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更新时间:2019/3/23 9:23:38 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Skiplagging: The travel trick that airlines hate

There’s a sneaky travel hack out there, right under your nose – but you may not even know it exists. It could save you big money on airfare.


And airlines are doing everything they can to stamp it out once and for all.


It’s called “skiplagging”, and here’s how it works: Say if someone wants to fly from Boston to Houston, but the airfare is too high. So they buy a ticket from Boston to Las Vegas with a layover in Houston, because it is cheaper than the direct Boston-to-Houston fare. The passenger disembarks at Houston, leaving an unused portion of the ticket. So they never actually finish the entire journey they booked – but they’ve saved money doing so.


The practice made headlines earlier this month. German airline Lufthansa sued a passenger who saved money by skipping a leg of a round-trip ticket.


Airlines hate it when passengers game the system. Despite the fact that such lawsuits have failed in the past, Lufthansa is suing for more than $2,000. But while airlines try to stem the tide of passengers getting cheaper fares by using “hidden-city” ticketing, few airline analysts have much sympathy.


“Hidden-city ticketing is a problem of the airlines’ own making,” says Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel advisory firm Atmosphere Research.

哈特维尔德(Henry Harteveldt)是旅游咨询公司大气研究集团(Atmosphere Research)的创始人,他表示:“弃程购票这个问题是航空公司自身造成的。”

“I fully understand, as an airline analyst and business person, why airlines extract as much as they can where they have leverage. That is what business is all about,” says Harteveldt. “But when an airline puts out stupid airline pricing and the fare into a hub [airport] is nonsensically high, it is almost like airlines invite hidden-city booking.”


It’s about where, not how far


At issue, says Harteveldt, is the logic underpinning airline pricing, which can appear incomprehensible to customers.


“If airline A has a low-fare competitor, they will match; if not, they charge a premium. It all depends on the competition, and that is why airlines strategically lower fares in some markets and not others. In my discussions with airlines, they say they don’t want to lose market share and will take a calculated risk.”


Peter Belobaba, principal research scientist at the MIT International Center for Air Transportation, says this kind of pricing is found all over the world.

贝洛巴巴(Peter Belobaba)是麻省理工学院国际航空运输中心(MIT International Center for Air Transportation)的首席研究科学家,他表示这类定价方式在全世界都有。

“Take Boston to Las Vegas, a leisure market which is more price sensitive. Boston-Houston is a business market, which means higher fares. They are very different markets when it comes to both competition and sensitivity to pricing. From an economic point of view, it makes perfect sense to charge lower fares in the Boston-Las Vegas market even though it is further than Houston in miles, especially if the competition is charging $199 for a non-stop flight,” he says.

他表示,“拿波士顿—拉斯维加斯这个航线来说,这是一个休闲旅游的航线,机票价格就要有弹性。而波士顿—休斯顿则是商务客多的航线,因此票价则较高。就市场竞争和定价敏感度而言,这是两个非常不同的市场。因此从波士顿飞拉斯维加斯这条航线的票价定得低,尽管波士顿到拉斯维加斯的距离比波士顿到休斯顿的距离还要远。这是完全有道理的,尤其是竞争对手推出的波斯顿到拉斯维加斯的直飞航班票价仅为 199 美元之时。”

Tony Webber, CEO of aviation research company Air Intelligence and former Qantas chief economist, says lawsuits like the one filed by Lufthansa are a scare tactic.

韦伯(Tony Webber)是航空研究公司航空情报(Air Intelligence)的首席执行官,并曾在澳洲航空任职首席经济师。他表示,诸如汉莎航空提起的这种诉讼只是一种恐吓战术。

Webber explained the impact on revenues saying skiplagging means airlines cannot maximise revenues because, had they sold the seat directly, they would have probably received a higher fare. So, hidden-city ticketing lowers the yield they receive from each seat and complicates what is already a small-margin business.


But, Harteveldt argues, airlines overbook because they know some won’t show up so it is unlikely the seat will fly empty.


Ethical dilemma


Yet frequent flyers buffeted by airline fees, poor service, delays and cancellations tend not to care much about the airlines’ troubles.


Skiplaggers are generally the savviest travelers and often the airlines’ best customers. Indeed, about the only way to find out how many people are skiplagging is to ask Skiplagged, the website invented to help fliers exploit hidden-city tickets.


Founder Aktarer Zaman isn’t talking, however, and did not respond to numerous BBC queries. But he appears to have plenty of supporters: when United tried and failed to sue him in 2015, crowdfunding yielded over $80,000 (£61,000) for his defence.

然而创始人萨曼(Aktarer Zaman)却不愿就此表态,没有回复 BBC 的多次询问。但他似乎不乏支持者。美国联合航空公司在 2015 年试图起诉他但没成功,当时为了给他辩护,人们众筹的资金超过8万美元。

So, are passengers gaming a system stacked against them? After all, the airline offered the seat at a given price and received that price. The New York Times’ Ethicist column saw no problem with skiplagging. Commenters agreed, with one concluding making a purchase does not oblige you to use it. Indeed, writing for the Times, Nate Silver cited airline monopoly power as part of the problem.

那么,乘客钻售票系统空子会对自身不利吗?毕竟,航空公司以给定的价格销售座位,而且获取了这笔钱。《纽约时报》的“伦理学家”栏目认为弃程没有问题。有一位评论员得出结论是,购置一件商品并不表示你必须使用这件商品,评论员们对此表示同意。事实上,为《纽约时报》撰稿的西尔弗(Nate Silver)说航空公司的垄断势力是造成此问题的原因之一。

“Yes, airlines have been compensated, but usually that pro-rated compensation is lower than the market value of fares for the leg the passenger has missed on purpose,” Webber explains. He notes that while the airline was paid by the passenger, the payment was less than the airline would have received if the passenger had not been skiplagging.


In fact, the contracts of carriage, that lopsided-in-the-airlines’-favour contract outlining the contract between airline and passenger when they buy a ticket, often prohibit hidden-city ticketing and promise a raft of measures if passengers are suspected of violations. It is understandable passengers dislike contracts of carriage since airlines use them as an excuse not to provide services when things go wrong.


Risky business


As the recent lawsuit shows, the practice can be risky for the passenger. If you try to skiplag, you might get found out, even stopped at the airport.


“It does take effort and time to do this,” says Harteveldt. “Booking unusual itineraries could raise red flags, and someone could flag and monitor you while you fly. At some point you may get a letter, or corporate security meeting you at the gate. The airlines’ intention is to intimidate and recover what they perceive to be lost revenue.”


Webber, however, thinks hidden-city tickets are almost impossible to track. But with the adoption of new technology, that will not stay that way for long. Airlines already have a lot of information they can cull from frequent flier records. Indeed, airlines have met passengers at their arriving flight and escorted them on to their next segment.


Getting caught, Harteveldt adds, may mean having to buy a last-minute ticket that costs more than the amount you were trying to save. Travel agencies could lose the ability to ticket on an airline if they book hidden-city fares. Plus, airlines could share the names of hidden-city flyers with their partners or ban the passenger, he adds.


Benét Wilson, a writer who covers travel and credit card rewards for online loan marketplace LendingTree, says it is a case of doing it at your own peril. “I do understand how travelers feel about airline pricing and the fact it looks as if they are trying to rip them off. But it really depends on where you live. If you live at a hub, prices are higher. It’s called capitalism. I also understand the temptation to balance that, but you need to realise you can be sued, you can lose all your frequent flier miles, which has happened. They could cancel your membership.”

威尔逊(Benét Wilson)是一位作家,她为网上借贷市场“LendingTree”进行旅游和信用卡奖励等方面的报道。她表示这样做需自担风险。“我的确理解旅游者对于航空公司定价的感受,我也明白事实上航空公司好像在漫天要价。但这真的取决于你的居住地点。如果你住在航空枢纽城市,票价会高一些。这叫做资本主义。我也理解乘客要平衡票价的诱惑,但是你需要意识到你可能会被起诉,你可能会失去所有的常搭飞机赚到的飞行里程,这种情况已经发生过。航空公司可能会取消你的会员资格。”

And she sums up her opinion of the issue succinctly. “Don’t hate the player,” she says. “Hate the game.”