What’s the deal with those silly multi-stop flights?

By | September 25th, 2007

If you’ve ever spent time online looking for a cheap airfare, you might have stumbled across something that looks a lot like a bait-and-switch. It’s an inexpensive fare all right, but when you click on the itinerary, you find out that there are three stops and that it would be faster to drive. What a scam, you think. How could they even offer that kind of routing?

I’ve wondered about it a time or two, and so has Joe Farrell, who wrote to me recently to suggest that these multi-stops made absolutely no sense.

Check out pretty much any route at Expedia or Travelocity and even the airline sites, and you get something like $800 for a winter trip from Hartford to St. Maarten that goes Hartford-Miami-San Juan-St. Maarten. What’s the point with that insanity? No one is going to buy that. Even out of JFK or Newark, where there are non-stops, you get silly three stops and airline changes like JFK-Charlotte. What’s with that?

I wanted to write back to say that it gets much, much worse. I know because Miami used to be my closest airport and in order to get just about anywhere in the Caribbean, you had to make at least one stop. But this isn’t as much a question about airline scheduling — I’ll leave that to the aviation bloggers — as it is an issue of customer service.

Are you doing travelers any favors by offering three- and four-stop flights as an option?

Since Farrell mentioned Travelocity, I decided to ask Simon Bramley, Travelocity’s vice president of flights, for an answer.

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“Yes,” he told me, “Travelers do actually buy such trips, though we display non-stops and one-stops before multi-stops.”

But why?

The savings from multi-stop trips can be significant and during peak travel periods non-stops may be sold out. While we will continue to generate some of these itineraries, our goal is to find the best trade-off between price and schedule. Ultimately, it’s the traveler’s choice and regardless of the type of trip they book, we’re available 24/7 to help them through any issues that may arise.

Let me add a few things to that. With each stop, you increase the risk that the airline will lose your luggage. So if at all possible, don’t check any luggage.

Also, with multiple connections, there’s a better chance you’ll miss one of your flights. That means your vacation or business trip could be delayed, or even canceled, because of your wacky itinerary.

Finally, if you’re contemplating a three- or four-stop flight, don’t forget the time value of money. Is it worth spending an extra 12 hours in transit in order to save $50? Think about that before you click on the “book” button.

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