Let me start this with a blatant admission of ethical grey area. I regularly book tickets I have no intention of fully taking to access better fare deals. I do this by booking a ticket ending in a city where prices are lower than the one I’ll pass through, a flight which I ultimately won’t ever take.
It’s called skiplagging and I’m far from alone.
When I look at the consequences of skiplagging, I end up feeling as if there are actually very few in the negative category, and if anything – a few in the positive. When I ultimately miss that final flight, perhaps from London to Stockholm…
- A seat opens up to a standby passenger.
- The plane is lighter, thus requiring less fuel.
- The airline got paid for four flights, I only took three.
Sure, if I just booked a standard ticket the airline may have earned a few extra bucks, but I may or may not have ever accepted that ticket price and at the end of the day, airlines are the ones who decide that flying from Los Angeles to New York to Puerto Rico is cheaper than just flying from Los Angeles to New York. I’ve been the one waiting on standby for someone to no show. It’s great when someone does.
Is booking a first class international ticket for $800 unethical? No.
Airlines long blurred the lines between promotion and mistake, and they must live with their work as we do ours. For those who begin to think of the Iberia 90,000 point promotion, that was emailed to me directly from Iberia. It was no grey area. It was a promotion and look at the result. So many people have Iberia accounts now and many people have experienced their service, which inevitably brought them to Spain.
But then there are other loopholes, benefits and loyalty program perks which carry real life costs and consequences. Unfortunately, these loopholes are jumped through every day – and in reality, they’re a reason for declining travel benefits from airlines, credit cards and hotels.
There’s a large subset of travelers who buy refundable airline tickets, purely to drink the lounge out of booze, cancel the ticket for a full refund and go home. In fact, they often take advantage of guest policies to bring in as many people as the specific program will allow. This may truly sound crazy, but it happens – and in popular airports such as Las Vegas “it’s a thing”.
- Alcohol, food and lounge stocking costs money.
- Overcrowding in lounges forces guest allowance reductions.
- Overconsumption leads to cost cuts which devalue said benefit.
- Airlines begin to restrict refundable ticket policies to prevent this.
Policies such as guest allowances and benefits like great quality food and beverage are selling points for products such as a premium credit card or top tier airline or hotel statuses. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making the most of a benefit, bringing all the guests and having a royal time while actually traveling but if people who aren’t traveling are the ones hitting the benefit the very hardest, cuts will be made.
Say what you will, but there is a problem when a group of people drive to the airport on a Friday night with a guest each just to consume $100’s of “free” food and drinks in a lounge knowing full well they won’t actually be traveling. It’s not the way the benefit was designed and its detrimental to those who don’t abuse the system.
If a couple are no longer able to access a lounge together because a bunch of jerks would rather go to the effort of booking and refunding a $500 ticket than just buying a $5 beer in a public bar then someone is to blame.
Then there are award tickets. People figure out ways to rack up millions of credit card points with virtually no outlay, and then decide the best way to spend said points is to sell those points or the tickets which can be acquired with them to strangers, even though it’s specifically forbidden in the T&C.s.
Before you say who’s the victim: it’s you. Because of these third party points uses, many of which are done fraudulently using stolen miles or hacked loyalty accounts, airlines then restrict access to last minute bookings using points to avoid potential exposure. There are many programs who no longer allow ticketing of a ticket using points within a week to 72 hours of travel. That means those points which were once a great way to get you out of a last minute jam can no longer help.
British Airways used to be an amazing way to book last minute Cathay Pacific award seats, but after 100’s of millions of miles were used fraudulently to purchase them, that gem was shut down, like too many others.
The big point: even if you’re not doing any of these things, those that are are creating ripple implications which impede your travel enjoyment in some way shape or form.
Just this week a UK centric example caused Amex to split from Curve Card, an inventive fin-tech product. Users were able to effectively create a points earning hamster wheel without spending money. Everyone who was supposed to get paid was getting paid, in regards to Curve and Amex, but just because there was perhaps no immediate foul, the long term implications on the points game are not to be ignored.
When mass markets of consumers can earn enough virtually unlimited amounts of points to spend them on luxury travel with no end, it’s inevitable that a loyalty program will be forced to devalue or cope in some way with the added, arguably inflated influx of usage. How does the St. Regis Bora Bora pay staff if every single guest is paying with points?
If someone can fly first class for free every month without flying, or paying any “net” bills, that’s just never going to be a sustainable relationship between brand and consumer, no matter how fun it is for those involved in the short term. If those are the same people then shouting (or blogging) with pitchforks about loyalty devaluations, it’s time to take a look in the mirror.
In essence, travel perks and loyalty programs are designed to be selling points to encourage future business. They were never designed to be the only business. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing inside or even on the edge of the lines.
The only thing worse than abusing loyalty benefits to levels which border outright fraud is paying to acquire benefits you don’t use at all.
Last year I had a perk which meant if I gave a hotel group 5 stays, I’d earn a suite upgrade. I gave them 5 stays, one night each and spent my suite upgrade with pride. That may not be what they dream for in a customer and it may not be the exact behavior they hope to elicit, but I broke no rules and caused no harm. I paid for each stay, and did so again when I cashed in my upgrade.
There’s always going to be a grey area, but it’s time to have a greater conversation about short term personal gains and benefit arbitrage versus the long term travel benefits of the collective community. Sometimes we can’t have all our cake and eat it too…