Last week I wrote that American changed its fare rules to charge you more on many connecting itineraries and on trips that include stopovers. In fact, United and Delta have done the same thing, though I also explained how to beat the practice.
- Some fares, especially those intended to compete non-stop against ultra-low cost carriers, may not permit “end-on-end ticketing”
- And the airline may prevent fares from being used as part of “sum of sector pricing”
In one example I showed you how to save as much as 74% on a ticket: flying Austin – Chicago, Chicago – Dallas, and Dallas – Austin on one reservation, purchased together on American, this priced as $1058. Pricing one-ways separately it was as cheap as $271 (but not more than $509).
United, Delta, and American are preventing you from just adding up the cost of the cheapest fares in some cases, and instead charging you higher fares to combine certain flights and routes.
Multi-segment itineraries may now be more expensive than buying each segment separately on these three major US airlines.
However you can beat the practice by pricing out each flight segment separately, and if cheaper buying the series of one-way tickets instead of a roundtrip, open jaw, or circle trip.
While travel agents may be able to issue multiple tickets in a single reservation (United supports this for instance), if you’re doing it yourself you’ll have multiple reservations.
United and Delta will still let you through-check bags to your final destination when you’re traveling on multiple reservations but on the same airline. American will let you through-check bags and even protect you in the event of irregular operations although not all employees know this rule. It’s important enough though that you should know it and also consider booking American, rather than Delta or United, if booking one-way tickets instead of more expensive fares.
Ed Perkins covers the phenomenon and my post on the issue in the Chicago Tribune.
He highlights Kevin Mitchell’s claim that all 3 of the major legacy US airlines changing their pricing strategy in this way this year may violate anti-trust laws.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, Mitchell raised the obvious question of possible “illegal coordination” among the big three legacy lines. The fact that all three airlines changed fare rules at essentially the same time, to essentially the same rules, would tend to support this conclusion. As Mitchell puts it, “Perhaps most troubling is how the airlines knew that their competitors had made this change given that there was no public announcement.”
The federal government is already investigating pricing collusion by US airlines. The case is considered a long shot absent a smoking gun that we haven’t seen, as prices are down in inflation-adjusted terms and most price increase attempts by the airlines fail.
Anti-trust is a tricky thing. If you charge more, it’s monopoly pricing power. If you charge the same it’s collusion. And if you charge less it’s predatory pricing.
However charging the same as your competitors is also what you’d expect in a highly competitive environment. And absent any evidence of actual agreement on pricing, there’s no reason to believe there’s anything legally questionable here — and certainly no reason to expect there would be a legal case for such.
Instead, it’s airlines becoming less consumer-friendly and even more opaque, as though anyone thought that this could even be possible.