Kiwi.com, a large European online travel agency, has just made a rather shocking promise — if you get sued by an airline for hidden city ticketing (also sometimes known as throwaway ticketing), they’ll pay your legal fees. Let’s step back for a second.
What is hidden city ticketing?
Airline pricing is incredibly complex, and to many consumers may seem illogical.
Airline pricing isn’t based on the cost of an airline to provide transportation, but rather is based on what an airline can get away with charging. Airlines know they can charge a premium for nonstop flights, and they also know they have more pricing power in some markets, especially in markets where they have hubs.
Hidden city ticketing, specifically, is a trick whereby you book a ticket to a destination other than where you intend to travel to, in order to get a cheaper fare. For example, let’s say you want to fly American from Los Angeles to Dallas (a market in which they have a lot of frequencies). A ticket may cost $400, but if you book a ticket from Los Angeles to Dallas to Tulsa (with the same LAX to DFW flight), the ticket might only cost half as much.
So what some people do is engage in “hidden city ticketing,” where they’ll book that cheaper routing, and then just get off at the halfway point.
The risks of hidden city ticketing
I just recently wrote about the risks of hidden city ticketing. In addition to having the remainder of your ticket canceled, there are some ways that airlines could come after you:
- They could try to charge you the difference between the flight you booked and the flight you took
- They could suspend your frequent flyer account or take away miles
- They could even try to sue you; this is unlikely to be successful, but Lufthansa was recently in the news for this
Check out the previous post I wrote for more on all of these points, though I’d note that this is only likely to be an issue if you repeatedly engage in this behavior.
Kiwi.com now promises to pay legal fees for hidden city ticketing
Kiwi.com, which is an online travel agency, has made a downright bizarre customer commitment. It’s not often you receive an email from an online travel agency with the headline “We have you covered if an airline tries to sue you.”
Here’s part of the email:
With the recent news that airlines are continuing to sue their own customers, we’re extending our protection. Now, if you book an itinerary with Kiwi.com and an airline unreasonably decides you’re in breach, we’ll reimburse the amount claimed back, your legal costs, or provide assistance.
We will provide You with the below-specified assistance in situations when a legal claim is brought against You by the Selected Carrier in relation to Your Booking due to the alleged breach of the Selected Carrier’s contractual clauses which are considered as unbalanced, disproportionate and/or abusive. These conditions include, among others, the practices commonly known as “throw-away”, “back to back” and “hidden city” ticketing. We believe that these and similar contractual clauses are disproportionate and thus shall not enjoy legal protection.
In case the Selected Carrier brings a lawsuit against You claiming a breach of these contractual clauses, We will:
(1) Reimburse You the costs of Your legal expenses related to such legal proceedings; or
(2) Assist You in the legal proceedings and provide You with the aid of Our legal advisors who are experienced with claims of this nature; or
(3) Reimburse You the amount claimed by the Selected Carrier in relation to the alleged breach of its contractual clauses.
The choice of the appropriate and most suitable method and scope of Our assistance will be done upon Our discretion following a previous consultation with You.
In order to provide You with the above-specified assistance, We need You to contact Us immediately after You are contacted by the Selected Carrier when they claim such a breach. And You must provide Us with all the relevant information and necessary cooperation so that We are able to find the appropriate solution to Your situation both timely and accurately.
Separately, Kiwi.com’s Chief Legal Officer had the following to say:
“The legal situation related to certain airline’s conditions of carriage is confusing and complicated for travellers, and it is hard to foresee certain legal outcomes of their travel behaviour.
We hold a rather liberal point of view because we trust in free will and the right to free choice in respect to the use of the product customers purchase from service providers, including airlines.
We think that customers should have the liberty to choose whether they will use the service and to what extent, without the risk of being penalised.
In this regard, we offer them our aid in the case they are sued for exercising their right to free choice.”
For a bit of background, let me first note that kiwi.com is a large travel agency based in the Czech Republic. They’re a legit agency, and they’ve long had some creative features, like virtual interlining (essentially they’ll book tickets on airlines that don’t interline otherwise, and they will cover you if you misconnect). So they’re an innovative and reputable travel agency.
But so publicly providing protection against hidden city ticketing is on a different level, and I’m surprised they’re putting themselves out there like this. They’re putting a target on their back for airlines, and I can’t help but wonder if airlines will refuse to let them sell inventory, if airlines will intentionally send them debit memos when someone misses a flight, or what. This is a really gutsy move.
I’d also note that while this is a generous option, I’m not sure the extent to which I’d necessarily rely on a Czech company to cover US legal fees.
I’d also note that this doesn’t cover you against all risk. In other words, an airline could still try to shut down your frequent flyer account if you’re caught with hidden city ticketing, which is different than a lawsuit, and therefore wouldn’t be covered.
What do you make of kiwi.com’s hidden city ticketing commitment?