A few weeks ago United Airlines pursued a customer regarding hidden-city ticket offenders to recover cash and ward off future behavior. At least in my case, the tactic worked a charm.
United Threatens Customer
Matthew covered a situation with United whereby a reader of another blog had received a letter stating that they had taken 38 hidden-city tickets and needed to settle up for what he should have paid for the tickets he flew.
I argued both that the passenger doesn’t owe United a dime, but also the inverse that United (while they shouldn’t do exercise it) has every right to collect from their customer. Interestingly and separate from this, Spanish courts have recently sided with my primary argument which could have a rippling effect across Europe.
Perfect Situation for a Hidden-City Trip
Ahead of a flight from Newark to Manila (via Narita and Guam), I needed a positioning flight from Pittsburgh. Hidden-city prices showed a round trip on the flight times I needed for $178 round-trip. Booked as United intended, the price would jump to $400+ and, just for kicks, each direction one-way topped $500+ (yes more expensive than the roundtrip). Cool United, I wonder why customers are trying to circumvent your pricing structure.
This would be an ideal situation in which to book a Hidden-city (skiplagged.com) ticket. The carrier is willing to sell space on the short, 47-minute flight from Pittsburgh to Newark and then another two-plus hours to Tampa for a fraction of the highway robbery they are charging if booked as a normal roundtrip.
If there was ever a case for booking a Hidden-city ticket, that would have been the one.
Not Going to Do It
While my United Mileage Plus balance will pale in comparison to much of our readership here at Live And Let’s Fly, it’s enough that I don’t want to part with it. I haven’t found a second example where United has pursued a customer with such vigor, nor have I been able to confirm that anything besides the letter ever came of the issue.
While I think that their legal claim would be hard to enforce, and I disagree with the very presence of such restrictions on a ticket I purchase, I am still not going to take the chance. It’s not worth the paperwork.
My Trust of United Falters
I have found that my trust in a brand significantly factors into my purchase decisions. I am fairly confident that IHG won’t upgrade me (because they hate their elites) and that Hyatt will, so I stay with Hyatt – even if they can’t upgrade me, I trust them to try. After an extensive pursuit of SPG to start the year, I found that the Marriott merger (and their suspect leadership) have soured the brand. I haven’t stayed with them in over six months, not even an award night.
Customers should follow a vendors rules, even if the vendor can’t really do much to pursue them. If the sign says “customers-only” on the bathroom door, buy something small and comply. But if that vendor decides to send those who were not customers and used the bathroom to collections, well, now I don’t really trust the brand to make logical business decisions.
Maybe I am foolish, but I feel like there are some that would have booked hidden-city tickets and not known they were doing something wrong. While the guy who booked hidden-city tickets 38 times probably had a clear idea of what he was doing, I could see plenty of people stumbling on to the principle of hidden-city ticketing and booking with impunity. How can you trust a brand that threatens their customers when their customers may not have even known they were doing something wrong? Who reads a 20+ page contract of carriage before they buy a ticket? No one. It doesn’t mean that other companies don’t do this (I am looking at you Apple ToS team) but the pursuit of customers for a debt for tickets they never agreed to purchase erodes any brand trust that might have lingered.
At least, in this case, United’s tactic has scared me out of booking hidden-city tickets, but it has also pushed me further from the brand.
How about you? Do you book hidden-city tickets? Has United’s action changed your position on the matter? Do you think the US will follow Europe’s lead?