Tuesday, August 9, 2022

How a Cunning Traveler Ate 300 Consecutive Luxury Meals for Free

This is why we can’t have nice things.

The space between frugality and brilliance is but another painfully blurred line. And in that haze are the origins of endless caveats and fine print.

Such was the story of a very unique and anonymous Chinese traveler, who will pit your admiration and contempt against each other.

His circumstance was precipitated by the highly competitive Chinese airline industry.

As is the case in the US, most profits are achieved through business travel and add-on purchases.

Eastern China Airlines was trying to expand its footprint in 2014. They ran a new promotion that allowed first-class travelers to dine in their special VIP lounge.

On a sunny day in 2013, a traveler walked into the Xian airport’s VIP lounge.

He sat down at a marble table, surrounded by wealthy passengers with layovers. The waitress came and served him food and drinks as he read his newspaper. An hour later, he stood up and went to catch his flight.

The following day, he went through all airport checkpoints, through security, walking all the way back to the VIP lounge, and sat down at a table on the other side of the restaurant, and repeated his previous transaction.

As he repeated this each day, a few employees at the lounge recognized him but never made any mention of it.

Then, after more than a month straight of this passenger showing up at the lounge, at the exact same time, they got more suspicious. The waitress went over and asked, “Do you have your ticket?” Sure enough, he pulled out his ticket. It was real and scheduled for a flight that very day.

They checked him again the next day and the next day. But how could he be flying out of the same airport everyday? For weeks on end?

How a Cunning Traveler Ate 300 Consecutive Luxury Meals for Free
How a Cunning Traveler Ate 300 Consecutive Luxury Meals for Free

What they weren’t seeing was each day: after he left, he went back through security, and to the entrance where the check-in counters were. Then, he spoke with agents and said he had an emergency and needed to push his flight back one day. The fine print allowed him to reschedule for free. And his first-class ticket also allowed him to eat for free at the airport VIP lounge. He’d found a loop and was intentionally stuck in time.

It got ridiculous though. Even the security guards started to recognize him because he always came through the metal detectors at the same time every day without any bags on him. This continued for months.

Finally, a full 300 consecutive days later, the gig finally exploded on him. After getting his daily caloric haul in the VIP lounge, he walked up to the airport ticket counter to reschedule his ticket. The lady took his ticket, scanned it to reschedule and her computer began jamming. She fumbled with it some more and then realized what was wrong: an internal page limit had been reached.

Each time, he’d rescheduled, it added a notation to his case file, causing his confirmation file to get bigger and bigger until they eventually couldn’t process his ticket anymore. When she realized what had happene. She went to get her supervisor.

The man immediately realized his hustle was up. He rushed over to a counter on the other side of the room, got his refund, and got the hell out of there.

Corporate later spotted the exception in their report and confirmed the incident. But the man hadn’t broken any laws and wasn’t liable for anything. He’d juked the airline for 300 free meals and gotten away with it.

I developed split personalities when reading this. The part of me that hates airports, airlines, and everything about them, thought the guy was brilliant. He had me doing a fistbump with the air.

Then, the more I thought about it, I realized the guy was kind of a prick. By canceling and rebooking, he was wasting the employee time and wasting airline space. Additionally, it’s guys like this who end up causing us to have more rules with our airline.

There’s probably some stupid rule now where you have to eat within an hour of your flight time because of this. And I’m sure someone at Eastern China Airlines got yelled at for not having caught the 300 rebookings in their data report. So now they’ll have another daily task to check as well.

The man certainly deserves credit where it’s due, but god damn. Three-hundred trips to the airport, and all the logistics, scans, and headaches, just for those meals. He must have been really hungry, short on cash, or was super, super, cheap.

This scheme certainly wouldn’t have worked in the United States. Airlines are squeezing so many costs that we’ll soon be bringing our own pee buckets. He’d just have ended up paying hundreds of dollars per meal and getting only a soda and a cheap hotdog in return. And maybe a kick in the pants if he asked for an extra napkin.

The line between laziness and genius has always been a place of great innovation. But not always for the better.

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