Airlines know that people use forged boarding passes to access airport lounges they wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to use. People also buy refundable tickets for the lounge access and then refund those tickets. One man took this to such extremes that he managed to eat free for a year.
United told Zach Honig that new technology first being used in their new Chicago Polaris lounge will let them crack down on people booking qualifying tickets just for access and then cancelling and refunding those tickets once inside.
Airlines have been using new software to crack down on this practice, though, and United’s now on board, too.
The software is called AIMS. On the surface, it’s designed to enhance a customer’s experience by improving the lounge check-in process. However it also uses undisclosed technology to identify passengers that game the system by using fake boarding passes (which shouldn’t work), or those who purchase a plane ticket just to access the lounge, only to cancel it for a refund once they’re inside.
United Polaris Lounge Chicago, Credit: United
They plan to roll this out further at other lounges as well.
The company making the software helps airlines sell memberships and lounge access, as well as generate ancillary revenue from the lounge. They system helps airlines bill partners for access. They’re in 89 lounges at this point.
AIMS provides self-serve lounge check-in kiosks for Virgin Australia:
It seems to me that if you’re going to buy a refundable ticket just for the lounge access, you should:
- Not use that airline’s frequent flyer number (or any frequent flyer number) associated with the ticket. For a one-off that’s probably sufficient. But if you’re the type of person looking to eat free for a year in a lounge you probably don’t want to use a credit card associated with your mileage account. You may even want a separate boarding pass to clear security from the one you use to enter the lounge so that even more information can vary from what’s in the airline’s records about you.
- Not refund the ticket until you leave the lounge.
- Not use the same lounge over and over on tickets you’re cancelling day after day.
Basically the repeat offenders are the ones that will get caught most often, and there may be penalties such as closure of your mileage account or — in the case of Lufthansa — a hefty bill.