Last month I wrote about American Airlines confronting a reader over throwaway ticketing when he arrived at the airport. He was told that he had better fly all of the segments in his itinerary that day, and that American would be watching.
Instead, the reader got off of his flight to Philadelphia and went home, never taking the last flight on his reservation. He booked the ticket this way because it was $25 cheap than buying a non-stop flight to Philadelphia, a trick he’s employed several times.
As promised, American flagged him, suspended his account – and demanded restitution for past instances of throwaway ticketing. I warned over the summer they were cracking down. Here’s the message American sends:
As an analyst with American Airlines, one of my responsibilities is investigating violations of the General AAdvantage® Program Conditions. An audit of your AAdvantage account, determined that you have engaged in the practice known as ‘Hidden City ticketing’; the purchase of a fare to a point beyond your actual destination. Hidden city ticketing is explicitly defined in AA’s Conditions of Carriage as a violation of ticket validity. The Terms and Conditions of the AAdvantage program further state that compliance with the Conditions of Carriage is compulsory for participation in the AAdvantage program. As such, AAdvantage account [Redacted], is restricted, pending the outcome of our investigation. You may review the terms and conditions of the AAdvantage ® program (several parts of the terms and conditions are noted below) by clicking the link below or by copying and pasting it into your browser.
The audit of your account [Redacted] was completed on [Date]. The following reservations were not issued in compliance with the AAdvantage Terms & Conditions, Conditions of Carriage or AA.com Site Usage policy:
(Spreadsheet of Hidden City Flights Booked And Prices Paid)
Not unlike other commodities, airline seats are market priced. A seat on a non-stop flight is a premium product and commands a higher price. Seats in connecting markets must be priced competitively and hence can be substantially cheaper. The ill-effects of point beyond ticketing are two-fold; the customer receives the flight for a price for which they aren’t entitled and a seat is spoiled on the separate connecting flight. An airline ticket constitutes a contract and the terms of that contract are stated explicitly in the Conditions of Carriage. Please see excerpts below.
[Name], these actions have resulted in clear and considerable losses to American Airlines. In addition to our loss for the travel provided, tickets booked through prohibited practices are considered fraudulent, and therefore not eligible to accrue mileage. In this case, our loss is further compounded through the Elite mileage accruals, benefits, and services used that were not otherwise available. Generally, violations of this nature subject the AAdvantage account to termination. However, we are willing to provide you with an opportunity to restore an equitable relationship through restitution for the loss on your identified travel.
You may respond to this message by [Date and Time] stating you would like to bring your account back to good standing. At that time, the segments will be re-priced based on your intended travel and we will send you the information so that you may make the appropriate reimbursement for the travel provided. Failure to return the account to good standing or to reply, will result in the termination of your AAdvantage® membership and all its benefits, including all remaining AAdvantage® miles in your account and any award tickets issued from it.
In this case the member has Platinum status, accrued miles, and lives in an American Airlines hub city. And American Airlines is asking for… $1000.
If he’s able to pay this frankly seems cheap, and as though it probably costs American as much to try to collect on it as they’ll recoup if he pays.
Ultimately hidden city ticketing and throwaway ticketing is not illegal, but it’s against airline rules. I recommend against using your frequent flyer number. Credit to a different partner airline. You can still be tracked, but why make it easier for the airline?
United Airlines threatened to trash the credit of customers who skip flights by sending them to collections. With most airlines things don’t go that far, and even United doesn’t really want to get into the legal entanglements that would involve.
Still, this may be tempting to do when the savings are significant. I’ve seen cases where the difference is over $1000. I’d give it a miss over $25. And if the airline confronts you at the airport over it? Fly to your final ticketed destination, and then catch a new flight home.