What I am going to tell you about today is real. It will open your eyes and while some of it reveals reasonable travel hacks, some of it boldly borders on the illegal. That is something you will have to decide for yourself when you’ve finished reading.
Gaming the airlines has become a lifestyle for many who need and want to travel and they do so at the highest levels. The players involved are people just like you and I, with one major difference. They’ve taken the art of saving money and upgrading their travel experiences to an entirely new level. You may love them or hate them, but they are real and may be costing you money because they’re so good at it.
It’s a fact that air traveling has become more and more expensive over the past 2 decades, so much so that everyone from students to business executives have invented new ways to beat the system. They even incorporate in their techniques some of the industries own stimulants that encourage you to spend. These gamers have figured out new ways to beat the system using many of the basic tools we all use when we travel. They “game” the system and here’s how they do it!
1. Flight Bumping
Flight bumping is a practice that the airlines began using years ago, when they routinely were overbooking flights to make sure that they would fill all of their seats and maximize their profits. The funny thing about it was that they were doing it so often that their unhappy customers that were “bumped” from flights filed class action suits and won the right to be compensated and rewarded whenever it would occur.
Today, because of the glut of information available online, the gamers are able to research which flights are most popular. When they can, they book them in the hope that they will be bumped. They then exercise the right to volunteer to be bumped and receive a free ticket on the next flight available or a monetary voucher, or occasionally even both. Thus their flight turns into a free ride or even a profit maker. If it’s the last flight out, their compensation may even include a hotel stay at the airport that night. These travelers are so adept at planning these activities that they may actually want to stay over and leave on an early flight the next morning and thus score a triple bonus in all! They don’t feel sorry for the airlines or anyone else who travels who doesn’t play this game and in the end, the airlines have full flights and you may be paying for all those freebies through increased airfares.
2. Apology Vouchers
Have you ever been on a flight where there was some creature comfort or basic thing you need and use that just didn’t work properly? It may be something is broken or dirty? I’m talking about a seat tray that wouldn’t quite set upright, or a seat belt that didn’t function. It might even be the window shade doesn’t fully close or has a crack in it that doesn’t block out the light.
Here’s where the players have come up with a 2nd rule of the game, apology vouchers. When they discover something not quite right they make sure to complain, sometimes vigorously about it. They bring up this remedy and almost always receive an apology voucher after making the verbal complaint followed up with a written one to the airlines noting date, time and personnel they spoke with. In a few weeks they get in the mail some kind or remuneration which can be discounts on travel or free drinks or upgrades to first class seating. There is undocumented gossip among the players that not all the things they complain about are real. They may have been “helped along” by their own doing and greatly exaggerated upon discovery. All apparently is fair in love, war, and travel!
3. Fuel Dumping
For this one to succeed, you really have to be an expert player. It’s a booking technique that confuses the online algorithm to deduct the cost of fuel charges from the final ticket prices used mostly on international flights. I’m not a expert so I can’t advise you on all of the specifics. My investigation of this practice is that it is pretty secretive (and I’ll probably get hate mail from hackers who use this for even mentioning it) as it involves some codes that can be applied to the ticketing procedure which subtracts this specific charge. I include it here just so you know that it does exist and some people who are in the game know how to do it. Again, who’s paying for it on the bottom line? Probably you and I.
4. Hidden City Ticketing
This one is fairly easy to do and has been since Skiplagged was created by computer whiz Aktarer Zaman a few years ago. It is the art of booking the layover city on your trip as your final destination. It simply is this:
Booking your flight from point A to point C and getting off at point B
Business travelers often use this because it is almost always the cheapest fare to travel by and it almost always involves main travel hubs like Atlanta, Chicago, and New York. These business centers allow day trips or overnight trips that require no checked baggage and they can deplane and go on their way easily. The website finds the best one way tickets and lowest fares to point B.
The airlines sued Skiplagged but eventually the cases were either dismissed or lost which sounds like a win for the air traveler. It may not be.
There are downsides to this kind of travel if you’re willing to risk them. First, airlines can change the layover stops after you purchase tickets and then you wouldn’t be able to get off where you planned. Secondly, you can’t check any luggage. Third, you will be delaying all others who are traveling through because they will be looking for you when the plane re-boards. Does that bother you? In the end, it will eventually cause the airlines to raise their prices (if they haven’t already) to offset the players causing them to lose the airfare income. Oh, and as a final note, if you get caught doing this you will probably be thrown out of the frequent flyer program they offer since it is against the policies. To some though, this is a challenge and the gamers are saving money!
5. Manufactured Spending
This is the art of using airline or hotel credit cards to purchase what amounts to cash, like gift cards or money orders for example, to earn rewards and/or travel points. Then liquidating the purchased cards/or spending the money orders on expenses you would have ordinarily paid for anyway. It is even better when combined with a new credit card that offers bonus travel miles and/or cash when you open them. Liquidating your gift cards is important so that you will have the ability to do this over and over again. Some players have accumulated hundreds of thousands of travel rewards and cash in very short amounts of time.
6. Mileage Running
To do this, make sure you have a frequent flyer card and always purchase the most discounted tickets so you accumulate the most reward points available. It helps to travel very early (as early as 5 am) or very late (as late as midnight) to get the lowest fares Some players actually find such cheap fares to places that they make trips that they don’t really need to make and rack up bonus points that save them money in the long term. This plan of attack ultimately leads to making your frequent flyer status into an elite card holder. That gives you double reward points and based on miles, it really adds up.
The monkey wrench in this is that airlines have gotten wise to the game and some have changed their programs from miles-based rewards to fare-based rewards. By doing this, they’ve cut the rewards potential down. For example, a flight from New York to San Diego might net 6,000 miles (12,000 miles if an elite card holder) which can transfer into hundreds of discount dollars on future airfares. If the airfare rewards are based on a discounted price of $300 round trip, you would earn just 1,500 points (3,000 points if an elite holder), a decline of 75%. The players still try and capitalize off the best discounted fares and get their points. They shoot for cross country trips that have layovers in hub cities more often now. In fact, that New York to San Diego trip might look like this: New York City to Chicago, Chicago to Atlanta. Atlanta to Miami, Miami to Dallas and finally Dallas to San Diego. Then return the same way. A really knowledgeable travel hacker would never actually leave the airports on his round trip excursion to scam the system.
So there’s the not-so-secret world of air travel hacks. The gamers are doing it every week and they’re succeeding for the most part and probably costing you and me in the form of increased airfares.
Do you think it’s a great idea or are you appalled at what may be over the line, morally and/or legally? Are the airlines so greedy that they deserve it? Would you ever try playing this game when you fly?
Image courtesy of Fuzz at pixabay.com (with changes)