How One Airline Ticket Let a Man Eat Free for a Year

It’s hardly a new technique, ever since September 11th and the requirement that you actually be flying same-day to go past security, I’ve always said it’s easier to buy a refundable ticket, meet your friends at their gate, and then refund the ticket than it is to get a gate pass.

And that you might as well buy an international first class ticket, to take advantage of any available first class lounge while you wait.

Back when you didn’t need a ticket to go through security there were plenty of folks who lived or worked near the airport who would exercise their club memberships for evening cocktails (at those lounges which offered free drinks).

Nonetheless there’s been lots of coverage for the man who used one first class ticket to eat free for a year.

The man used his first-class ticket to score free meals and drinks at a VIP airport lounge nearly every day for a year, the Kwong Wah Yit Poh reported.

He changed his flight itinerary more than 300 times within the year so he could enjoy the facilities at the Xi’an Airport in Shaanxi, China.

What’s more, he cancelled his ticket for a refund when its validity was about to expire.

I can’t imagine that the China Eastern lounge in Xi’an is especially lavish, or offers a great meal service, though admittedly I haven’t been.

This would seem to work better at Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal, for instance. But many world carriers do have rules in their ticketing contracts forbidding the practice of purchasing tickets that you have no intention to fly — presumably changing the ticket 300 times and then refunding would be sufficiently indicative of that intention. So while China Eastern may have felt insufficiently empowered to do anything about the practice, I’d guess many world airlines would feel differently. If they couldn’t recoup their costs at the very least they’d be cancelling frequent flyer accounts.

I recall that someone who worked nearby booked an executive floor room at the Tokyo Hilton for $3 for pretty much a whole year, intending to stop by in the evenings for cocktails and occasionally use the room. Not free, but more than possible to get money’s worth in drinks and snacks.

Point is, this works just fine with refundable tickets, but doing it 300 times in a year likely isn’t replicable without negative consequences.


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 »

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  1. I have been to the Xi’an lounge. You couldn’t pay me to eat there every day for a year! Stale buns and dumpling soup only go so far.

  2. Agree with Sean. The food spread is … exotic, like the Biang Biang noodle, maize cake, Shaan Xi Liang Pi (cold noodle??). Frankly speaking the CEAir’s XIY lounge ranks top 10 in China, but I really can’t imagine eating there for an entire year.

  3. Ah, but you will be able to do it with Lufthansa first class on UA miles, as long as you maintain 1K or platinum status with UA or Senator/HON status with LH because it costs nothing to change the ticket or to redeposit the miles back into the account. And since Lufthansa is renowned for releasing their F spaces last minute, this will pretty much get you free premium food and drinks either at JFK, FRA or in MUC. Of course, the chances of doing this is almost zero unless you have nothing better to do than go to the airport everyday to eat for free.

  4. Gary,

    Does this really work? I’ve never had the huevos to try it.

    … I’ve always said it’s easier to buy a refundable ticket, meet your friends at their gate, and then refund the ticket than it is to get a gate pass.

    Is there any risk?

  5. @Sean @TZ, it’s not about whether that lounge is good or not, would you eat at ANY lounge for a year? LOL

    BTW, LH FCT isn’t that good either in terms of the food spread. You couldn’t pay me to eat there for a month, let alone an entire year.

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