Lufthansa condemned for its commercial practices: are “hidden cities” now authorized?

The Berlin Court of Appeal has just handed down a decision which, by condemning Lufthansa for its commercial practices, may definitively change the way passengers can play with the fare rules.

What happened?

A passenger living in Berlin had bought a ticket from Oslo to Seattle via Frankfurt. On his way back he stopped in Frankfurt and took another flight to Berlin, thus not flying Frankfurt-Oslo.

The Oslo-Frankfurt-Seattle being significantly cheaper than the Frankfurt-Seattle or Berlin-Frankfurt-Seattle, Lufthansa asked him to pay a little over 2000€ extra. The first time the court rejected the case, not because of the re-pricing but because the amount was not sufficiently justified. The airline therefore appealed and the court’s decision is once again in line with this.

Why did the client do this?

You often notice that the good deals we offer are often from “secondary” airports. This corresponds to the commercial logic of the airlines, which are more aggressive from certain markets and cities to better fill their planes and steal customers from local competitors. This is called a market fare.

In this case there was a very attractive fare from Oslo that justified the customer going all the way to Oslo to get his flight. And nothing prohibits it.

However, to simplify his life, he did not return to Oslo on the way back, preferring to return to Berlin during the stopover in Frankfurt. This is called a hidden city and is prohibited by airline sales contracts.

A “hidden city” is, as its name indicates, when the city of departure has been changed to get a better rate and when the real destination is no longer the original city of departure, that it is “hidden”. In short, when you don’t fly the last leg of a flight and instead go directly to your “real” destination city.

If he would have returned to Oslo and then gone to Berlin everything would have been legal. But getting off the plane in Frankfurt to take a flight to Berlin is not. At least from the point of view of the airlines in general and Lufthansa in particular.

With this decision, many observers deduce that the practice of “hidden city” is now legal and that one will be able to have fun with the hunt for good fares.

I’m not so sure.

What will change?

Obviously, the decision of the Berlin Court of Appeal is not considered a precedent in Germany. We’ll see if other courts follow her in the future, or if another court of appeal one day rules the other way.

In any case, this decision is not binding on courts outside Germany, either in Europe or elsewhere.

So before thinking about booking a London-Paris-Singapore on Air France to get a better fare and thinking about stopping the return trip without going to London I advise you to think twice about the risks you are taking. In any case, we will never recommend or condone such practices.

Moreover, the “trick” is not always interesting for the passenger. Paying for a Berlin Oslo ticket is one thing, a multi-destination ticket such as Berlin-Oslo then Frankfurt Berlin not necessarily always. And taking two one-way tickets even less.

For example, if you want to take advantage of the good prices of Qatar Airways from northern countries and plan to do for example a Gothenburg-Doha-Singapore and on the way back take a one-way ticket Doha-Paris to avoid going back to Gothenburg, I’m not sure that you’ll be able to find the right fare, far from it.

However, two things will be interesting to watch in the future:

1°) Other court decisions confirming or reversing this one.

2°) A change in the commercial practices of the airlines and a decrease in market fares.

What the decision does not prohibit

On the other hand, there is still a practice that this court decision does not prohibit: punishing a passenger who does not complete the first segment by cancelling all subsequent segments. This would have been the case if our German passenger had boarded in Frankfurt instead of Oslo.

Bottom line: a decision to be taken with a pinch of salt and I don’t share the enthusiasm of many American blogs who see it as the pure and simple authorization of “hidden cities”.

Photo : champagne in plane, by David Wingate via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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