Strange airline ticket pricing

Airline ticket pricing nowadays depends on so any factors that it would be quite a coincidence if you met someone on the same flight who had paid the same amount for the ticket as you did. But the most surprising thing is when it costs less to go further along the same route.

For instance, someone flying from New York to San Francisco could book a cheaper trip from New York to Lake Tahoe with a layover in San Francisco and get off there, without bothering to take the last leg of the flight.

But airlines are apparently upset that savvy travelers are doing such things and one airline is suing a traveler.

According to a court document, an unnamed male passenger booked a return flight from Oslo to Seattle, which had a layover in Frankfurt. The passenger used all legs of the outbound flight, but did not catch the Frankfurt to Oslo return flight. He instead flew on a separate Lufthansa reservation from Frankfurt to Berlin.

Lufthansa saw this as a violation of their terms and conditions and is seeking €2,112 (around $2,385) in compensation.

A Berlin district court dismissed the lawsuit in December, but Lufthansa’s spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the company has “already filed the appeal against the decision.”

This is utterly absurd. If I buy a ticket, then I should be able choose to use any or all of it. The fault, if there is any, is clearly in the airline’s pricing algorithms.

I recall a time when it was sometimes cheaper to buy a round trip ticket to some place than a one-way ticket, so people would buy round trip tickets and simply not return. That upset airlines too. I don’t know if that is still true.

It is still the case that even between the same two cities, where the round trip ticket originates matters. This is definitely the case for some international flights. I know someone in Sri Lanka whose children live in Perth, Australia and so he splits his time between the Colombo and Perth. He makes sure that his round trip tickets always originate in Colombo and are purchased in Sri Lanka because it is much cheaper than buying it in Perth. In this case, the airlines are probably pricing according to what the market can bear and Sri Lankans may be thought of as having less disposable income than Australians.


  1. Roj Blake says

    I wonder what basis the airline has to sue, other than something buried in the T&Cs.

    As the passenger has paid, in full, the asking price, then what loss has the airline suffered? Maybe the $ the passenger would have spent on over priced peanuts on the leg less often traveled.

  2. says

    I often drive 3 hours to Washington airport instead of my local. Fares from there are much lower -- sometimes $1000 less -- and I theorize it’s because politicians fly in and out of that airport. The airlines want to minimize the chance that someone will notice that their prices are weird. I would not put it past them to do like Uber did, and give regulators a sweetheart deal.

    It’s really sad that capitalism has to ruin everything it touches.

  3. Jazzlet says

    I worked for an MEP for a while who took singles out to Brussels and Strasbourg on the Monday of the first weeks after his election that the European Parliament was sitting in those cities, so that thereafter all his returns were over the weekend, as the returns were valid for a month this meant that despite the rotating venues he could still use them the next time each venue rolled round. This was cheaper because it was assumed weekend trips were paid for out of the individual public’s pocket, where as weekday returns would be bought by businesses who would stump up more cash. He did this despite being able to reclaim all travel expenses, because he didn’t view it as his money, and believed he had a duty to take care that the tax payer’s money that he was in a position to spend was not wasted.

  4. johnson catman says

    I concur with Roj Blake @1. If I purchase a ticket, but choose not to use part of it, what can the airlines legitimately complain about? They cannot FORCE me to use everything that I have purchased. Once I have purchased something, it is my right to use or not use that which I have purchased. How fucking idiotic can they be?

  5. enkidu says

    Writing as the devil’s advocate, I suppose the airline, not to mention other passengers, might be inconvenienced by delay in calling a passenger who doesn’t show. One might speculate, for a passenger on a previous leg, if they had left something nasty on the plane. Though that would not be the case in the Lufthansa example.
    I often leave things on planes, but the worst would be a very bad novel.

  6. Matt says

    Another trick to get cheaper tickets is to use a VPN to appear as you are shopping from a different location than you are. Even on domestic (US) flights this works pretty well (it helps if you don’t appear that you are shopping from near either of the two airports in question), but especially for international flights. And if you can use your VPN to appear as if you are shopping from a less-well-to-do country, all the best. Even including foreign transaction fees (since foreign versions of airline websites price in local currency), the flights are often quite a bit cheaper.

  7. ridana says

    I’m not sure what their beef is either. If you don’t show for any part of the ticket you paid for, they can resell the seat to standby travelers and get paid twice for it. They don’t seem to have any problem not upholding their end when they overbook and bump people from flights they’ve paid for.

  8. Curious Digressions says

    There’s a website dedicated to selling or finding partial flights -- skiplagged(dot)com. I have a hard time seeing how it could be illegal.

    I haven’t tried a VPN, but when booking flights, I’ve found that if I visit a sales site, then clear my browser history, etc and go back to the same site, I’ll be offered a lower price. I’ve also found that different browsers will offer a different price, depending on what I use them for.

  9. fentex says

    If he notified them, on arrival, that he wasn’t continuing then he’d have the “inconveniencing” people thing covered -- but if he did waste peoples time by appearing to be absent when expected I think he does have something to answer for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *