Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What is Back-to-Back Ticketing? (Hint: It’s a No-No)

Did you know there are literally dozens of pages of rules and regulations that apply to your airline ticket? It’s true. For example, check out United Airlines contract of carriage, which contains 47 pages worth! Now that looks like some fun reading. On the plus side, most of us will never need to know about most of those rules. But recently a reader wrote in asking about one such rule termed, “back-to-back” ticketing. Specifically, she wanted to know what happens if she is caught making this creative type of airline ticketing.

Back-to-Back ticketing occurs when two or more tickets are purchased for the purpose of circumventing rules of a particular ticket, such as advance ticketing or Saturday night stay requirements. Here is an example of two tickets purchased for flights between San Francisco and Chicago:

--Ticket 1: San Francisco to Chicago July 7 (Tuesday) (A)
Chicago to San Francisco July 12 (Sunday) (B)
Total cost: $170

--Ticket 2: Chicago to San Francisco July 9 (Thursday) (C)
San Francisco to Chicago July 13 (Monday) (D)
Total cost: $170

Notice a Saturday night stay requirement is met in each of the tickets, thereby ensuring the low airfare. But, if you intention is to actually fly July 7 (Tuesday) and return on July 9 (Thursday), you would not meet the Saturday night stay requirement, and be subject to a much higher airfare – perhaps up to $800.

One workaround is to purchase two tickets, as shown above. Then utilize the July 7th outbound ticket (A) and July 9th return ticket (C), and throwing away (B) and (D). This would meet the Saturday night requirement. Therefore, in this example, purchasing two round-trip tickets is far cheaper than a single round-trip.

Sound easy enough yes? Well bad news – it’s “illegal.” Most airlines spell out in their contract of carriage that this type of ticketing is not allowed. Perpetrators are subject to having their mileage account closed, pay a penalty, or perhaps even get billed for the actual cost of the ticket (the $800 ticket). How will the airline know if you did this? Using your name and mileage account number on the two tickets is a good hint! One workaround is to purchase ticket 1 with one airline, ticket 2 with another. But again, you heard it here, this type of ticketing is not generally allowed. So, proceed at your own risk.