There were a ton of great questions in yesterday’s open thread, and I will slowly work my way through them. I don’t promise answers to every question, and of course some of the comments weren’t questions at all or even close to on topic for this blog.
But that’s ok, I asked what’s on your mind, it’s given me a ton of food for thought. The questions I think will be of broad interest to my readers I’ll try to give some public answers to. And of course I do my best to answer reader e-mail as well.
Eric FD said,
discuss the ‘fuel dumping’ fare tricks often secretly discussed on FT/MilePoint trick-it forums. i hate the secrecy there – can you shed some light?
There’s a great deal of secrecy surrounding the concept of a “fuel dump” — the various various tricks and strategies to avoid paying fuel surcharges when buying airline tickets.
Discussions often take place “in code” which are fairly impenetrable to the layman. Although a little bit of time spent on the code and you realize they aren’t all that sophisticated.
Ongoing discussions of these techniques take place in the “Trick It” threads on both Milepoint and Flyertalk, and they take place “in code” because of a fear that open discussion of the particulars will result in the various techniques being shut down.
Back in March, 2010 Airfare Watchdog ran a post on forcing airfare pricing to drop fuel surcharges, often saving hundreds of dollars on an international ticket. This was a popular trick discussed in online forums, but the broader world’s attention was caught by the Airfare Watchdog post. The simple trick that had worked so well for a couple of years was shut down in a matter of hours.
Now, initially I didn’t believe that Airfare Watchdog could have brought so much quick attention to the issue, and I certainly didn’t think that the United IT folks could work so quickly (since United was often the carrier on which the trick was most frequently used).
It turns out that the extra attention was enough to make it a priority to get things fixed, and knowing some of the people involved in the outside company that assisted in plugging the hole I do know that my initial reaction was wrong, the Airfare Watchdog post was what escalated the issue and that it was indeed plugged in a very short time.
Airfare Watchdog took a lot of heat for posting the piece, since the attention meant that the pricing trick was killed. And I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the website has since pulled the piece, as though it almost never existed. Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly quoted much of it in a contemporaneous post-mortem.
In simplest form, folks would book a segment from the US to Canada at the end of an international itinerary. That would cause fuel surcharges to drop out of the price of the itinerary. And most folks wouldn’t fly that final segment, just tossing it.
Airlines know about ‘fuel dumps’ and for the most part they are obscure enough and low volume enough that they aren’t a priority to deal with. Discussing the existence of fuel dumps won’t make them go away.
But I’m not going to name the specific city pairs that cause fuel surcharges to drop off of specific tickets, because enough broad use of specific technique will raise the cost to the airline of that technique, and raise the priority to close the ‘loophole’.
The gist of the trick is this:
- Airlines that don’t have interline fuel surcharge agreements split revenue on the basis of IATA’s BSP settlement tables.
- Those tables are country-specific. Some routes, on some airlines, aren’t fully updated correctly in some country BSP tables.
- So adding combining two different airlines that don’t have those interline agreements, ticketed correctly, can cause pricing engines not to include fuel surcharges in the price of the ticket.
This is fairly complicated, and not for the novice. The website you use to book the ticket matters because (1) different online travel agencies might book th same itinerary that combines two airlines as tickets on one versus the other, and that can affect whether or not fuel surcharges price, and (2) the country that the ticket is issued in matters as well.
It’s important that if you use any of these techniques that you don’t draw additional attention to yourself (and in many cases, that means not even trying to upgrade the tickets). An airline can refuse to let you board until you pay the applicable fuel surcharge. There are occasional anecdotes of such things happening, although they’re rare.
I would say that novices should:
- Read the threads on the frequent flyer forums, at least as a pass-through, to familiarize themselves with the concept.
- Then ask questions, not about specific city pairs but possibly pose a question about a specific itinerary they’re working with, and hopefully a kind reader of the thread will reach out with a suggestion.
Or consider that there are other techniques to save on tickets as well, which are sometimes more broadly applicable, such as throwaway ticketing and hidden city ticketing to reduce the cost of your airfare.
Again, nothing in this post that hasn’t been posted publicly elsewhere including in widely published FAQs on the subject. I’m not going to write about the specific airlines and city pairs, besides the particulars do shift over time. But now you know what folks are talking about by ‘trick it’ and ‘fuel dump’. And if you want to invest the time to learn more, you can.