate check luggage. If you do, make sure they only tag it to your next stop and not your final destination. Best to board early enough to get overhead space though.
  • There’s still a risk of irregular operations. If your flight cancels, the airline might offer to send you to your ‘final destination’ via some other connecting city. You’ll need to negotiate not just to get to your ‘destination’ but also for your original routing.

But to see how you can save as much as $1000 a ticket, check out the guide.

(HT: @20002ist)


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. The airlines are manipulating the prices based on demand.
    Who ever heard of such a thing! How scandalous!

    (I guess journalists aren’t required to know any economics.)

    If you try this on Southwest, be aware that your itinerary will earn you exactly zero Rapid Rewards points. It will be as if you never flew. Weigh that fact in your cost-benefit calculations. And for goodness sake book a separate reservation for each direction. Otherwise your truncated return will zero out the points you should have earned on a fully flown outbound trip.

  2. I don’t recall…has there been reports on FT / MP from people who actually got punished from the airlines for doing this regularly?

  3. Not to be an idiot, but isn’t his phrase “The airlines are manipulating the prices based on demand” just a validation of the “Law of Supply and Demand?”

    Seems kind of “duh” to me.

  4. Yeah that “The airlines are manipulating the prices based on demand” statement is just inane. Of course they price based on the demand curve, and that’s an efficient *and arguably more egalitarian* way to do it than pricing individual segments. Because the flip side of that coin is that plenty of tickets are cross-subsidized and *underpriced*. For every relatively-higher price ticket a business person pays between two high-yield business markets, someone taking a vacation relatively underpays. But you don’t see those people appreciate that side of the coin.

  5. When you use hidden city and throwaway ticketing you are potentially depriving another passenger of access to that flight. Flights are often full. It seems that’s another ethical issue that should be explored.

  6. Cool your jets, free marketeers. I know supply and demand is in the bible, so its value can’t be questioned, but “manipulate” simply means “control.” Saying airlines “are setting the prices” is an identical statement.

  7. The use of “manipulate” certainly carries a negative connotation, but the reality is that air transportation has no inherent value. It’s value is simply what people are willing to pay, which is why some routes sell for way more that others requiring similar fuel, labor, etc.

    @DaveS – In the vast majority of cases you aren’t depriving anyone of a seat, as on a full/oversold flight your seat will be filled by a standby passenger when you no-show for the flight.

  8. I think the uneaten bread is a poor analogy; a better one would be jailbreaking your phone. On the one hand, the phone is yours to do with as you please, but at the same time you’re also in a service agreement with the provider, and your jailbreaking relieves it from certain warranties. Same with hidden city ticketing — you’re allowed to use the product as you wish, but using it against the contract of carriage relieves the provider from certain responsibilities such as honoring further segments or crediting your miles.

  9. It sounds like Gary agrees with everything the Ethicist says but merely disagrees with the implication that linking price to what the market will bear rather than cost is somehow “sinister.” While it may not be sinister, there are few things as hard to fathom as airfare pricing.

  10. Some airlines specifically prohibit booking a ticket in this manner and reserve the right to charge the fare for the portion actually flown. Now it’s not clear they could enforce that but since they have broad authority with regards to your frequent flyer account, including the ability to cancel it with the loss of all your miles it might be prudent to not give your account number and forgoing miles for any trip where you intend to do this.

  11. The word sinister does not appear in the article, this merely Gary’s interpretation of the use of the word “manipulating”. Can’t really understand why people object to the word, that’s surely exactly what the airline business and demand management is all about.

    I don’t really have a problem with demand management but lets not pretend that the statement “The airlines are manipulating the prices based on demand.” is somehow untrue or reflecting poorly on the airlines. Yes, that’s what they do, there are downsides to us as a consumer and there are upsides. Welcome to the capitalist society.

  12. Its should be obvious to everyone that airlines control their prices. So when it’s stated that airlines are doing that, using the word manipulate, it does bring up a “sinister” implication for most people. I know it did for me.

    Suppose someone told you “you are being manipulated” by person X? wWould you just say sure, people always try to affect those they interact with? I’m guessing you wouldn’t feel good about being told “you are being manipulated”. So when someone goes out of their way to say in effect ‘you are being manipulated by the airlines’ pricing, most people are going to feel the same way.

    That’s the beauty of yellow journalism, bringing up an emotional implication while maintaining plausible deniability.

  13. “Your bags will go to the final city on your ticket, you will not.”

    I think this statement is not true. Even if the luggage is checked until city C, if you don’t board the plane at B, you can be pretty sure that those bags will be unloaded from the aircraft.

    You might have some difficulties getting them at B, but the airline may not confiscate your property, so they’ll have to release it.

    Of course it’s much easier with checked luggage if you have a change of airports on the last leg (e.g. inbound JFK, outbound EWR) or even an overnight “connection”

  14. @Steve Edelman

    “since they have broad authority with regards to your frequent flyer account”

    They haven’t if you use the FFP of another airline in the same alliance. I’d think AA would have 0 authority over you BA account 🙂

  15. I’m planning a trip to England and want to take a Cruise ship back to New York. I need a one way ticket to London. They want $1900. A roundtrip ticket to London leaving on the same date and plane is $1100 (who cares when the return trip is since I don’t need or want it).

    There are actually people on here telling me it’s OK for the airline to ROB me of $800 for a one way flight over a flight going both ways because of “demand”. WHAT demand? I demand to pay a reasonable price for a one way flight! I can’t even afford to do the trip if I buy the one way ticket as that is 3/4 the price of the Cruise ticket back one way! Yet it’s cheaper for the airlines to send me on a second flight? Bullcrap! Plus they ALWAYS overbook these days so someone is going to get that return seat ANYWAY in the end and they will profit from it AGAIN.

    The problem is some airlines DO punish you for not using your ticket. They will charge you the difference. Since you can no longer buy airline tickets anonymously with cash (thanks to terrorists), YES they can bill you even if you paid with cash by sending the bill to your house and if you don’t pay it, they will sue. In short, they are CRIMINALS by charing you for NOT USING SOMETHING. Just because I buy a ticket, that doesn’t mean I have to use it. It is BOUGHT AND PAID FOR. If that seat is empty, TOO BAD! I paid for it to be empty!

    It should be ILLEGAL for the airline to punish you for NOT USING A BOUGHT AND PAID FOR TICKET. It’s absolute bullcrap and it wouldn’t even be an issue if they would just charge the same or less for a one-way ticket. The fact they often charge MORE is CRIMINAL and you should be able to do anything to avoid that charge as you are getting LESS, not more for your money.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *