Airlines Revive Hated Minimum Stay Fares

Thanks to airlines bringing back a much-maligned ticket tariff, the minimum stay, business travelers can find that if you return on a Saturday, your ticket could be as much as three times as much as if you returned on Sunday. For instance, “A woman has a morning meeting in Norfolk, Va., on Thursday. On Continental, the round-trip fare from Newark is about $875. But if she stays through Saturday night, the fare is about $250,” NYT reports. Their excuse? Soaring oil prices. Luckily, there is a way around it: buy two back-to-back roundtrip tickets, one going to your destination on your preferred departure date, one coming back on your preferred return date. Toss two legs of the trip and it can end up being cheaper than the one original ticket.

It’s Back: The Minimum Stay [NYT]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    I remember reading somewhere that sometimes…roundtrip tickets can be cheaper than one way tickets. However….not using the return trip can cause the airline to ban you. You paid them for two trips, by using just one they can ban you until you take that second trip or pay some fines.

    I’ll try and find the link to that information…

  2. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    Oh, and First! Yay.

  3. Nogard13 says:

    I have no problem with airlines requiring minimum or Saturday stays. More often than not, it usually affects business travelers, not leisure travelers.

    Someone has to pay more so that airlines can make a profit. Let’s be real, businesses aren’t there to give things away at a loss to them. Rather than passing it on to you and me (the normal pleasure traveler), why not pass the expense to businesses, who usually write them off their taxes anyway? I was never affected by this before and I highly doubt it will affect me now. I can’t remember the last time I flew somewhere and didn’t spend at least one weekend there.

  4. basket548 says:

    Not a ripoff or a scam. Merely a way for airlines to braek even. Airlines can price tickets and services HOWEVER THE HELL THEY WANT TO. They are under no obligation to provide any ticket or service at any price to anyone, unless both parties enter into that agreement.

    Good advice on the double roundtrip ticket, Ben, but why does it have to be presented in such a manner? Also might want to point out that if you miss the first leg of a roundtrip, the second is often automatically canceled (not what you’re advocating, I know, but it’s close enough to be relevant).

  5. Nogard13 says:

    Someone has to pay for the increase cost of flying (particularly rising gas prices). I’d rather it be some business that usually writes it off their taxes than me or my family.

    I was never affected by this in the past and I highly doubt I will ever be. I can’t remember any trip I’ve ever made (by plane) where I didn’t spend at least one weekend at my destination.

  6. darkrose says:

    Sounds like this is going to affect businesses worse than most of private travelers. Most people come home on Sunday anyway (leave Friday -> come back Sunday).

  7. basket548 says:

    @ConsumerAdvocacy1010:
    I think you’re thinking of what I referred to in my post – airlines will automatically cancel a return flight if you miss the first leg. The other situation could be when flying through an airport is cheaper than flying to it (i.e., LGA-ORD is $500 when LGA-ORD-MCO is $400 and then just getting off in Chicago) – can’t remember what that’s called, but that’s also not allowed.

  8. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    Yet another reason why I drive to my destinations.

  9. IphtashuFitz says:

    When they did this back in the early 90′s I actually kind of liked it, but then I was in a somewhat unique situation. When I was working for a small startup I ended up traveling about every 6 months to technical meetings that were run from different locations each time. Thanks to this policy and the fact that my company wanted to save money I convinced them to let me stay the weekend and pay for a rental car so I could do some sightseeing. I got mini weekend vacations to places like Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, etc. and really enjoyed having the time to see these places that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

  10. Schmack says:

    Don’t just toss the tickets you don’t need! With overbooking being so common, it may be worth your time to show up at the airport and volunteer to get bumped off the flight. You won’t miss anything because you weren’t planning on actually flying, plus you’ll get the travel voucher and whatever other incentives the airline is offering.

    Of course, if your flight is not overbooked then you have to press your luck with ditching the ticket and risking cancellation or fines. But if you were going to do that in the first place you might as well open yourself up to some reward along with your risk.

  11. B says:

    Or, stay another day, and get your company to pay for the extra day’s stay. Free one day vacation!

  12. cef21 says:

    @basket548: There is a risk in what you want to do. If you’re flying LGA-ORD-MCO and the LGA-ORD part of that flight is canceled, they may rebook you, say LGA-DFW-MCO.

    @Nogard13: So, basically, you’re OK with the airlines increasing prices on somebody else, as long as they don’t do it to you?

    I think the central point here is that the airlines are trying to stay afloat by cutting back services, adding nuisance fees, and adding byzantine rules to trap their customers into paying more.

    I have no problem with these policies and letting the market pick the winners, PROVIDED, HOWEVER, that the US Government stops bailing them out every time they go into bankruptcy. The revolving airline bankruptcy door allows them to keep implementing customer-unfriendly policies and stay in business.

  13. Mr_D says:

    @B: Most business trips that I’ve taken weren’t in what I would consider a “vacation spot”.

  14. Tallanvor says:

    @Nogard13: My company, like most others I know, bill the cost back to customers. That means our customers will likely pay for the cost by raising the prices of the goods and services they sell. –This means more expensive plane tickets help make sure you pay more for things like computers, software, financial services, and higher education, just to name a few.

  15. jamesdenver says:

    @ConsumerAdvocacy1010:

    If you do this on two separate airlines your odds of getting “caught” are slim to none. And don’t use for FF mile account.

    People say its no different than buying a six back and throwing 3 away.

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    Price discrimination btn business and personal travel should be lauded.
    And I not only want the gov’t to stay out of the bankrupt airline cash give-away business, I want the billions back that we gave them after 9/11.

  17. basket548 says:

    @cef21:
    Oh, I agree – I was saying that that sort of practice is not allowed. You bring up a very good point as to why that isn’t allowed.

  18. DeafChick says:

    As long as they stay away from leisure travelers…

  19. basket548 says:

    @cef21:
    The govt will allow an airline to stay in business to provide needed functions for a certain period of time, but it’s certainly not going to allow an underperforming airline to stay afloat forever. Note the number of carriers that have gone under in the last few months – where was the government then?

  20. JohnMc says:

    Ben, be very careful with the drop leg advise. Several airlines have the policy that catching you doing this they cancel all flights. So you go out leg A, don’t show up for leg B same flight. They will immediately cancel legs C&D on the second flight. The only way to pull this off would be sure to use two different carriers.

  21. MaelstromRider says:

    I guess I just don’t understand the whole concept. Can someone please explain how flying you back after 2 days is more expensive for the airline than flying you back after 3?

  22. Buran says:

    How does it save the airline money to fly on a different day of the week?

  23. jusooho says:

    @MaelstromRider: This policy is designed to make a business traveler pay more than persons whose flying is more discretionary. Airline is less likely to lose the business traveler due to a higher price, and they can also attract more discretionary travelers.

    It is a way to present tiered pricing.

  24. balthisar says:

    I’d actually prefer consumer prices to go up. Flying used to be a great experience, even in tourist class. Now that prices are comparable with Greyhound, you get Greyhound quality fellow passengers. It’s like being live at one of those daytime TV shows. Granted, at the same time, I do bitch about the already-increased fares, but I prefer to spend a little more and have a good experience rather than the Greyhound experience. It used to be only Southwest was the Greyhound of the skies, but now it seems everyone is. And while I recogonize that I sound elitist, most of the rest of you are, too, in complaining about the service of today. What do you expect to happen when prices are driven down? (Various things could happen in a market, but the easiest thing to do is make flying crappy.)

  25. GearheadGeek says:

    I used to use this to my advantage all the time. I worked in Austin for a company with a large facility there but based in Santa Clara, CA. I flew the NerdBird a LOT, and spent enough time in CA to have friends out there. I’d often stay over the Saturday night, it was cheaper for the company to pay 2 more nights of the hotel than to pay for the airfare back on Friday after work, and the car was always a weekly rental anyway. I didn’t expense my meals over the weekend, and the company actually saved money by paying for my leisure stay after the work week.

  26. jusooho says:

    To those of you asking why airlines do this, it is simply tiered pricing.

    Business traveler is less likely to stay long, and more likely to pay higher prices.

    The discretionary traveler on other hand is more attracted by price.

    This way you can charge more to the businessman flying to a meeting and returning the next day, than to a person having a week-long vacation.

  27. grouse says:

    Do what Ben advises at your own risk. People who have done this in the past and gotten caught have had (a) all their other reservations canceled, (b) had their frequent flier miles emptied out, and (c) sometimes been invoiced for the amount that they saved using this technique.

    So be careful.

  28. Nogard13 says:

    @cef21: Yes, I’m all in favor of them raising their prices TO MAKE A PROFIT as long as it’s not me that they’re charging the extra money to. As a business, they are there to make money, not lose it. Right now, most US airlines are losing too much money to stay in business for long. If you want more airlines to compete and keep prices low for you and me as leisure travelers, then someone has to pay more.

    @Tallanvor: You say that the increase will be passed along to consumers. Yes, you’re right, but those costs are divided among all consumers, not just me. For example, if you work for Microsoft and they have to pay $1,000,000 more a year in airfare, they will raise the price of each piece of software by pennies. See where I’m going with this?

    Also, if you want to save on the airfare by buying two tickets and ditching one of legs on each ticket, simply book two round trip tickets on two different airlines in reverse. For example, buy a round trip ticket on Delta from Point A to Point B and one on United from Point B to Point A, making sure that the United flight is on the day you want to return from Point B, obviously. Then use the Delta ticket to fly there (and ditch the return portion) and the United ticket to fly back (and ditch the return portion). It’s simple and you don’t risk getting your flight canceled.

  29. Myotheralt says:

    @ConsumerAdvocacy1010: Why would they ban you? you are paying them for a seat that they will sell to someone else anyway.

  30. jusooho says:

    @myotheralt: They would ban you because you for taking one leg of a round-trip are circumventing the tiered pricing scheme. By forcing you to take the second flight or banning you, they increase the cost of circumvention very much.

    I do not think that should be legal, but it is the state of things.

  31. esd2020 says:

    @myotheralt: Err, because they want you to buy the more expensive tickets, of course.

  32. cef21 says:

    @basket548: I was really referring to the big name airlines: Delta, Northwest, United, American, US Airways. These guys have been in and out of bankruptcy several times each. In each case, the government has stepped in with loan guarantees.

    These big names have a lot more influence in the halls of Congress than does, say, a Skybus or other upstart airline because of the number of (mainly unionized) employees, because they spend a lot on lobbying, and because their hub cities stand to lose if the airline goes under. All that gives Congress a huge incentive to “do something” to help the airline.

    Witness, for example, the role that Sen. Arlen Specter played in keeping US Airways afloat. And, also witness his threats against US Airways because of its significant pull-out from Pittsburgh and Philly.

    @Buran: It doesn’t, at least not much. They may have higher pay rates on weekends. But, cost of supply is only half the input into pricing — the other half is demand. Gas prices next to an interstate are often higher than, say, 1/2 mile down the road. It’s not because it costs more to truck the gas there; it’s because of demand.

  33. Red_Eye says:

    @ConsumerAdvocacy1010: The amount of stupidity in this is incredible. They sold your seat to you, you dont show so they can put another person in that seat if you dont want to use it and they are getting paid for the seat twice. I’ve never understood how this is even remotely considered legit.

  34. t-r0y says:

    @jamesdenver: “People say its no different than buying a six back and throwing 3 away.”

    What fool would do such a thing! That’s just … just … I need to go lay down.

  35. AdmiralKit says:

    You should be wary using the two round trip trick that was listed above. Airlines reserve the right to cancel your return trip if you miss your initial outbound flight. They figure that if you aren’t on the plane out to your destination, you won’t be on the plane back from there. If this happens, you’ll find yourself out of luck and having to buy a one-way fare to finish your trip as well as being out the original ticket costs.

  36. basket548 says:

    @cef21:
    I think you kind of answer your own issue in your post – an airline going under creates all kinds of negative externalities that a government would want to avoid (Bear Stearns is an incredibly similar example).

    Also, as you note, the airlines have been back OUT of bankruptcy each time. I think that indicates that the government is justified in its actions. Yes, blanket statement, but I think that it’s particularly applicable here.

  37. dumblonde says:

    This is getting ridiculous. That gross difference in price between the ticket with the stay and the one w/o tells you that it’s not fuel prices but pure evil behind this decision. I do understand fuel prices are rising but did you know that planes don’t fly on gasoline? They fly on jet fuel which is significantly cheaper than gas.

  38. dumblonde says:

    @basket548: Airline bankruptcy would be catastrophic but all things considered, it might be a better idea to have them go bankrupt now instead of bailing them out, have the market collapse now and then build itself up right. The never ending cycle of unsustainable business plan and bail outs needs to end at some point.

  39. Floobtronics says:

    @basket548: Booking a trip with a connection in your actual return city, ditching the last leg is referred to as a “bogus leg”.

    Back in the late 90s, I worked at a startup that made a common practice out of this.. It was an enormous pain in the rear. Back then, they almost never caught on, but I suspect the airlines are better at detecting these 10 years later..

  40. UlanLagin says:

    This has been in effect in Europe for years. Once, while based in the Netherlands, I got a extended stay in Dublin out of this. It was cheaper to fly me in on Friday night than it was to fly me in on Monday for the meeting. The cost of the flight and the hotel was cheaper than a ticket for Monday – Tuesday. The fact that it happened to be Saint Patrick’s Day on Saturday did not hurt at all ;) . Cheers.

  41. Jetgirly says:

    @AdmiralKit:

    This is why you book your second round trip starting from the place where you had the meeting/holiday/whatever to your home, rather than the other way around. This way, you are using the first portion of the ticket.

  42. cef21 says:

    @basket548: They’re only out of bankruptcy because of the government loan guarantees. If not for those guarantees, they would be forced to liquidate. Given enough support from the government, any company can come out of bankruptcy.

    Bear Stearns is a different matter — the Fed wasn’t really concerned with Bear Stearn’s failure as must as it was the effect that Bear’s failure would have on financial markets. I’ve never heard a rational argument that letting, say, Delta fail would destroy the airline industry.

  43. AD8BC says:

    Be very very careful using the bogus leg/hidden city tricks.

    Use two different airlines — preferably two that are not in some sort of alliance — and don’t use the same frequent flyer program (i.e. if one trip is Northwest and the other is Continental, you can use either flyer program).

    For one reservation, put in your middle name, and the other, leave it out. You won’t have any trouble with TSA checking it against your license and the computers are much less likely to spot it.

    Oh, and if your name is John Smith, don’t bother with any of the precautions. You are probably all set.

  44. coren says:

    @MaelstromRider: @Buran: Exactly. It doesn’t cost the airlines more. They might be able to make more money, but “gas prices, waaaah” is not a reason why they’re doing this.

    And in the end, if you buy two sets of tickets, it doesn’t *matter* that one set got canceled – your second set isn’t active yet and you arne’t missing the first flight on them

  45. basket548 says:

    @cef21:
    Well, not destroy the airline industry, but certainly have a huge adverse effect. With the amount of government regulation on what airlines can and can’t do, I think that having the govrenment bail them out, so to speak, isn’t such a terrible idea. Unfortunately, I can’t really think of a better idea…I think that if market forces are allowed to tear the legacy airlines apart, then the whole industry would be in shambles.

  46. basket548 says:

    @dumblonde:
    Catastophic, you say? I think that’s something to be avoided :)

    Seriously, though, it seems as though the complaints now are largely focused on new fees / rules / whatnot. Govt backing of the larger airlines have allowed them to charge so relatively little for air travel in years past – if you want the govt to keep its hand out, then be ready for a never-ending parade of new airlines popping up and dying out. It’s MUCH easier for a new airline to succeed than an old one. However, by the time the airline has gotten old, it’s so embedded in so many parts of the economy that allowing it to fail would just open up a huge can of worms.

  47. RandomHookup says:

    @basket548: It’s most commonly called a “hidden city”.

  48. Major-General says:

    @cef21: American has never been bankrupt.

    @AD8BC: Actually, in your example you would want to use say NWA, Continental or Delta, then American or United, as the first three are all Skyteam.

  49. weave says:

    @Schmack: In order to do what you advise — show up at airport for the return trip that you don’t intend to take to see if you can get bumped — seems pretty risky to me. You’d have to check in and then not get on the plane. I’d think it’d be better to do that online 24 hours ahead of time (checking in) than doing it at the airport before the departure since TSA doesn’t scan your boarding card when going through security. Far more plausible you checked in 24 hours ahead of time and didn’t show than to check in at the airport and not decide to board.

  50. cef21 says:

    @Major-General: Thanks for the update. I know that they’ve come close a few times.

    @basket548: I’m not too worried about the domestic airline industry being in shambles. First of all, there are a number of airlines which are operating profitably. Secondly, I can see a few strong well-run carriers emerging from the shambles. Nobody’s going to melt the planes down or dynamite the airports; it’s just a question of who can put together a functioning business plan.

  51. jdmba says:

    @balthisar:

    I absolutely agree. It is why you have people paying $30 for movie tickets and $70 for metroliner service on Amtrak. It is a great way to price yourself away away from the families with kids.

  52. anonvmoos says:

    i bet you get on special government lists for only using one way of a two way ticket

    likewise if you are getting off at a middle stop…

  53. AndyDuncan says:

    When staffed on projects it’s typical for consultants to “Flip” their flights, ie: start booking friday-monday trips home instead of monday-friday trips to the client. No need to buy extra flights, and if your engagement is long enough you can book a round-trip that brackets it and you don’t even need to buy two one-way tickets or drop any legs.

    While airlines are, of course, free to price their services however they want, people don’t like being fucked. Two things will hopefully kill the incompetent domestic airlines for good: Deregulation allowing Foreign carriers to compete in the US and High Speed Rail (short haul flights). The domestic carriers are one industry that doesn’t deserve our patience, our regulatory protection, or our subsidies.

  54. agency says:

    @balthisar: I suggest you then stick to business or first class and not bitch about the rate hikes, because that only makes you a hypocrite. You either want the fares to go up or you don’t want them to go up; you can’t have it both ways. Or you can try to start an airline that imposes a dress code, a moral code of behavior, and a minimum IQ score – one that you yourself would hopefully be able to attain.

  55. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    @dumblonde: It’s actually not germain to the discussion, but jet fuel (on a per gallon basis) is more expensive right now than gasoline. Distillate fuels in general are very, very strong. Check out the price of diesel the next time you pass a gas station.

  56. tqbf says:

    I’ve gotten caught doing back-to-back tickets before. Don’t do it on the same airline, and don’t do it repeatedly. All moral arguments aside, the airlines will not honor your ticket if they catch you.

    This is not particularly awesome advice, Consumerist.

  57. aliceday says:

    Wow, the hostility towards business travelers here is ridiculous. As someone who occasionally has to travel for business, let me say: the only people who get away with luxurious first class travel and convenient flight times are the “important” people. The rest of us poor business travellers are stuck with the lousy time slots and we’ll end up staying in some crummy place over the weekend to save our companies a few bucks. Oh, and by the way, I don’t get paid for that time. Business trips are not to exotic places like Fiji or Paris most of the time….they’re to very mundane places like Indiana or NJ. You can put up a fuss so that they bring you home right away, but they pressure you into staying if it saves them a substantial amount of money.

    So to find out that my company has to pay 4 times the fare than the rude vacation bozo sitting next to me (with probably a lap baby as well), just so that I can be home with my family over the weekend…well, that impacts the company budget, probably decreases the raise I get & the cost of the products you buy, and if I frequently put up a fuss to get home quickly, I most likely decrease my chances of promotion. And no, I don’t work for that crummy of a company. That’s the realities of business travel, and I’m tired of people thinking it’s some kind of perk & that business travelers ought to get reamed. Pay your fair share of the cost of travel, whether its for business or pleasure.

  58. thaJack says:

    A lot of times, though, the airline has algorithms that figure out
    what you are trying to do and will prevent it by canceling your
    ticket.

    Take a look at the following link from Delta’s website. There is a
    section there on prohibited ticketing practices.

    http://www.delta.com/planning_reservations/plan_flight/online_reservations/fares_ticketing_rules/


    Jack Doyle

  59. RAEdwards says:

    I’m a business traveler as well. Since i fly weekly, out on Monday and back on Thursday, I plan to do things a little differently. I’m going to buy a one way ticket to my destination on Monday. I’m then going to buy a round trip home and back to work, leaving Thursday and returning on Monday for the duration of my project. When it’s over, I’ll buy a one way back home. This doesn’t violate any of the airlines rules as I am not missing any legs of a flight.

    Just my $0.02