I wish this was a joke, but it appears that United Airlines is harshly cracking down on those who exploit so-called “hidden city” ticketing to save on ticket prices. Let’s understand how realistic the threat is.
Briefly, United (and all carriers) often charge a premium for nonstop flights. For example, a flight from Los Angeles to Orlando via Chicago may often turn out cheaper than purchasing just the same Los Angeles to Chicago flight alone:
LA to Chicago to Orlando: $120
LA to Chicago (same flight): $171
Examples like the above can be found for every airline.
This comes with all sorts of risk. You cannot check bags. You also cannot book a return flight. Furthermore, if something goes wrong like a delay or cancellation, airlines will get you to your “final” destination, not the intermediate point that is really your destination.
Although by no means illegal, taking advantage of loopholes like this contravenes the “Contract of Carriage” you “agree” to whenever you book an airline ticket (of course, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis).
It appears, with United at least, those who have taken advantage of this too often are receiving letters from United’s Corporate Security office. No Mas Coach shared a letter received by one of his friends:
RE: Notice of Claim Pertaining to Point Beyond Ticketing and Demand for Reimbursement
Dear [ name removed ],
It has come to United Airlines’ attention that on multiple occasions you have violated the “Prohibited Practices” outlined in Rule 6 of United’s Contract of Carriage.
United identified 38 instances since January of 2016 where you engaged in “Point Beyond Ticketing,” which is the unauthorized purchase of a ticket to a destination more distant than your actual destination. As shown below, the last segment of each ticket was not used. By including the additional segment, you were able to purchase your ticket at a lower fare. Please note that no irregular operations were involved in these itineraries to prevent you from making the connecting flight…
[ United then laid out every instance with a numerical amount of the difference between the price between the nonstop itinerary to the intermediate point and the itinerary booked ]
Such conduct constitutes fraud and a violation of Rule 6 of United’s Contract of Carriage. Accordingly, United demands that you cease and desist these unauthorized practices immediately and that you reimburse United in the amount of $3,236.76 which represents the difference between the cost of the tickets that you purchased and the cost of the travel taken, within 10 business day of receipt of this letter.
Please remit payment directly to me via credit card or a check made out to “United Airlines, Inc.” and send to:
United Airlines, Inc.
233 S. Wacker 28th floor
Chicago, IL 60606
If you do not make the requested payment, United Airlines reserves its right to take further action, including submitting United’s claim to an outside collection agency, terminating your MileagePlus membership and/or refusing to transport you on future flights in accordance with Rule 21 of the Contract of Carriage. If you have questions regarding this letter, feel free to contact me via [redacted].
38 instances is quite a lot, but put that aside for a moment. United is threatening to send this bill to a collections agency! Like View from the Wing, I consider this is a hollow threat. This isn’t like skipping out on your cable bill that you agreed to pay. Rather, this passenger has already paid in full for the ticket itineraries he purchased.
The whole concept of charging more for A + B than A alone strikes most as counterintuitive, including me. I certainly understand why United charges a premium for A alone if it is a nonstop flight. But if someone is clever enough to save some money by tacking on B and willing to take the attendant risks of doing so, more power to them.
I think United will lose and be liable for damages far beyond $3,236.76 if they send this man’s “bill” to collections and damage his credit score.
But I also know that I’ll never book hidden city ticketing for myself on United. It’s simply not worth the risk of forfeiting my MillionMiler status. United does not have viable legal recourse to go after those who engage in hidden city ticketing, but it certainly does have the right to terminate the MileagePlus accounts of those who do.