Don’t hate the player, hate the game! Throwaway ticketing is arguably the most controversial practice in travel. Due to risks for the everyday traveler, I have never advocated it in any way, yet at the same time, I really have no problem with it whatsoever. We’re just playing the game in a system which we did not create. For those that don’t know, throwaway ticketing is an attempt to avoid higher fares by booking travel to a different (cheaper) city which includes travel through your actually intended city. You hop off where you wanted to go and “throw away” the continue segment to the cheaper city. It’s intentional deception on your end but I see no victim. Some airlines have tried, and will continue trying to shut that practice down.
In the recent insanely great business class fare sale between New York and Paris, I really just wanted to go to London. If I had pulled the trigger quickly enough, I could’ve snagged a flight that included a connection in London on the way to Paris, where I would have “hopped off” and “thrown away” the leg to Paris. In this example, flights to Paris via London in Business round trip, were cheaper than any one way (all I needed) coach flights directly to London at the time. An important factor to remember with throwaway ticketing is that it really only works in one direction and for obvious reasons, you can’t check bags. As soon as you miss a leg of your trip, the rest of the itinerary cancels out but if your bags are checked, rest assured they will carry on. Therefore, In my example, If I wished to return from “Paris” to New York, because I got off in London my entire trip home would be canceled and voided. For some, that’s fine because they really only need one way, they plan to use miles for the return and the savings versus booking to their actually intended city justify that.
United Airlines and Orbitz recently took the site Skiplagged to court. Skiplagged is a resource for real travel hackers to work out throwaway itineraries and United (as well as booking sites) wanted it shut down. Realizing that their argument was really against their own ticketing systems and pricing algorithms, Orbitz correctly stepped down and settled. United wanted to make it a prize fight. In their corner, the reasons are obvious, less money in their pocket than there theoretically should be for the truly intended flights. In the peoples corner, you make the system, we just play in it. Somehow you take one expensive flight, add another flight to it, and you get a less expensive flight. Why shouldn’t we take notice? I will never understand why taking five flight segments can be cheaper than one or why transiting through Paris can be 10x cheaper than London, ok well I do… but it still doesn’t make very sound sense. It’s standard practice for airlines to void these tickets once a leg has been missed but United (and anyone they can convince to join) are trying to take things further with serious audit teams who will proactively cancel tickets, shut down frequent flier accounts and void out miles. This is basically a mob style threat that you are taking on a beast who will hunt you down. Essentially, they can’t squeeze money out of the 22 year old entrepreneur who started SkipLagged so now they are taking it out on us and trying to weed out the savviest travelers. Personally, I would rather make some money than no money…
If Throaway ticketing interests you, research it. It can be a one way savior and when you have points and miles for your return, it’s pretty flawless. Many foreign countries and Gulf carriers offer huge sales to far away destinations like Sri Lanka which transit through major European or Gulf hubs including, London, Milian and Dubai. Taking advantage of “throwaway ticketing” can be huge on short regional US flights and even more powerful on more complex international trips mentioned above. I have never and likely will never do it but I don’t think there is anything wrong with making a most of a system. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
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