American Airlines is suing an online travel agent over its ‘notorious and brazen’ attempts to sell tickets without AA’s permission using ‘secretive and hidden’ hacks that often involve subterfuge and misrepresentation.
Attorneys acting on behalf of the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline have filed a lawsuit in a Texas district court against Kiwi.com, a Czech-based online travel agent, which, until 2020, had a working business relationship with American Airlines and was allowed to sell AA tickets.
American Airlines barred Kiwi.com from selling its tickets after accusing the line travel agency of using ‘explicitly forbidden’ methods to find cheaper flight deals than its rivals.
On its website, Kiwi.com actually boasts about its ‘travel hacks’ and American Airlines claims one of these hacks is the controversial method of booking hidden city ticketing.
Hidden city ticketing is the practice of buying a ticket to a destination which involves a stopover with the intention of ending your journey at the stopover destination.
Because of how airline inventory is sold, buying a direct flight to your destination is often more expensive than buying a connecting flight and simply discarding the final segment, but it’s a travel hack that airlines hate.
American Airlines says it told Kiwi.com to stop breaking its rules, but the travel agency allegedly continues to sell tickets that it isn’t authorized to sell, using dubious methods to get hold of the tickets without AA’s permission.
One method that Kiwi.com uses is a technique called ‘screen scraping’ in which Kiwi simply searches for flights via the AA.com website and then uses fictitious email addresses to book tickets on behalf of their customer.
Kiwi.com became an authorized travel agent for American Airlines in 2016 but just a year later, AA became aware that the company was breaking its rules with ‘abusive’ sales activities. American Airlines entered into a new agreement with Kiwi.com in 2018 in an attempt to resolve the issues, but two years later, AA terminated its agreement with the agency to sell its tickets.
Earlier this year, a slew of AA’s partners, including British Airways, Finnair and Iberia, also publicly announced that they were ending their agreements with Kiwi.com.
American Airlines says Kiwi.com remains undeterred and has been using improper means to obtain flight information and sell tickets to consumers.
This is by no means the first time that Kiwi.com has faced legal action over its sales techniques. In 2021, Southwest Airlines obtained permanent injunctive relief against Kiwi.com after telling a court that the agency had screenscraped its website for flight and pricing information and resold the tickets to more than 170,000 customers.
Ryanair has also pursued legal action against Kiwi.com in the past, winning a court order to stop the agency from replacing genuine customer contact information with fictitious email addresses.
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s often outspoken CEO, has called online travel agents ‘internet pirates’ who dupe consumers and overcharge them for airline services.
As part of the lawsuit brought by AA, the airline claims Kiwi.com sold checked baggage fees to customers who didn’t need to buy baggage, while in other cases, Kiwi.com sold baggage to passengers but never passed this information onto American Airlines.
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