WOW: Kiwi.com Will Pay Legal Fees If You Get Sued For Throwaway Ticketing

Filed Under: Advice
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Kiwi.com, a large European online travel agency, has just made a rather shocking promiseif 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.”

My take

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?

Comments

  1. Much like taco bell offering free tacos if Mir hit their target in the ocean, This company likely bought special insurance to cover these expenses.

  2. Where are “ airlines “ taking legal action? It’s one particular case. And it’s unethical for a travel agent to do this and almost encourage passengers to do this. In that case if it’s found passengers are doing this frequently they are in breach of contract and the agent would receive debit memos and eventually have ability to issue tickets for a particular airline be revoked.

    Better to avoid third parties anyhow and always book direct with the airline

  3. “Airline pricing isn’t based on the cost” – drop the Airline, it’s cleaner. Almost all goods and services are priced based on what the sellers can get away with.

  4. EU has already ruled against airlines for asking customer to pay additional fees for not using every leg of their journey. So they aren’t promising much.

  5. Airlines already come down hard on travel agencies for doing this type of stuff. So the airlines are probably watching closely and will be ready to “pull their plates” (accreditation) if necessary. That being said, since Kiwi most likely generates a lot of revenue for them, they are probably on a long leash.
    This is clearly a marketing stunt, I’m sure there is some fine print on Kiwi’s offer that doesn’t fall foul of their agreements with the carriers.

  6. Hidden ticketing is perfectly fine, both from a legal side, as well as moral side.

    It’s the greedy airlines that are trying to stop innovation by trying to forbid hidden ticketing.

  7. @ Jackie. That’s not true sorry If you check the conditions of EU carriers there are fees that apply if you

  8. In many cases the airline is from a country where you don’t live, so it’s irrelevant whether an airline from that country sues you. You’re not showing up in court and you’re not paying any fine.

    Worst case, you can’t go to Germany any more. BFD.

  9. Lucky, it’s not good that you’re giving them this free PR.

    “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.”

    They are definitely NOT reputable. If you just do a quick Google search, you will see that their “guarantee” is completely worthless. It’s even in their T&C: If you misconnect, it’s at their discretion if they will offer you a refund or rebook you.
    I have read LOTS of reports where Kiwi.com didn’t want to rebook passengers on a convenient alternate route because they deemed it too expensive. Instead they would offer rebooking passengers on super inconvenient flights several days (!) later, of course without paying for accomodation in the meantime.

    Seriously, you should have googled them, the first thing that comes up is “kiwi.com SCAM”:

    https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1-i10702-k11349129-Warning_Kiwi_com_is_a_SCAM-Air_Travel.html

    From the same thread:
    “There are probably hundreds of warnings here about Kiwi.com. Did you read them before you booked?”

    They are a super sketchy OTA.
    The only thing that’s useful with them is that they show these routings (combinations of different low-cost carriers for example) – so you can book them elsewhere.
    I would NEVER book with them.

    And the same probably goes for this “guarantee.” They know the Lufthansa case was all over the media, and they figured they could ride that wave. And unfortunately, it seems like it worked. Please don’t promote them.

  10. @Jackie no CURIA hasn’t done that – but maybe some day they will do, if a member states national court is asking them.

    @Icarus I dont know where you get that from, every member state still have its on laws.

    This case with Lufthansa is in regards to “contract” law, and the contract laws are different they are not universal – in ex Denmark a standard COC cant be used in a lawsuit in context, here it has to be a specific condition you would need to agree on. That you will use the full itinerary, but then you also have consumer laws which protect consumers and finally they have to prove they lost money because of your actions.

    Lufthansa got its cased dismissed in a lower court based on the “math” behind the amount they are suing for.
    Asking ex. 500€ more for the same ticket but with an extra leg, its hard to prove you lost money – no you cant use the asking price, so that’s why Lufthansa needs a new go.
    If say Lufthansa is suing for 1000€, they have to prove that’s the amount they have lost, that’s why you dont see million and billion € cases in EU, you can only get the amount you have lost and not some billion dollars emotionel damage as you see in the US.

    What CURIA has made clear is that outgoing and ingoing is two different tickets, and therefor an airline cant cancel ingoing if you have haven’t used outgoing semi or full

  11. ” Almost all goods and services are priced based on what the sellers can get away with.” There’s no other good or service where if you “throw away” or decline part , you are charged more

  12. @anon:
    I hadn’t thought of it that way but it’s a good point. You don’t get charged extra if you buy a ‘gift set’ instead of a stand alone item, and then throw away the parts you don’t want. I think if airlines are allowed to charge what they want, passengers should be able to use what they want (accepting that abuse of the airline rules may get them into trouble with that airline).

  13. Their promise is contingent on whether an airline “unreasonably decides you’re in breach.” Clearly, if the CoC states that hidden city ticketing is a violation, then it’s not “unreasonable” for the airline to sue you because, you ARE in breach. I wouldn’t count on these people to come to my defense.

  14. They are a legit agency in the sense that they’re not a downright scam, sure. But I’d be very careful with ‘reputable’.

    Their connection guarantee is actually worthless, but they also have some questionable practices, such as withholding the original booking PNR and issuing their own, so that you have to conduct all changes and even check-in through them. They do a lot of things in a grey area and pass it off as ‘innovation’.
    As far as this PR stunt goes, I wouldn’t really trust it has any actual merit.

  15. Marketing stunt, to make bloggers write about them and maybe get other free press. They’re calculating, correctly, that no itinerary they sell will lead to a “lawsuit” that they’ll actually pay out on. So, as with their past guarantees, they won’t be forced to honour them.

    I bet they sell lots of tickets. None to me, though.

  16. @JDawg
    I agree many companies price the product at what they can get away with. But you would be surprised at how many don’t. Most retail has a specific margin that they price at based on the cost to them. Virtually the entire grocery business is done that way. They establish a margin that allows them to pay for the cost of the goods and an amount to cover overhead and provide a specific net profit.

  17. Headline isn’t accurate as they don’t even guarantee that.

    They only guarantee 1 of 3 options – and one of those is just that you get assistance from their legal advisors. And it’s at their choice. No payment, no coverage of the customer.

    Nothing to see here – except free marketing.

  18. You quote tbey say “contact us immediately after you are contacted by the carrier …”

    What does that mean? It gives them a huge get out from helping you if they decide you didn’t contact them ‘immediately’

    Is it 5 minutes? 15? An hour? 2? 24?

    It gives them a massive get out from doing anything for you with no apparent come back.

    At least when my friend had to challenge his insurance company on when he informed them of an incident (he did as soon he was aware of it not as soon as it had happened because he was away) he had an ombudsman to help him

  19. Can someone please tell me – if you’re planning on taking advantage of this “hidden city ticketing” deal, how can you get your bags off at the midpoint (your desired stop)?

  20. @Marvin

    Maybe they are “reputable” as they seem to be giving Lucky a referral bonus for anyone who clicks away to their site from this post?

  21. Used Kiwi last month and had a pretty good experience (their customer support team was very helpful), but their misconnect guarantee is notoriously not worth the paper it’s written on! I certainly wouldn’t be holding my breath for a reimbursement of legal costs from them!!

  22. YOur headline is completely incorrect. Kiwi has a number of “or”s in their statement. Al they really say they will do is : “Assist You in the legal proceedings and provide You with the aid of Our legal advisors who are experienced with claims of this nature” which could mean nothing more than a letter from a lawyer in the Czech Republic. They do NOT say they will pay your legal fees or anything else. This is a marketing gimmick.
    So this headline is completely misleading.

  23. I did book with Kiwi.com several times and havent experienced any issues.
    Bold move with this claim!
    From my experience, dumb customers who dont know what they buy and dont read – then accuse companies behave according to T&Cs that are scammers. You can easily find scam claims about expedia/priceline amd others OTAs. Are they scammers? Not.

  24. @WP For some flights one could bring checked bags. For example, one could book a ticket from LHR to ORD to RNO, but because one has to reclaim bags at the first port of entry to the US, one could check the bags to RNO and not take the flight from ORD to RNO.

    I wonder whether the website might book some round trip tickets as two one ways in order to avoid liability. For most routes that do not go over an ocean, round trip and one way tickets seem to be the same price in most instances.

  25. Please don’t. Just don’t use Kiwi. Are you paid by them to publish this?

    They are ridiculous – a scam you might say.

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