The New York Times’ Ethicist declared that throwaway ticketing is perfectly fine.
A reader asks if it’s ok to book tickets where you don’t intend to fly all of the segments in order to save money. The reply:
Absolutely. Purchasing something doesn’t mean you’re obligated to consume it in totality. You can use whatever portion of the purchase you choose. If you buy a loaf of bread, you don’t have to eat every slice.
So far, so good.
There’s a fundamental difference in perspectives between what most airlines think they are selling from what most passengers think they are buying.
- Airlines seem themselves as selling transportation between A and C at a certain price. That the itinerary stops at B is immaterial.
- A passenger believes they are buying a seat on a flight from A to B and then on to C. So it’s ok to use only the seat from A to B.
- But the airline thinks travel between A to B is a totally different product with a different price.
The Ethicist shares the perspective of the passenger and declares throwaway ticket A-OK.
Unfortunately the Ethicist doesn’t stop there, offering more analysis that’s far less sound.
It’s blatantly obvious these flight prices are not based on the amount of fuel, maintenance and labor required for the respective journeys. The airlines are manipulating the prices based on demand.
Prices which correspond to the cost of inputs is something I haven’t given much credence to since studying Piero Sraffa and having to work through his Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities as an undergraduate. I’m not even sure what it means to be sinisterly ‘manipulating’ prices based on demand.
Fundamentally the issue is what you are buying when you buy an airline ticket, whether it’s what the contract of carriage says or whether it’s what a common understanding reflects.
What the New York Times doesn’t do is:
- Walk customers through the technique, or
- Warn them about the pitfalls
Fortunately two years ago I wrote an extensive guide to Using Hidden City and Throwaway Ticketing to Save Big Money on Airfare.
Here are the risks:
- Do this only as the last segment of a reservation. Throw away the final leg of a roundtrip or book two one-ways if you want to do a throwaway in each direction. When you miss a flight, the airline is likely to cancel the rest of your itinerary.
- Don’t check luggage. Most airlines used to let you ‘short check’ baggage, or check it to an intermediate stop and not your final destination. Your bags will go to the final city on your ticket, you will not. So this only works with carry-ons (except for international flights arriving in the U.S. and a few other countries where you have to pick up your bags on arrival and walk them through customs and then drop them back off).
- Don’t gate check luggage. If you do, make sure they only tag it to your next stop and not your final destination. Best to board early enough to get overhead space though.
- There’s still a risk of irregular operations. If your flight cancels, the airline might offer to send you to your ‘final destination’ via some other connecting city. You’ll need to negotiate not just to get to your ‘destination’ but also for your original routing.
But to see how you can save as much as $1000 a ticket, check out the guide.