American, Delta, and United Earn a Cranky Jackass for Forcing Travelers to Overpay for Multi-City Trips

I’ve made a conscious effort over the last couple years to pull back on awarding too many Cranky Jackass awards. I didn’t want to cheapen such an illustrious institution. But today, American, Delta, and United each get aCranky Jackass Award share of the first Cranky Jackass of the year. This is a complex issue, but the upshot is that if you need to book a multi-city trip, you now need to book each direction as individual one ways to avoid overpaying by potentially thousands of dollars. This is a very bad move with huge unintended consequences. United already appears to be backing off, but only partially. Let’s hope this all disappears soon.

Let me back up and talk about the different types of itineraries since this will help make it easier to understand what’s going on.

The Basics of Itinerary Types
The airlines have different rules on how fares can be combined on different types of itineraries, but it’s the last one down below that’s the target of these changes.

  • One Way – From Point A to Point B (eg Los Angeles – New York)
  • Roundtrip – From Point A to Point B and back to Point A (eg Los Angeles – New York – Los Angeles)
  • Single Open Jaw – From Point A to Point B and back to Point C OR from Point A to Point B and from Point D back to Point A (eg Los Angeles – New York – San Francisco or Los Angeles – New York and Washington – Los Angeles)
  • Double Open Jaw – From Point A to Point B and from Point C to Point D (eg Los Angeles – New York and then Washington – San Francisco)
  • Multi-Component Circle Trip – From Point A to any number of places and then back to Point A as long as the chain isn’t broken(eg Los Angeles – New York – Washington – Los Angeles)

This is a somewhat simplistic explanation, but let’s focus on that last piece, the multi-component circle trip. Previously, if you bought a ticket that had no more than two stopovers on a circle trip for domestic travel, it would just combine the lowest fares in the market to create the total fare. In the last couple weeks, however, airlines stopped allowing people to combine non-refundable fares on circle trips. That means if you do one search and price everything together, the system will now only use very expensive refundable fares.

Why Is This Bad?
The big problem here is that this is an opaque rule change. Travelers don’t know that now, in many cases if not all, they can save a ton of money by searching for separate one way options. Here’s an example itinerary that shows what I’m talking about.

American Circle Trip Pricing

I picked some dates in May for a pretty standard circle trip with at least a couple of days in each place. As of yesterday when I ran the search (pricing can always change), this would cost only $412.80 if bought individually as three separate one ways. But if you try to book it on a single ticket? That’s $1837.20 now. Why so expensive? Well, it’s because for circle trips, only refundable fares will be considered per the new rules.

Let’s not just pick on American. I looked at Delta on the same dates going from Orlando to Minneapolis, on to Dallas and then back to Orlando. Bought as three one way tickets, the total was only $370.80. But on a single ticket? It was $2288.20, an increase of more than $1900 for the same exact thing.

That is obnoxious at the very least, and frankly, it should be illegal to not disclose to passengers that it’s much cheaper if booked separately. It’s particularly awful since airlines have beaten it into travelers for decades that you’ll never save money by buying two one ways instead of a roundtrip.

Where this really hits hard is with corporate travelers. Many large companies use online booking tools and it’s pretty common for travelers to need something more than a simple roundtrip. So now when a traveler punches in a circle trip, the system will spit back an insanely high price. The traveler will just book it and the company will lose a ton of money. If the traveler is smart enough to figure out he needs to book everything individually, great. But if plans change, there will now be a $200 change fee for every direction instead of one fee for the entire ticket. That’s a big potential cost increase, and the corporates and agencies are screaming at the top of their lungs right now.

The airlines somehow didn’t think this through when they made the change. This is the kind of behavior that gets Congress to push through regulation.

Whose Fault is This?
I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly how this started, but you can judge for yourself from their individual responses to my query.

American

Those particular fares [Ed Note: The fares I asked about were domestic non-refundable fares, so it’s a pretty broad brush] were intended to be local fares, so it was never our intention that they be combined on a single ticket. Our intent is to price by origin and the final intended destination. We know that this change has had some unintended consequences, so we’ve been making adjustments in response to customer feedback.

Delta

I don’t have a comment to share at this time.

United

We matched the industry on domestic combinability changes.

Why Are They Doing This?
What the airlines are really doing here is trying to kill an ant using a wrecking ball. We’ve seen the legacy carriers get more aggressive with matching ultra low cost carrier fares in certain markets, and that means that individual segment fares on two flights are a lot cheaper than connecting fares. This is an effort to try and hide that pricing from people. Here’s an example.

United Circle Trip

In some cases, this would have previously priced as a sum of local fares on a single ticket, meaning the cost would have been $264.20. But United’s lowest one way fare from Orlando to San Francisco is $338.60, so it doesn’t want to undercut itself. To fix that, it just made it so that non-refundable fares couldn’t be combined on an itinerary like this. If the stop in Denver is longer than a permitted connection (4 hours), then it’ll price at near $1,000.

Of course, the smartest people who really are trying to game the system are still going to be able to purchase individual segments and get away with this. But those who just stumbled on it through a website won’t know it exists. That must be the point.

All this being said, the most important point is that this fare structure is the legacy carriers’ doing. Yet those on legitimate multi-city trips are suffering mightily because of the inconsistency that the airlines have created.

Is There Hope?
Yes there is. United appears to have figured out that this was a problem and has now implemented a softer approach. So far, it’s terrible because it’s not across the board. Best I can tell from a quick search is that fares that require a Saturday night stay can’t be combined, but other fares can. Talk about a confusing situation.

Yesterday, United sent out a rushed communication from its sales team called “Understanding domestic fare combinability rules.” In it, United explains exactly why it’s doing this (the reasons I mentioned above). But it says that circle trips are again allowed on one ticket when the traveler returns to the point of origin. So it will still be a problem for people going, say, LA to New York, on to Washington, and then back to San Francisco. But in theory it’s not going to be a problem for the person who comes back to LA. That may be the goal, but it’s not what’s happening in practice in every domestic market as of yesterday.

I would assume we’ll see American and Delta soften their stances here as well over time, especially considering the anger I’m hearing coming out of the corporate and agency community. In fact, that’s why I’m publishing this post today. If highlighting what the airlines are doing can help get it reversed, then I’m all for it.

Regardless of where it ends up, that level of trust that one way fares aren’t going to be cheaper than the sum of the parts is lost. You should always check one way pricing now to make sure you’re not getting screwed.

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62 Responses to American, Delta, and United Earn a Cranky Jackass for Forcing Travelers to Overpay for Multi-City Trips

  1. Chris says:

    To say that I don’t find it surprising would be an understatement !
    I’m much more appalled by the differential which is simply huge !… and which seems to be more than an cancel for any reason insurance premium would cost !…
    How can they justify such a difference ?

  2. Noah kimmel says:

    …and here I am thinking it was an early April fool’s post.

  3. crankyflyer says:

    United said “We matched the industry on domestic combinability changes.”
    That is the problem, the government allowed the industry to be an oligopoly. We need to have more competition. The government either needs to break up the airlines or allow international competition, such as letting the Middle Eastern airlines operate in the US as long as they hire US crews and follow all US labor regulations. In fact, the carrot here might be that they have to use US crews (and follow US labor regulations) on trips from the US to the Middle East.

    • Andy says:

      That’s an interesting idea, but I worry that in practice the ME3 would just end up lobbying heavily against those restrictions and they’d be gutted by pro-big-business politicians. If it could be codified in some way that would prevent such gutting, then maybe…

      As far as breaking up the US airlines, I think we’re going to see some competition reenter the market as the ULCC’s and the smaller airlines like JetBlue and Virgin start to expand more.

      • Jim says:

        Yeah, they will expand more by merging with each other. Virgin is currently trying to be acquired by either JetBlue or Alaska.

    • Susan says:

      “we need to have more competition”… well we have it, the corporate world needs to support it! Yeah the competition can’t fly you around the world, but they can get you around the US pretty well. Support it if you want it to prosper and grow!

    • henry says:

      The ME3 already hire Americans so your restrictions are superfluous.

      It’s the U.S.airlines that for the most part don’t play nice and don’t hire cabin crews of the nationality they fly to.

      • crankyflyer says:

        The point is that they should be required to hire full US crews (not just a few Americans) and be in full compliance with US labor laws for all flights from the US to the Middle East in order to get rights to operate domestically in the United States.

      • Jim says:

        The ME3 hire hardly any Americans. All crew I’ve had, including pilots and FAs, are based in the middle east. Of course they hire ground staff locally, as all airlines do.

  4. A says:

    I do a lot of open jaw and multi-city flying but haven’t noticed this because I usually book so late and the fares are insane due to schedule. I get if a legacy is trying to compete with a ULCC on a route but it stands to reason that after I’m done with business at point B and flying to point C I could switch airlines and go with the cheaper options if desired. I’ve actually done this a lot where the carrier that got me there doesn’t offer or has bad schedules for my next destination. Agree completely on the Cranky Jackass.

  5. David sf eastbay says:

    Seems to me it’s a good way for the big guys to push people away from their airline into the hands of the low cost carriers.

  6. SDFDuck says:

    Thank you as always, Brett, for calling DCA by its proper name and not stapling the name of our 40th President onto it unnecessarily.

    Delta not having a comment is pretty priceless, though.

    • Shonuffharlem says:

      This is ridiculous. This is not a political blog the legal name has a president in it. Stay on topic.

      • Andy says:

        The legal name is stupid. “Ronald Regan Washington National Airport” long-winded and superfluous. Besides, it was already named for a president. Why does it need to be named for two?

  7. Eric @GoldBoxATL says:

    I am booking ATL-MIA, then MIA-RDU (via ATL), then RDU-ATL. The fare is $855. I can book 3 one way tickets in First Class for less than the 855. Coach for 3 segments is $80, $119 $119 yet Delta wants $855 too book these 3 flights as one itinerary.

  8. brenda_koenen says:

    Excellent recap of this mess! Thank you.

  9. Jason H says:

    I don’t really get why this is worse or very different than any of the other things that airlines do with pricing (not to say that they are always logical or favorable though). I have never made the assumption that booking multiple segments together is always cheaper than not.If businesses are complaining that they will have to pay too much in change fees, well, then that’s what the changeable tickets are for to begin with.
    I understand the annoyance here but not the outrage.

    • henry says:

      How can you not be outraged? You go to a supermarket and buy bread, milk and cereal and at check out are charged $45, while if you bought them separately they would each be $5 you would not be outaged?

      Well, enough people have already been outraged that a supermarket could never legally do that. Only airlines are above the law and can screw Citizens without Congress doing its job.

      • Jason H says:

        Nevermind that airline tickets are very different from bread, milk and the like, I would just buy them each separately if it saved money. Not particularly difficult to do. Or go to a different supermarket. The airlines aren’t making you fly with them or buy those fares.

        • Jan Marie Brown says:

          Jason, old remark, I know.. Hopefully you have learned something about consumerism and how this is bad for all of us. Buying different tickets means if you must make a change you can end up with 2-3-4 times the $200 service fees! Not to mention the chance of not having your bags transferred to the next flight and a lot of other issues connected with getting a fare price. The airlines are flying pigs. NO ONE with half a brain would stick up for these greedy, corporate jackasses! And our government lets them get away with it, that is outrageous and if it isn’t to you, you’re not paying attention! Airline travel is a must in the country, not just a right. I should know a thing or two, I’ve been in this biz for 31 years and have been trying to change the airline tactic for over 1/3 of that time.

      • Jim says:

        Of course a supermarket could legally do that. Buying those little prepackaged boxes of chips and dip will cost you more than buying them separately.

    • Jason H – I think the key is transparency. If you go to a store, you can see your options there and make a decision. If the airlines wanted to price this way but then had a little button that said “you might save money by booking individually, click here to check,” then I wouldn’t have as much of an issue. But this is worse, because airlines have spent years convincing people that if you book a roundtrip, it’ll be cheaper than booking two one ways. Same thing with Comcast. They’ve made you think for years that buying a bundle will be cheaper than buying the pieces separately.

  10. SteveFromCVG says:

    It wouldn’t take long for the legacy carriers to update their software and find purchases of one way tickets within a certain timeframe and display a higher amount per second or third ticket to the individual. Not sure this is legal, but it’s only software.

    Best thing might be purchasing one way trips on different airlines.

  11. Jonathan Reed says:

    The upside is that if individual segments are cheap and there is no financial incentive to buy a round trip, the flyer gets flexibility to use different airlines on a round trip. This can promote greater convenience and lower costs. For example, United might be cheaper or more convenient on the “going” part of the trip and Delta cheaper or more convenient on the “coming back” part of the trip. I love these one way fares.

  12. crankyflyer says:

    Further to my last comment, people should be entitled to sell their segments on eBay or elsewhere like everything else. Why should airline tickets be that different from an event ticket? The only requirement is that all changes should have to be registered with the airline (for security and other purposes) and a small fee (such as, perhaps $10) could be charged. All information that would need to be provided for a normal reservation would have to be provided.

    • StevefromCVG says:

      I can hear the airlines screaming bloody hell about doing this. Name the excuse: Security (not really), Fraud (again, not really since the original ticket number is already in the system and what is a piece of paper anymore), Takes too much time (it never was a problem before computers and you could cash in a ticket, even on a different airline), and a myriad of other excuses they would think up.

      I know I walked away from tickets that I couldn’t use because the change fee was worth more than the ticket. Face it, when times are bad airlines try to think up new ways to make their quarterly revenue numbers. When times are good, they still tell everyone the sky (sic) is falling because labor costs are up, new equipment is needed to stay competitive, reintroduction of peanuts and/or pretzels are impacting the bottom line.

      The government put the airlines in the catbird’s seat with allowing the mergers and acquisitions, leaving less than a handful of majors to compete, and they seem to be in collusion with each other when pricing tickets. I flew last week CVG to MKE and it was over $900. CVG to ORD was $850 with 7 day advance. Go figure who was making money on this pair of flights.

      • Kilroy says:

        For CVG to Chicago, I am surprised you didn’t use Ultimate Air Shuttle out of CVG or Lunken to MDW, for a few hundred bucks less. Otherwise DAY is an hour away and much easier to get in/out of, with fares that are not usually as stratospheric.

    • crankyflyer (not Cranky Flier) – The issue is that airline pricing is based on origin and destination, not on segment. So it’s a huge if not impossible challenge to find a way to let people sell individual seats on each segment on their own. One solution is, of course, to simply charge by the segment. But that means connecting travelers pay a ton more and it would become a lot less affordable for everyone to fly on a ton of routes. So there’s no easy way to do this considering the pricing model that’s been set up.

  13. Keith says:

    Brett
    Great article. I wondered why I was not able to make reservations like I did last year.

    I think you should issue a SUPER BIG jackass award to the airlines for this. Especially to United for the worst type of “me too” thinking(i.e the other guys are doing it). Probably the mom’s of the United exec’s never used the “jumping off the bridge” analogy! :)

    I am a United 1K and million miler and a business traveler and this now makes my booking trips more difficult. Last year I was able to maintain my 1K status because of the being able to book multi segment tix at a reasonable price.

    An example. I have two of my customers in Orlando. To gain extra miles and segments, I would book a multi segment trip of ORD-MCO-DEN-ORD. The cost of this tix was right around the same price as a round trip ORD=MCO-ORD.

    It appears that, in some cases United has screwed up the implementation of their own change of policy.

    I had to book a one way tix from ORD-IAD on June 1. On the United web site the fares are – Lowest fare $286, Refundable $364, First $231!

    If it ain’t broke… Don’t fix it!!

  14. Jason says:

    Why do we always think that airlines should be only given the lowest possible revenue for every purchase. Are they not allowed to act like a business?
    If Kroger sells a 20 pack of cookies for $2 but the 40 pack is $5, should we out law them from selling the 40 pack because two 20 packs is cheaper?
    Should Comcast be allowed to sell a triple play cheaper than a double play (hint: they do).
    If the customer buys it, that’s their choice. If the price is too high, the airline won’t sell the seat.

    • Justin says:

      It is all about transparency and how you label it. In your two 20 packs or one 40 pack example, I, as the consumer, can clearly see both products, the respective prices, and evaluate for my self which to purchase. Do I value the fact that the 40 pack may take up less space for storage as its one box vs two boxes and do I value that at a dollar?

      Every time I go to rebuild my cable bundle, the price difference is made obvious when I go to finalize the service agreement. And yes, they do weird stuff like add the land line to your package, get more off your package that it costs to add said land line. Again, this is all clearly disclosed, hell, even pushed on their website.

      If the airlines show you that, “Hey, you can do this cheaper, but it may cost you more if stuff goes wrong!” when trying to put together trips like this, it would do a lot of goodwill. Brand it as being good for the consumer instead of making it look like a money grab as it does now and it would be so much better. That being said, the price difference is a bit ridiculous at the moment.

      • Justin, you just made the airlines’ point. You have to go and shop to see that the two 20 packs are cheaper than the single 40 pack.

        Why shouldn’t you have to shop on airlines’ websites? If you want the convenience of one reservation and one change fee, you can pay more, otherwise shop around and pay less.

    • crankyflyer says:

      First, because they are an oligopoly. In many cities landing slots are limited. If another store wants to open nearby, if space is available, it can. Not so with airlines. Also, if I buy something at Kroger, I can resell it or transfer it to someone freely if I cannot use it. Why can I not do the same with an airline ticket, assuming notice is given for security purposes?

      • Jason says:

        If airlines allowed free or cheap name changes it would make flying much more expensive. Airlines need to charge business and last minute travelers higher fares for the economics to work out. If everyone paid the same, they’d lose money because of willingness to pay etc.
        In a world of name changes, brokers would buy cheap tickets in advance and undercut last minute fares. The brokers would make a margin and airlines lose out on most last minute premium fares. Airlines would be forced to eliminate many advance purchase and deeply discounted fares.
        Other industries don’t allow name changes either including hotels, car rentals, or even cable companies. If I sign up for a special promotion with Comcast, I can’t transfer that to the next tenant at the apartment.
        Yes slot constraints etc cause some loss of competition but name changes can’t fix that.

      • Jim says:

        Are you actually Brett? Why did you write flyer instead of flier?

  15. Andrew says:

    Proof, yet again, that a good corporate travel agent can be your friend. My concern is that the airline may send a debit memo If it sees multiple e tickets in one pnr. Breaking the ticketing at a connecting point is asking for trouble. This pricing complexity has been around on the international market for years. That’s why their had been a constant battle between the airlines and the public regarding creative pricing (hidden city, international currency, code shares and validation etc.) and the airlines. Airlines have a right to manage inventory but as a traveler or agent I will use any means legally possible to procure the lowest price.

    • Andrew – It’s funny because I almost ended the post by saying something like “I should be thanking the airlines for doing this, not chastising them. Because it pushes people to Cranky Concierge and other travel agents even more.”

    • Chris says:

      Aren’t connections and stopover priced differently ? I think CF article was strictly speaking of stopovers…

  16. Eric @goldboxATL says:

    Called Delta Diamond Medallion line to see if they could book the 3 o/w under one PNR, she tried and no such luck. She was blown away at the difference.

  17. Morgan Grainger says:

    In a lot of ways, combining fares end-on-end like this is the opposite of hidden-city ticketing: specifying a connection city explicitly and using separate fares for each hop results in a lower overall cost than using a single fare. The difference is that hidden-city ticketing is risky and against carriers’ contracts of carriage, whereas combining fares end-on-end has, until this change, been specifically allowed, and had no other downsides.

    Now, using separate fares by booking two tickets isn’t against the contract of carriage, but it exposes you to multiple change fees if your plans change, as well as an unprotected connection (good luck getting them to rebook you if the first flight is late). That’s really silly.

  18. JayB says:

    Nothing, I say nothing about UA surprises me although I can’t believe this doesn’t apply to all the other airlines. Anyway, I’ve booked flights just about every which way I can. But, we’re talking here about AIR fares, and little involves common sense. Of course, the Contract of Carriage covers everything we need to know, meaning the airline has the authority to do anything it wants, without advance notice or explanation. End of discussion!

    Anyway, simple domestic fares, booking one-way, combination of locals, or round-trip. I think the rule is you can do anything you want, but the airline decides what you are going to pay.

    Like, how does anyone know they have been sold the lowest fare for the flight they bought a ticket for?

    So you think you were overcharged? The discussion with UA sort of goes like this:

    Me to UA: You know, I don’t think you charged me the lowest fare. Why didn’t you charge me that lower fare?

    UA: “Well, that fare applied to inventory “N” and you bought inventory in “G,” apparently never asking for inventory “N”.”

    Me: “Wasn’t there an obligation on your part to sell me inventory “N” since I believe I met all the conditions?”

    UA: “Apparently, there was no inventory “N” when you bought your ticket.”

    Me: “Like I knew all the inventories available at the millisecond I bought this ticket? And, like I knew the 100 fares you have in this market, one-way and round-trip, and even if I did, you might not give me the lowest one for which I met all the rules?

    “Honestly, how do I know you don’t subscribe to a math system that says 2 plus 2 equals 5. I never thought to ask about that, but if I didn’t, you can add and multiply with whatever system you want?

    “And, like even a $79 fare has 12 screens of rules I can’t understand, and I’m not buying it in Venezuela, which somehow seems important to you. And, when I buy something as a round-trip, you insist on having a separate fare code and rules for each leg of my trip, not just one to cover the whole round-trip. Of course, with your e-tickets, you never put a fare code(s) on it, or anywhere else.” (Try accessing the website to get the code after you bought your ticket…sorry, no can do! Should have asked for it before you clicked “Purchase!”

    UA: “Sir, we’re sorry. Of course, we appreciate your business and we know you have choices, but…[We appreciate your concerns but honestly, all your problems are the fault of CO and the way we had to adjust to everything the way they did it. (Which of course, is a lie!)

    “Have a pleasant trip!?

    • ORDFlyer312 says:

      You mean “Welcome to the Friendly Skies!”

      I recently called the 1K line about a multi-leg trip (ORD – SFO – BUR – LAX – ORD) asking why the lowest fare option wasn’t available. Instead it only showed the flexible and first class fares. YET, I was able to book it segment by segment as 3 different transactions, all one-way for much, much cheaper. On another note, expert mode is not working on each segment….

  19. David says:

    Why would anyone even try and book a round trip multiple stop trip if it’s going to cost them 2 0r 3 times as much. In this day of e tickets and computer booking’s there is no reason why they should. Only time I would consider it is if it was a one destination trip (lax-ewr-lax for example) and even then only if it was considerably cheaper than two one way’s. Get the impression at times that the airlines think every one is completely stupid and have no idea what there up to. Time to start hitting them in there pocket book and refusing to pay these outrages fares when there is an alternative that anyone has access to. Maybe if they ever figure out that people are in to them they might change there ways, otherwise I think it’s time to start regulating them again.

    • Carl says:

      There are multiple reasons to book multiple legs on a single ticket. One reason is that change/cancel fees will apply once if you have to cancel the ticket or make wholesale changes. Another is that taxes and fees can be lower if the trip has a lot of legs (there are caps to some of the taxes/fees.) Yet another is that if there is an IRROPs situation that the waiver will apply to the whole ticket, instead of a situation where the IRROPs event causes you to cancel the entire trip, but other segments aren’t applicable to the waiver.

      • Chris says:

        And then, wouldn’t in those cases insurance premiums be cheaper than the price difference ?

  20. oldiesfan6479 says:

    There might be something wrong with your AA map, Crankster–since AA doesn’t fly SFO-DCA nonstop.

    • oldiesfan6479 – Wasn’t trying to illustrate nonstop flights since connections don’t factor into this issue. The particular itinerary I looked up was via Phoenix on the return.

  21. Marissa says:

    I agree with you all about United. Last month I had a complicated itinerary from BIl and needed to go to EWR, DCA, GLA, and LHR. I couldn’t make it work on the new version of the web site but talking with them on FB UA priced the tix at near $6,000. Ridiculous. Eventually I bought 3 separate round trips that interlocked geographically for half the price. Given the length of this trip that means on occasional I have to check luggage, retrieve it, and re-check in multiple times. It sucks.

  22. T says:

    Book via a Travel Agency – they will know how to price these out at the lowest price. This is not a good move by the airlines, and hopefully will disappear as quickly as it appeared!

  23. JoEllen says:

    Wouldn’t this just open the door for airlines to also just start raising prices on one-way fares. Just a matter of time.

  24. Devarsh says:

    And then you say airline industry regulation is uncalled for. Cheers on a consistent stance mate!!!

    • CF says:

      Devarsh – Oh, please. I never specifically said this should be regulated.
      I said it’s behavior like this that pushes Congress to regulate. That’s very different.

      This being said, my stance is not “zero regulation,” so please don’t misrepresent that. There is a place for regulation. Certainly safety is one. And I agree with the DOT that deceptive practices are another. To me, this creeps into that territory as being deceptive. The airlines should be able to charge more if you book all together like this, but there should be some sort of disclosure so people know that here are cheaper ways to do it.

  25. DAB says:

    I wonder if it was just multi-city that was hosed up… Case in point, I was looking at booking a round trip last Tuesday for Apr 20-21 SAT-SLC. Historically what I would see is that US and WN would be similar in price, UA and AA a few hundred more (usually 1.5x), and DL totally unreasonable for their nonstop (like 2.5 to 3x US and WN). I haven’t been booking that itinerary nearly as much since the US/AA merger (project I was supporting finished), and so that is a few years old, but still how my mind is calibrated to think about that route.

    Last Tuesday, pricing showed up for the three legacies and WN. I expected the trip to be 400 at most given what I have been seeing and booking lately, and since I wasn’t within 14 days. WN was 500ish, but the rest were all 900+ for one stop (DL over 1000 nonstop, but that is actually par for the course…). I thought I would either book later in the week on WN, or if it too had become totally unreasonable I would look to reschedule. $500 was pushing what I thought was reasonable anyway, and I was thinking even for that I might try to move the meeting (especially if the hotel was messed up, but this is out of season for SLC to be totally booked…). Friday afternoon I logged back in to move my expense report along, and I checked the flights, thinking of this article. United (my preferred airline anyway due to status) actually had a really reasonable fare (sub 300), so I went ahead and booked it. At the time I booked, WN (my preferred alternate) was maybe $350, but AA was still 900+… This was in my company’s agency website, which goes through Sabre.

    I didn’t think on Tuesday to check what fare codes were showing up (if it had occurred to me to check, I would have noticed), and I didn’t bother on Friday other than to notice that it was like K fares on my UA ticket (maybe K one way and W the other).

  26. Jeff (NYC) says:

    The WSJ could at least have mentioned you for being 2-weeks ahead of them. http://www.wsj.com/articles/flying-to-more-than-one-city-just-got-more-expensive-1460565536

  27. Brent says:

    One thing that should interest the government is that this airline tactic often results in over-collection of taxes, as there are maximum taxes/fees per direction etc that get collected separately when priced that way. Then again, that just means it matches the government’s endlessly complex/arcane tax system.

    Travel agency systems have long had issues of combinability – this overt policy change on the part of airlines is just making the money grab more obvious. And because of holding agencies responsible long into the future for any fare rule “violations” – they cow the very people who can help the most to counter this ripoff.

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