Overlapping airline itineraries?
August 14, 2008 1:07 PM   Subscribe

Is it kosher to book two separate airline reservations, flying to/from the same cities, with the same airline, that overlap one another?

Here's my situation. I live in City AAA. I fly to city BBB on Sundays for work several consecutive weeks, returning home (AAA) on Thursdays. I have my tickets booked several weeks in advance. Some weekends I stay in BBB without flying home. I have just found out that I must be home in AAA for one day that happens to be in the middle of an airline itinerary I have already made.

Sunday 8/17 fly AAA-BBB (ticket already booked)
Stay in BBB for 11 days
Return 8/28 BBB-AAA (ticket already booked)

I just discovered I have to be in AAA for Monday, 8/25. I can book a round trip, BBB-AAA-BBB, flying BBB-AAA 8/24 and returning AAA-BBB 8/25 for the rest of the week, until I fly home on 8/28 (BBB-AAA). This will cost me roughly the same amount as my standard weekly reservation. And the flights are on a different airline than I always take, they have random stops, and are at crap times.

I have discovered, however, that I can book the following itineraries:
BBB-AAA 8/24
AAA-BBB 8/31
AAA-BBB 8/25
For a similar price to what I would be booking regularly every week, and plus these flights are my normal nonstoppers, instead of a one-stop-each-way that I would have to book if I just made the one/two day round trip 8/24-8/25. And it gets my travel for the next few weeks out of the way.

I'm just not sure if this is against some airline policy, and/or if it is, if they're going to care/catch me. If I did it I would have three overlapping itineraries, flying to/from the same cities, on the same airline.

It's not very easy to understand what I'm trying to describe, I hope I did a good enough job. Anyone know?
posted by jckll to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Relax, people do this all the time, taking advantage of scheduling irregularities to shave costs. It used to be far more common in the 60s and 70s with the old paper tickets.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:11 PM on August 14, 2008

I'm not sure if I totally understand everything, but you may find that your situation is called either "hidden city ticketing" or "nested ticketing." The first is pretty much verboten and gets your reservation canceled, but the second is fine.
posted by mdonley at 1:23 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Airlines typically disallow throwaway (buying a round trip ticket and not using the return as it's cheaper than a one way flight -- this doesn't tend to apply anymore as most US airlines just price a one way ticket now at about the cost of the ticket with the return trip) and back-to-back ticketing (what you're suggesting but just throwing away both returns to take advantage of the fact that tickets with a Saturday stay are cheaper) in their contracts of carriage.

I had a situation identical to yours with Continental a little while ago and I couldn't find anything saying I was in violation of their contract as long as I flew all legs, which I did without incident. A search of flyertalk with the words "throwaway" and "back-to-back" might yield more airline specific information.
posted by MarkAnd at 1:23 PM on August 14, 2008

Nested ticketing! Those were the magic words I was trying and failing to remember!
posted by MarkAnd at 1:24 PM on August 14, 2008

Yeah, I have read somewhere in the past about buying a round trip and using only one leg of it; I wouldn't be doing that...

"nested ticketing" sounds more like what I'm trying to do here, although my tickets aren't necessarily "nested," because no one round trip ticket/itinerary takes place wholly within any other round trip ticket/itinerary; they are more staggered than nested. Let's see if this is clearer:

google cal
posted by jckll at 1:37 PM on August 14, 2008

Curious about how an airline would stop you from buying round-trip and only using the first leg - what are they going to do if you don't use the return leg - sue you?
posted by TravellingDen at 1:43 PM on August 14, 2008

No, the issue is not using the first leg, and then trying to use a second leg. As I understand it (when I used to travel for work on a weekly basis), if you miss one leg of a flight, they cancel all remaining legs.

cklennon, if I understand what you're proposing, it shouldn't be an issue. It's multiple seperate roundtrips, not impacting each other, and you shouldn't run afowl of the airline in the process.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:25 PM on August 14, 2008

Curious about how an airline would stop you from buying round-trip and only using the first leg - what are they going to do if you don't use the return leg - sue you?

Here's an article about it. Practically, they're probably not going to care in most instances, but:
Besides the ban on throwaway ticketing, the six major carriers (including United) prohibit what is known as back-to-back ticketing: the buying of two round-trip tickets and using half of each to avoid paying for a more expensive ticket that does not include a Saturday-night stay. The big six also forbid 'hidden city ticketing' (sometimes called 'point beyond ticketing'): buying a ticket to a more distant city - say, San Francisco - and then getting off at a stopover point - like Chicago - because the San Francisco ticket is cheaper than one to Chicago.

The ticketing rules, adopted in the 1980's, are primarily intended to prevent business travelers from buying cheaper leisure fares, and how often they are enforced is a matter of some debate. Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the carrier could detect back-to-back or hidden-city ticketing more easily than it could someone's buying a round-trip ticket to fly one way. 'It's almost impossible for us to know why someone didn't use the second half of a ticket,' Mr. Wagner said.

Nevertheless, he defended the airline's throwaway ticketing rule. 'If somebody books a round-trip ticket and never intends to fly that second portion, that's lost revenue for us,' he said.

The logic of that argument may leave some travelers scratching their heads, but the airlines do try to enforce these rules, either by imposing penalties on the passenger or on a travel agent who booked the ticket.

Although the penalties vary by airline, the big six all outline various actions they may take against passengers who violate ticketing rules in their contracts of carriage. Among the options: invalidating the rest of the passenger's ticket; forcing the passenger to pay the difference between the purchased fare and the price of a new ticket; deleting frequent flier miles from an account; or revoking the passenger's elite status. To this list, Continental adds a more draconian option: legal action.
posted by MarkAnd at 4:52 AM on August 15, 2008

From what I can understand of the question, you do intend to fly each of those flights. So you should be fine.
posted by reptile at 7:52 AM on August 15, 2008

Well I'm sorry to say it but I think this may be the first time Ask MeFi has let me down with several wrong answers! I could be wrong of course, but here's what I've found:

Continental's Contract of Carriage [pdf] states in Rule 6 Paragraph J Item 3 (page 11):
Rule 6: Tickets
J) Prohibited Practices:
3) The use of Flight Coupons from two or more different Tickets issued at round trip fares for the purpose of circumventing applicable tariff rules (such as advance purchase/minimum stay requirements) commonly referred to as “Back-to-Back Ticketing” is prohibited by CO.

From here:
What is back-to-back ticketing?
Back-to-back ticketing is expressly forbidden by most airlines. It occurs when flight coupons are intentionally not used or they are used out of sequence in order to circumvent airline fare rules. Back-to-back ticketing includes the following two common scenarios:

*Scenario 2: Coupons Used Out of Sequence
Suppose John wants to fly SFO-JFK April 11 and return April 13. He wants to make the same trip the next week, that is, leaving April 18 and returning April 20. Normally each round trip ticket would cost $2000, for a total of $4000. As in Scenario 1, the same airline offers a special fare of $400 round trip, provided John books 14 days in advance and stays over a Saturday night. John decides to buy two tickets:

Ticket 1: SFO-JFK April 11 (A)
JFK-SFO April 20 (B)
Ticket 2: JFK-SFO April 13 (C)
SFO-JFK April 18 (D)

John plans to use all four segments from these two tickets, but in the following order: {A C D B}. He thus makes the two trips for $800 instead of $4000, and saves $3200.

The airlines are strongly opposed to back-to-back ticketing for the financial reasons you can see from the above examples. Whether back-to-back ticketing is actually illegal is a question you can ask your lawyer. You should be aware that back-to-back ticketing is against the rules of most airlines' frequent flyer programs. If an airline catches you using back-to-back ticketing, they may take away all your frequent flyer points and any status you have in their frequent flyer program. They may also charge you or your travel agent the full fare for both tickets. If you buy both tickets on the same airline and provide your frequent flyer number, it is extremely easy for the airlines to link your two reservations and discover what you're doing. If you buy each ticket on a different airline, it may be harder for the airlines to find out.

Back-to-back ticketing is very different from End-on-End Combinations, which are allowed by most airline fare rules. End-on-end combinations do not involve duplicate city pairs, but rather are used for fare construction via an intermediate city point. Tickets purchased with end-on-end combinations are used in the proper sequence.

posted by jckll at 8:48 AM on August 15, 2008

Huh, interesting. Continental changed their contract of carriage in the last year! Sorry for the outdated answer.
posted by MarkAnd at 9:22 AM on August 15, 2008

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