One of the world’s biggest airlines is seeking to sue a passenger who did not take the last leg of their ticketed journey, threatening a widely used hack for cheaper flights.
The German national airline, Lufthansa, is pursuing payment from an unnamed traveller who, it believes, deliberately bought a ticket with no intention of flying the last leg.
While an initial court case found in the passenger’s favour, Lufthansa has been given permission to appeal.
At the centre of the issue is that passengers will pay a premium for non-stop flights.
The principle that airlines charge less for more flights underpins pricing strategies by “network carriers” such as Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways.
For example, a test booking made by The Independent for travel from Moscow to Paris CDG for September 2019 found a fare of £217. But a ticket using the same flight to the French capital but with an onward connection to Heathrow was only £72, less than one-third of the price.
An increasing number of travellers seek to take advantage of such pricing policies, with online sites such as Skiplagged delving into databases to suggest how to cut costs on journeys by throwing away unwanted segments.
There are numerous pitfalls, starting with the mistake that many people make of missing out the first flight. Typically they might find a Dublin-London-New York ticket more cheaply than London-New York alone and plan to use only the UK-US segment. But when they turn up at Heathrow they discover their whole itinerary has been cancelled because they were a “no-show” for the first flight.
For passengers who plan to forego the last flight, there is also the risk that checked baggage will be tagged to the final destination. Experienced “tariff-abusers” take only cabin baggage to avoid this problem.
Airlines’ conditions of carriage routinely warn that passengers may be pursued for payment. For example, British Airways says: “Where you change your travel without our agreement and the price for the resulting transportation you intend to undertake is greater than the price originally paid, you will be requested to pay the difference in price.”
But it is almost unknown for travellers to be challenged or sanctioned, even when they are members of frequent flyers’ programmes.
Lufthansa, which is especially vulnerable to the practice because of its hub-and-spoke system based on Frankfurt and Munich, is seeking to make an example and dissuade people from the practice.
Budget airlines are unaffected, because their flights are all priced on a segment-by-segment basis.