Is leaving airport at a stop before the final destination illegal?

  • There are tricks such as "fuel dumping" or "hidden city ticketing" which involve booking a ticket composed of several connecting flights, then leaving the airport at a stop, possibly even "hopping off" a plane (intermediate landing). Rationale: Sometimes these tickets are cheaper than a ticket to one of the stops. So one adds an additional leg and discards it.

    Some people say that when using such tricks, one enters a legal gray area. But I wonder:

    Could leaving the airport at a stop really be illegal, i.e. violating an airline's or a travel agency's terms?

    Also there are suggestions that one should not request an upgrade, because then the trick may be discovered by the airline. Here I wonder:

    How can they know that one will throw away the last leg?

    there's a difference between illegal and violating the contract of carriage. The first is a criminal offense, the second a civil case. Many airlines indeed do have clauses that make it a contract violation to not use the entire ticket, and you can end up having the return trip disallowed unless starting at the final destination of the outbound ticket, but I'm not aware of any country where such would be a crime.

    I always thought that *violating a contract* is *illegal*, but my knowledge of law admittedly is limited.

    @feklee Generally yes. Question is what will airline do about this? The worst they can do is put you on a no fly list.

    @feklee "illegal" is generally used to indicate criminal violations. Breach of contract would be a civil offense, not criminal. You would not end up arrested and thrown in prison for example for doing it (in most countries).

    Just to add - fascinating question as we don't really see any of this in the UK or Northern Europe. Really great question.

    Not a lawyer, but breach of contract is not 'illegal'- it's a civil wrong. 'Illegal' encompasses civil offenses (for example a minor speeding ticket) and criminal offenses (drunk driving, murder, etc.). All this varies somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

    The title is misleading: the question is not really about leaving the airport, it's about not boarding your flight.

    @Venture2099 - but they do cancel return trips if you miss the outbound part of a return ticket, although in the UK there is legal precedence for them refunding you for that part if they do.

  • This very likely violates the airline's terms. ("Illegal" might be putting it too strongly.) For example, here is the relevant passage from United Airlines' Contract of Carriage.

    J) Prohibited Practices:

    1. Fares apply for travel only between the points for which they are published. Tickets may not be purchased and used at fare(s) from an initial departure point on the Ticket which is before the Passenger’s actual point of origin of travel, or to a more distant point(s) than the Passenger’s actual destination being traveled even when the purchase and use of such Tickets would produce a lower fare. This practice is known as “Hidden Cities Ticketing” or “Point Beyond Ticketing” and is prohibited by UA.
    2. The purchase and use of round-trip Tickets for the purpose of one-way travel only, known as “Throwaway Ticketing” is prohibited by UA.
    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 UA.

    K) UA’s Remedies for Violation(s) of Rules - Where a Ticket is purchased and used in violation of these rules or any fare rule (including Hidden Cities Ticketing, Point Beyond Ticketing, Throwaway Ticketing, or Back-to-Back Ticketing), UA has the right in its sole discretion to take all actions permitted by law, including but not limited to, the following:

    1. Invalidate the Ticket(s);
    2. Cancel any remaining portion of the Passenger’s itinerary;
    3. Confiscate any unused Flight Coupons;
    4. Refuse to board the Passenger and to carry the Passenger’s baggage, unless the difference between the fare paid and the fare for transportation used is collected prior to boarding;
    5. Assess the Passenger for the actual value of the Ticket which shall be the difference between the lowest fare applicable to the Passenger’s actual itinerary and the fare actually paid;
    6. Delete miles in the Passenger’s frequent flyer account (UA’s MileagePlus program), revoke the Passenger’s Elite status, if any, in the MileagePlus Program, terminate the Passenger’s participation in the MileagePlus Program, or take any other action permitted by the MileagePlus Program Rules in UA’s “MileagePlus Rules;” and
    7. Take legal action with respect to the Passenger.

    Thanks! What if I need to hop off honestly *unplanned*? How do I avoid punishment?

    @feklee: That should probably be a new question. But my advice would be to call the airline as soon as possible and explain the situation.

    @feklee: in the second link you shared there are many comments of people who did hop off without any consequences so I doubt the airlines take action every time this happens. I can imagine though that if someone misses the last leg frequently, then some pattern may be easily detected in their purchase/flight history.

    @feklee the main purpose is to prevent people buying a ticket say JFK-ATL-SFO because it is cheaper than ATL-SFO and only getting on at ATL (just an example, the pricing structure on that specific route may not give you an advantage in price this way), then on the return deplaning at ATL.

    @jwenting Why would that be a purpose? They'd get paid the same but save on fuel.

    @Dronz marketing. Sometimes you can get a ticket A-B-C which is cheaper than B-C. May sound strange but it happens. Same as two way tickets often being cheaper than one way tickets. So A-B-A may be cheaper than B-A.

    they are silly for having ridiculous price policies, and now they are silly for adding rules like this...

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM