Small Child Pokes a Big Hole in Airlines’ Argument Against Throwaway Ticketing

Airlines see themselves as selling transportation between A and C at a certain price. That a connecting 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, and not use the seat they’ve paid in full for from B to C.

But the airline thinks travel between A to B is a totally different product with a different price.

That’s why airlines have a story for why ‘throwaway ticketing’ as a strategy to save money on tickets is bad (you’re cheating the airline by buying one product but taking a different one) and why most people can’t fathom that there’s anything wrong with it. Indeed, the New York Times “Ethicist” column says there’s not.

Of course, airlines also happen to believe the story that is in their own financial interest.

The thing is that they don’t always believe it. And those times seem to correspond with airline financial interest, too.

Last month a woman flying from Washington DC to Peoria via Chicago wasn’t permitted to use her FAA-approved child’s seat on the American Eagle segment to Peoria. Apparently the flight attendant was mistaken about the seat. The woman flew with a lap child instead of having the infant in a seat as planned, as purchased, and as she had done for her mainline segment from DC to Chicago.

American acknowledged fault. The DC – Peoria child’s ticket cost $323 (it’s unclear if this was one-way or round trip). American refunded only $55 for the Chicago – Peoria segment.

But if she was sold a DC – Peoria product, not flights from DC to Chicago and Chicago to Peoria, how can American claim she is only owed a refund for Chicago-Peoria?

She purchased transportation between two cities which the child was not provided. It seems to me that American is implicitly conceding the argument against throwaway ticketing is false, or only true when convenient to an airline. And that the lap infant was involuntarily denied boarding for the seat that was purchased.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Same thing happened to a friend of mine – he was just telling me about it yesterday. He was flying from LAS-DEN-CVG earlier this year during Super Bowl Sunday. LAS-DEN was fine but DEN-CVG was canceled. He had to wait 2 days in Denver to get a flight, and eventually Denver only refunded him the $120 that was the DEN-CVG segment.

    Cmon airlines – you can’t have it both ways!

  2. Slightly different but this is sort of like how United awards PQDs per segment — dividing up the full ticket cost across the segments that make up the ticket…

  3. Gary
    What is your personal view on throaway and hidden city?
    Do you think it’s wriong?

  4. Seems like you’re stretching this argument a bit too far. I remember being booking from LAX to EWR to BWI on one UA ticket and a snowstorm prevented me from flying the EWR-BWI leg. The airline refunded me that portion of the ticket. Seemed fair enough to me (as a courtesy, they also give me something like an additional $50 voucher for my troubles).

    Obviously, the reason this matters is that, for competitive reasons, airlines often match other airlines’ fare sales. Like Spirit may sell PHL-LAS for $99 and UA will match, routing you through their hub, so you’ll fly PHL-SFO-LAS for $99. I don’t think it’s wrong for UA to discourage you from buying a $99 PHL-SFO ticket. I also don’t think it’s right for them to make a federal case out of it if you do it a couple of times, and they generally don’t. I know people have problems with this, but candidly, I think the current “don’t ask/don’t tell/don’t do it too often” system isn’t bad for frequent flyers.

  5. Good job criticizing AA Gary (despite being their #1 fanboy). Credit where due.
    Too bad this one lady getting ripped off on the refund won’t change anything.

  6. At the end of the day, though, she agreed to the CoC, which says:

    “In the event the refund is required because of American’s failure to operate on schedule or refusal to transport, the following refund will be made directly to you.

    If the ticket is totally unused, the full amount paid (with no service charge or refund penalty), or
    If the ticket is partially used, the applicable fare for the unused segment(s)”

    It doesn’t have to be logical, it just has to be in the CoC, doesn’t it? They could throw you out the window over the Pacific if was in the CoC.

  7. Perhaps you could also use delta’s MQDs which are by segment rather than by trip to support your argument.

  8. @IAHPHX, are you sure you are not the one stretching things to try and yet again defend the airlines on the flawed logic and positions. Just like the US3 vs ME3 discussion your statements and arguments seem intent on making the US airlines appear to be the hapless victims of the ME3 or the all powerful passengers. I really hope the US3 checks are coming your way and you are cashing them right away.

    Gary’s example clearly breaks the internal logic of the argument made by airlines regarding throwaway ticketing, I don’t entertain this concept of don’t ask don’t tell as it is arbitrary only in the airlines’ favor. If they really viewed A-B-C as not including A-B, they should have refunded the whole fare when B-C was not completed due to their actions. I certainly could not only fly A-B and then later seek a refund for B-C, rather I might expect a fare recalculation and experience an add/collect post-flight. However, because in this instance it favors the airline to partially refund and ignore their position, they go ahead and affirm a fare value per segment.

    If I ever get any kind of action against me for throwaway ticketing, I’m definitely fighting and requesting discovery to prove that due to the arbitrary discretion exercised by the carrier the applicable terms of the CoC used to punish for throwaway ticketing the courts should construe them in light least favorable to the carrier or deem them unenforceable.

  9. I recently flew A-B-C-A in paid domestic F where A-B was a transcon flight and B-C was under an hour. A-B was delayed causing a misconnect on B-C and a downgrade to Y on a B-C flight an hour later. I requested both a prorated refund and full original routing credit. I expected very little, but ended up with a full refund of the entire round trip fare, and a mistake where they double credited for the A-B segment. I’m being intentionally vague on the specifics, as dealing with getting this fixed across airlines would be near impossible, and I don’t want to attract attention to it, but in the end I received a round trip ticket, and enough status credit for almost 50% of top tier status, for a total cost of zero. If only all IRROPS ended up this way!

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