What’s a “back-to-back” airline ticket? March 7, 2009 Christopher Elliott explains how to save money on travel by booking a “back-to-back” airline ticket. Share: Doug To say that this is completely legitimate and completely ethical overstates the case a bit. Just like we should hold an airline to the promises it makes to customers in the contract of carriage and the fare rules, customers agree to those rules when we buy restricted tickets as well. An analogy: Your local coffee shop offers a little punch card–after 10 lattes, you get the 11th free. You buy one latte and then pull the cashier aside, saying, “look, give me the other 9 punches now and my free latte. I promise I’ll come in and buy those other 9 lattes soon.” Then you don’t come in and buy those other 9. — Many business have some customers cross-subsidize others. For airlines, that’s the predominantly weekday business travel market offsetting the costs for more flexible leisure travelers. http://www.alaskatravelgram.com Scott McMurren The Latte analogy doesn’t hold water. Back-to-back ticketing is part of the cultural cat-and-mouse game that travelers play with airlines. Another great example is point-beyond ticketing. For example, fly from Anchorage to Seattle to Denver for $399rt. You get a free stop in SEA as part of the deal. However, if you JUST want to fly to SEA, the cost is **gasp** $530rt. Yes, that’s the advance-purchase “Supersaver”. Airlines are looking at new ways to shake down their customers at every turn. Travelers often relish the opportunity to beat them at their own stupid games. Mindy Your latte analogy is nowhere near appropriate. Allow me to amend the analogy a bit: Your local coffee shop offers a little punch card–after 10 lattes, you get the 11th free. You go into purchase your normal 32oz latte (I really really like Lattes) only to see that the price of said drink is $5. Rubbish you think.. especially when you see that the 16oz latte is only $2. So, being the smart consumer you are, you purchase 2 $2 lattes, for a total of $4. Now, you don’t want to push your luck, and upset the proprietor of your local coffee joint.. so you keep your little punch card in your wallet (.. FF miles..), and instead of collecting punches toward a free drink.. you enjoy your latte and relish your smart consumerism. ——- While an airline may want to have the business traveler “subsidize” the leisure traveler, it is no way a requirement that you do so. In todays economy (and frankly.. as far as I’m concerned ANY economy), it is responsible company stewardship to save your company pennies. Mike What about this scenario? I buy round trip 1 on airline A departing from C to D on Monday the 7th and returning from D to C Friday the 18th. I buy round trip 2 on airline B departing from D to C on Friday the 11th and returning C to D Monday the 14th. This is usually cheaper for two 4-day trips, and no segments are unused. Amy Two round trips on the same airline used to be the way to do it until the airlines started cross checking. Using TWO airlines makes it untrackable unless they turn out to be code shares, And you have to be lucky enough to be traveling where you have a choice of airlines. I used to commute from NYC to Virginia weekly and this method helped pricing a great deal. Also helped to keep me on schedule because I was committed to be in each city certain days and any changes through my tickets into a tizzy. Regina I was under the impression that if the airline catches on to what you are doing, they can bar you from getting on the return flight. You can probably get away with back to back because it’s two separate sets of tickets, but with beyond-point ticketing, they can see in the computer that you didn’t board the return flight at your final destination, and they will prevent you from boarding or force you to pay more. I don’t think I would want to take that chance. Carver @Doug The latte example does work. The issue isn’t whether you bought the tickets, the issue is whether you used them. A better example would be you see a 12oz can of soda for $1.00 and a 2 quart bottle for $0.50. You buy the 2 quart bottle, drink 12 oz and through the rest in the trash. The cllerk when says, sir, you only drank 12 oz so I want another $0.50. The airlines want to both control the price (fair) and how you use the product (unfair). Another analogy: I buy season tickets to the theater. 6 tickets for $240.00, effectively $40 each. Individual tickets costs $60 each. I only use 5 tickets. Had I bought them individually, it would have cost $300. The theater owner bills me for the $60 difference. I strongly believe in business ethics. However, I think the airlines behave very unethically by telling me how I can use the ticket that I bought with my own money. In fact, I cannot think of any other consumer industry that atttempts to impose such draconian rules on purchases. Carver @Regina Sort of. With hidden city ticketing, once you miss a leg of your trip, the remaining tickets generally cancels. So hidden city tickets work for either one way trips or on the inbound portion on a round trip ticket. It doesn’t work on the outbound portion of a ticket Kevin M If you REALLY want to make the airlines mad, combine hidden city with back-to-back. :) Sometimes, two round trips to a distant, highly competitive city is cheaper than one round-trip where there’s no competition. For example: in Baton Rouge, I can fly Delta (essentially all flights go to/stop in Atlanta), American (Dallas), Continental (Houston), or Northwest (Memphis). That may change up a bit with the DL-NW merger, but the principle is there. A city like Washington DC or New York, which I can get to via any of the four, might cost less than half a round trip to any of these four cities. The hidden city tactic gets me to the city I really want to go to (say, Atlanta), and back-to-back ticketing with a Saturday stay can make it really cheap. steve Doing this is ethical and legal. After using coupon 1 of ticket 1 you are certainly free to fly roundtrip to any destination in the world. After returning, using coupons 1 and 2 (in order) of ticket 2 you use coupon 2 of ticket 1 to return home. If I bought a roundtrip ticket on US to fly PHL-DUB certainly it is ethical to buy a DUB-LGW roundtrip ticket while there, isn’t it? What then is any less ethical about buying and using a DUB-PHL roundtrip while there? In both cases I have bought two tickets and lived up to all conditions of carriage of each ticket. John M As for the legality of back to back tickets, it depends on who you ask and what you define as legal and illegal. When you purchase your ticket you are giving your consent to abide by the Contract of Carriage, which for most airlines prohibits passengers doing back to back tickets or ticketing to a point beyond. If they catch you and they do catch people, not only can they cancel out your current trip, but they can bill you for the difference and cancel out your frequent flyer membership and not permit you to get a new one. I recall reading about a business woman in FL. who was caught by Delta and as I recall she had pretty decent status on them. They took her to court and sued for something like $190k in fare difference, canceled all of her miles and banned her from their frequent flyer program for life. I’m pretty sure that this was settled out of court but I don’t know for certain. Frank W When dealing with airlines, there is no “ethical and/or legal”. There are only the airline rules (unfair, unethical, and normally illegal as they normally are) and if you don’t like it – that’s just too bad. Sister 7 …do the airlines know a travel writer has exposed a dirty trick? I wonder if Chris Elliott could be sued for his ‘how to rip off the airline’ video. I’ve also heard of airlines confiscating your mileage if they find out you are doing back to back’s. Delta has sophisticated software that tracks passengers..using or w/o using ffy accounts. I would not mess with the airlines.They are bigger and more powerful than we are. Mike I actually did something like my scenario, but it was mostly to avoid a change fee.I had book a long trip on one airline, then had to return home during the trip to take care of some business. It was considerably cheaper to buy a new ticket on a different airline (non-partner, non-codeshare) than to pay the change fee plus the difference in fare. I don’t make a habit out of this kind of thing. Barry Graham Just because an airline forces you to accept its terms and conditions because you have a choice, it doesn’t make their rules part of the law. If back to back tickets are illegal or unethical, then what about airlines advertizing award tickets or even paid tickets that cost hundreds of dollars more than advertized by the time you have added the fees? What about airlines that don’t provide special meals in first class even when they are providing meals for everyone else? I believe it’s perfectly OK to do what Chris says and I would gladly have an airline take me to court so that I can expose their own dirty tricks in the process – although I have to say I haven’t actually done a back to back ticket for many years and my company certainly doesn’t allow it. http://AirFareIQ.com David There are lots of different “cheap and dirty tricks’ to get around the airlines’ arcane airfare restrictions. Visit http://AirFareIQ.com to learn lots of different money-saving tricks. By the way, isn’t it interesting that Southwest Airlines has publicly stated they have NO PROBLEM with back-to-back and ‘hidden city” tickets?