The majority of travelers buy non-refundable airfares for a simple reason: They're vastly less expensive than refundable fares. But those who try to book itineraries with several stops have been finding, in the past month, that they no longer are given the option of purchasing that cheaper form of fare—at least on Delta, United, and American Airlines.
Our thanks to Scott Mayerowitz of the Associated Press for breaking the story that the airlines have changed their rules for the booking of itineraries that involve stops in several cities. The reason? Let's just say these carriers have decided to swat a mosquito with a sledgehammer.
Because many of the airlines have been matching the lower fares of Spirit Airlines (on the routes they share) some travelers have been finding that booking a multi-stop itinerary to their final destination may be lower than a simple round-trip. To stop this practice, the airlines quietly stopped offering non-refundable fares to anyone trying to book a multi-stop itinerary. This has led, according to Mayerowitz, to price tags six times the previous amount for separate bookings. In one case, an itinerary of Orland-Detroit-New York-Orlando went from $282.30 (when booked as one way tickets) to $2,174.70 when booked as one ticket.
So until this rule is changed, know that if you're heading to several cities in the course of a trip, it's imperative that you rely on one-way fares rather than trying to craft one-ticket for all the stops. This holds whether you book on the airlines' website, through a travel agent, or through an online travel agency.
Will the rule be around forever? Hard to know, but the Business Travel Coalition has cried foul and is asking the Department of Justice to investigate whether the three airlines illegally colluded on this rule change (and possible money-making scheme). Might I suggest we all add our voices to their complaint? Just follow this link to do so.