United is a unique airline…

We don’t need to walk down memory aisle with United, they’ll drag you anyway. The airline has managed to make more headlines than most, not for encouraging passengers to fly with them, but for actually discouraging passengers who take advantage of their best fare opportunities.

The next time you’re standing at the check in counter and the agent begins to ask you about your travel plans, don’t mistake it for polite conversation or friendly customer service – per an internal document uncovered by Skift, it may be a ploy to sniff out passengers who take advantage of hidden city ticketing. This is all ironic, because it’s the airline that sets prices, not the passengers.

So what’s hidden city ticketing, you may ask? It’s where you don’t make it to your final destination, because the place you actually want to go was cheaper if you booked it as a connection, rather than a final destination. It can legitimately save thousands, and ironically airlines are the ones that created this highly complicated pricing mess.

Hidden city ticketing only works on one way tickets, or on the last segment of an international ticket and generally doesn’t work if you check a bag. For example, let’s say you live in Los Angeles and are flying to New York. These tickets are often expensive, but a ticket from Los Angeles to Puerto Rico via New York may be half the price. In fact, the ticket to Puerto Rico via New York may be cheaper in business class than the economy ticket just from Los Angeles to New York. In this case, you’d go carry on only and simply “jump off” in New York.

Here’s a lot more on all that, but back to the matter at hand…

One of the most important elements of successfully saving on tickets and using the airlines own pricing strategies against them is to never ever tell the airline what you’re planning to do, and that’s precisely why United is employing this new strategy, which you can read up more on here via Brian Sumers excellent article on Skift.

polaris united seatIt’s the kind of question like “And what are your plans in Puerto Rico” which are designed to have you go “huh, Puerto Rico, but I’m going to New York”. According to United’s internal memo, any employee who suspects hidden city ticketing is instructed to remain calm and then report the passenger to the airlines corporate security department, because that’s gone so well in the past.

“Our priority is to safely get our customers and their baggage to their final destinations, so always try to understand the customer’s situation and avoid confrontation when handling hidden city ticketing instances. Corporate security is better positioned to follow up on the situation and taking appropriate action to ensure customers are following contract of carriage rules and United policies.”

That’s right, the same airline which tried to threaten damaging a fliers credit profile after suspecting the frequent flyer of using this tactic is now telling agents to ring the silent alarm. In other words, you may be on a completely legitimate itinerary, but if you’re not particularly talkative or confident in your plans, you may be profiled by the big scary team at United Corporate Security.

So is this the end of hidden city ticketing? Absolutely not. Why didn’t you take your last flight? Any answer is fine, and anything other than an admission of your intention to skip the last flight would satisfy any reasonable inquiry. Perhaps you didn’t feel well, perhaps a meeting cancelled and you could get home sooner – there’s no wrong answer. Just don’t let United drag one out of you…

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