It’s hardly a new technique, ever since September 11th and the requirement that you actually be flying same-day to go past security, I’ve always said it’s easier to buy a refundable ticket, meet your friends at their gate, and then refund the ticket than it is to get a gate pass.
And that you might as well buy an international first class ticket, to take advantage of any available first class lounge while you wait.
Back when you didn’t need a ticket to go through security there were plenty of folks who lived or worked near the airport who would exercise their club memberships for evening cocktails (at those lounges which offered free drinks).
Nonetheless there’s been lots of coverage for the man who used one first class ticket to eat free for a year.
The man used his first-class ticket to score free meals and drinks at a VIP airport lounge nearly every day for a year, the Kwong Wah Yit Poh reported.
He changed his flight itinerary more than 300 times within the year so he could enjoy the facilities at the Xi’an Airport in Shaanxi, China.
What’s more, he cancelled his ticket for a refund when its validity was about to expire.
I can’t imagine that the China Eastern lounge in Xi’an is especially lavish, or offers a great meal service, though admittedly I haven’t been.
This would seem to work better at Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal, for instance. But many world carriers do have rules in their ticketing contracts forbidding the practice of purchasing tickets that you have no intention to fly — presumably changing the ticket 300 times and then refunding would be sufficiently indicative of that intention. So while China Eastern may have felt insufficiently empowered to do anything about the practice, I’d guess many world airlines would feel differently. If they couldn’t recoup their costs at the very least they’d be cancelling frequent flyer accounts.
I recall that someone who worked nearby booked an executive floor room at the Tokyo Hilton for $3 for pretty much a whole year, intending to stop by in the evenings for cocktails and occasionally use the room. Not free, but more than possible to get money’s worth in drinks and snacks.
Point is, this works just fine with refundable tickets, but doing it 300 times in a year likely isn’t replicable without negative consequences.