This week I’m discussing the basics of fuel dumping. Remember, I’m not going to describe any particular dumps in detail so you can go out and book it yourself immediately after you finish reading this. I’m only trying to show you how to get started in the game so that, someday, you will be able to find such a deal with some effort of your own. There are lots of things I’m leaving out along the way, to post later if I decide I should, so you may think I’ve overlooked something. Feel free to email or comment if you think it should be added now.
- Part 1: Introduction to Fuel Dumping
- Part 2: Finding and Booking a 3X
- Part 3: Variations and Advanced Strategy
Definition of a 3X
The abbreviation “3X” stands for “third strike,” meaning it is the third flight in an itinerary and you strike it by not flying. Normally missing the plane will result in the rest of the itinerary being cancelled unless you head to an agent and ask to be rebooked on a later flight. Since in this case it is the last leg, missing it has no real repercussions.
Of course, you don’t HAVE to miss the flight, but under most circumstances, you won’t be able to fly it. Generally a 3X is in some far away place. If you are flying from the U.S. to Asia, the 3X might be in Europe. Not exactly convenient. Some newbies try to book something like SEA-FRA-SEA and then dump it with SEA-PDX. Not going to work.
I’m not going to give any more geographical guidance other than warning you not to limit yourself by staying too close to home. This is an opportunity to be creative, and sometimes creativity begins with a 100 failed attempts. Still, some regions of the world do lend themselves toward being rich sources of efficient 3Xs, and you may get a sense of where to look after you read the rest of this post.
When I say a 3X is “efficient” I mean that you save more money than you spend on the dump. Remember how I mentioned on Monday that every candidate fare has three components? Those are base fare, taxes, and fuel surcharge. You can’t do anything about base fare and taxes, so the point of the dump is to add a third flight that results in a lower fuel surcharge.
But it’s not quite that easy. Because you’re adding a flight, you have to pay the base fare and taxes on that, too. This means that a dump can be perfectly effective while being horribly inefficient. What good is dumping a $400 YQ if your 3X costs $400? Well, sometimes that can be worthwhile, but we’ll leave that until Friday…
My point is that “effectiveness” and “efficiency” have a subtle difference in meanings, and you must consider the role of each. An efficient 3X saves more money than it costs. An effective dump is one that removes a large enough portion of the YQ from the original fare to be worth the effort to find and book.
One of the easier ways to find efficient 3Xs is to search for very cheap flights, those with fares that are low enough that if they prove to be effective they will easily pay for themselves. Generally, cheap flights are short flights. And short flights tend to cluster in at least two kinds of places. I’ll leave you to figure out the rest.
Finding a 3X
For the most part, searching for a 3X involves a lot of guess and check. First you find the base fare you want to dump. Second, you figure out the YQ and all-in price. Finally, you perform a multi-city search using the candidate fare for trips 1 and 2 and the potential 3X as trip 3. Then you search and see if anything happens. There are patterns that exist, but I won’t go into them.
If the all-in fare goes down, check the fare construction as I’ve described previously and see if the YQ is actually lower. Another possibility is that the base fare is now higher because a different fare class was used, and this increase could have negated the decrease in YQ. This isn’t necessarily bad if you wanted to try to apply an upgrade that requires a minimum fare class.
[Side note: Don’t apply VIP upgrades to American Airlines flights or any other flights that require reissuing the ticket in order to process the upgrade. Your dump will be noticed, and the deal may be killed. To the best of my knowledge, United processes systemwide upgrades differently so that you can still apply for one using the online form. Obviously you should never call an agent to process an upgrade.]
You should make ample use of ITA’s “nearby airports” feature when searching for a 3X. This is one reason it can be beneficial to search for 3Xs in areas with a higher-than-normal airport density. However, remember that not all 3Xs are located in these areas and that you don’t want to overload ITA’s search engine by searching too many airports at once. It will timeout after 60 seconds, so you must strike a balance.
Finally, be warned that 3Xs are very specific in every sense. They can be direction specific, meaning that the 3X must be booked as traveling from X to Y but not from Y to X. It also means that the fare you are trying to dump is direction specific, so that you it works only when flying from the U.S. to Europe but a different 3X is required when traveling from Europe to the U.S.
The list of conditions gets longer. A given 3X may be able to dump any candidate fare from airlines in a particular alliance, or perhaps only from one or two carriers. However, it may be flexible and work on several different city pairs within the same region. If a 3X dumps a candidate fare from SFO to LHR, it may also dump fares from LAX to LHR or from SFO to CDG. The amount dumped may vary, and sometimes it does turn out to be very specific to a particular city pair.
To convey some of this flexibility while also maintaining the code used in most online forums, a continent naming convention was introduced as follows:
- C1: North America
- C2: Europe
- C3: Asia
- C4: South America
- C5: Africa
- C6: Oceania
- C7: Antarctica
C7 doesn’t matter much for now, but we can always hold out hope…
The list basically just names regions on the map from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, starting with North America. Sometimes certain regions will get their own codes if necessary, such as C1.5 or C2.5.
Booking a Fuel Dump
I’m not going to spend much time on this because it should be obvious. In most cases, you can’t book a dumped itinerary on an airline’s own website. These itineraries generally involve multiple airlines that are not always in the same alliance, so an online travel agency (OTA) becomes necessary.
Just because it worked on ITA doesn’t mean it will work on your OTA of choice. Sometimes it will appear to work, but you will get a call or email later complaining that they couldn’t process the ticket and asking if you want to rebook it at the much higher “normal” price. If this happens, just decline. You don’t need to attract attention to what you’re doing.
There are many more OTAs out there than the big names like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
As for real travel agents, don’t bother. While it is relatively easy for a travel agent to “force” a fuel dump by constructing the ticket in a certain way, there are rules against this, and it will only lead to bad results. If you convince one to do it for you, he or she will likely get a debit memo from the airline demanding the missing YQ. And then they’ll come after you. At all times you should avoid interacting with real people in this process. Don’t talk to the airline or a travel agent about anything.
There. To all you worrywarts, I don’t this was that revelatory. You are always welcome to suggest any necessary edits.