Airlines usually either don't allow the transferring of tickets to another person after they've been purchased, or they do it at an extremely inflated price. What is the reason for doing this?

One idea I came up with would be to allow authorities to do background checks, but one could buy a ticket at the airport shortly before the flight. Of course, it would be more expensive and there would be the risk of a fully booked plane, but it is not impossible.

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    How about greediness? If you will not fly, they can just resell your ticket and get double amount of money. If you will give it to someone else, just normal amount of money? Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 10:28
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    @SalvadorDali : If I don't fly, how would they know it? By the time I fail to turn up at the check-in it would be too late to sell my ticket again.
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 15:08
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    They always sell more tickets then there are sits in the plane. They have some statistics how many people on average are missing the plane. So if on average for 100 sits 2 people are not coming, they are selling 102 sits. If everyone is coming, they just try to tell some 2 people "we are sorry, can you take another plane". Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 6:45
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    just write overbooking in google and you will see huge amount of such examples. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is just statistics. smartertravel.com/travel-advice/… Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 3:14
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    @vsz - overbooking is totally and completely normal, yeah
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 5:48

8 Answers 8


Airlines have a pricing strategy known as "yield management" or "revenue management" - they charge less for some seats than others, and expect these seats to be bought a long time in advance. They know that only a certain percentage of their customers are able to buy seats well in advance, and that those customers wouldn't fly if they couldn't get inexpensive seats.

A speculator could buy a $100 ticket and then offer it on eBay close to the flight date for $200. If more than half the seats this speculator bought were sold this way, the speculator would be making money. But the airline, which wants to sell seats close to the flight date for $500, would not. In fact very quickly the speculator enjoying selling 75% of tickets for $200 would see it fall to 0% because of another speculator selling them for $150, and then later another for $110 and so on. This is just how reselling markets tend to work.

By insisting that a ticket is not a commodity to be bought, traded, resold, and passed around from hand to hand, the airline is able to keep its complicated pricing structure in place. Overall, this is a good thing, because those last-minute high-price tickets cover a LOT of the cost of the flight - their existence is what keeps the long-advance-notice tickets so cheap!

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    (+1) It's also useful to enforce the “non-changeable” fares which is another price discrimination strategy. Also, the airline would be loosing at the other end too: Price-sensitive passenger might forgo travelling entirely because cheap tickets would be immediately bought by the speculators who hope to capture some of the airline's margin.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 17:04
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    It's worth noting that event tickets such as concerts are treated as commodities, and that industry is completely FUBAR. I'm glad the same thing isn't affecting airlines...
    – BlueBuddy
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 19:28
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    In the case of things such as concerts, "more trading" really means "The people who bought the cheap tickets first will almost always turn around and resell them for abnormally high prices". There's even now a big controvery with restaraunt reservations going on now with similar issues.
    – BlueBuddy
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 20:10
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    No, that's the other way round (hint: you book plane tickets before the plane leaves; you buy an iPhone after it's launched). The customers for whom time is critical - those who must fly tomorrow, or those who must have the latest iPhone - pay more. (In fact Apple doesn't tend to hike then cut the price of new iPhones over a short space of time, but in general technology products drop in price as time goes by after launch.)
    – nekomatic
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 13:27
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    Airlines don't have their pricing structure as some sort of public service, @ShivanDragon. They have it because it makes them money given the strange mix of customers they attract. And many of their rules support their pricing structure. The fact that Apple has a different pricing structure, or that concert tickets have a different pricing structure, or my time as a consultant has a different pricing structure, is really not relevant. The products are different. Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 8:04

Another factor--sometimes life happens and you can't fly. In the old days you could simply sell your ticket to someone else, now you either have to eat a hefty change fee or lose it outright. That's money in their pockets that they didn't use to get.

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    With most airlines, in such situations You can ask for a refund.
    – ISAE
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 23:31
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    @ISAE most situations? Not really true. A large number of tickets sold are cheap tickets that are non-refundable. Generally, only "full price" tickets are refundable, and they tend to be expensive. Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 21:26
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    I'd say that it's possible to get a voucher for the value you paid, but I've never seen a cash refund... at least without some type of fee. I had to make a change (flight + hotel) I noticed 15 minutes after purchasing, and the hotel 'no-refund' policy wanted to try and charge $80 to adjust it. The hotel themselves had no issue changing dates for free.
    – Xrylite
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 23:50
  • @AndrewFerrier In my experience, it depends mainly on the airline. A decent airline will have an interest to satisfy the customers, and they'll offer you some kind of refund, perhaps through a voucher.
    – ISAE
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 0:15
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    @AakashM Since English is not my native language, I'm not going to claim to be sure. I've asked about it on ELLSE instead. From your profile it looks like you may be British, so I'm certainly not going to claim to have a better knowledge of English grammar than you.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 10:00

Airlines aren't just in the business of selling "tickets" to seats. They are selling tickets to seats on different days. It's the "different days's" part that means that the same seat will sell for a lower price "in advance" and a higher price closer to the flight date.

If you could re-sell the ticket to a friend, you could (theoretically) get the advantage of the "different days." More to the point, speculators could do the same. The airline doesn't want to allow this opportunity.

The best solution is for the airline to refund your "cheap" ticket, so they can re-sell the same ticket at a higher price on a "different day" to another passenger. Many airlines will do this. Some will not, because they don't value customer service/relations enough.


This may result in an abuse situation. You can think that a non-registered travel group bought so many tickets with different names on a certain flight, then start selling the tickets but for larger price.

Unchangeable tickets will get rid of this situation and only registered travel companies can have legal deals with the airlines.

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    Number of years ago I saw an ad where a young man was seeking a young woman named <specific female name> to share a free week-long flight and Banff ski trip. Seems he'd paid for the vacation for himself and his girl-friend <same specific name>, and then broken up with her. No refund, no credit, but he if he found someone with the same name, the airline couldn't tell the difference
    – DJohnM
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 4:49
  • So you mean that it's better, when the flight company does this abuse itself?
    – maaartinus
    Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 20:51

Another reason might be that airlines tend to overbook planes, if they can. They expect a certain percentage of passengers to cancel their flight and want to prevent empty seats. If everyone found a replacement, there would not be enough seats on the plane for everyone!

  • How common is this really?? Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 7:16
  • @curiousdannii not very. Airlines do know they're going to have a certain percentage of no-shows, but it's not a very high percentage on most flights. There's some flights with many no-shows, and on those they sometimes go overboard on the overselling. Flights like CUR-AMS where every flight tends to get several dozen drugs couriers either getting cold feet and never showing at the airport or caught trying to get through customs and be arrested. On such flights they safely sell more than one or two more seats than there are available positions.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 9:25
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    @jwenting in the USA overbooking is absolutely everyday, several airlines have automated processes where you are offered a "bump voucher" during checkin, kiosk or on-line.
    – user4188
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 23:07

I realize there's already an accepted answer about "yield management" but, while their price discrimination strategy certainly exacerbates their rationale, I think that misses the point. I think the bigger reason is quite simply that they can get away with it. Let me expand on that. When most people book an airline ticket it's because they're planning to fly themselves so they discount the chances that they'd want to transfer the ticket to someone else. This means when most people book a flight they're completely willing to agree that the seat they're buying can only be used by them even though objectively that's an unreasonable condition of the sale.

There's frequently this assumption that speculators being involved means gouging, well they will certainly try to gouge people but there's no guarantee they'd be successful. There's certainly a guarantee that buying a group of plane tickets that are refundable will be a profitable strategy since any tickets that can't be sold for a profit will be refunded the original purchase price. However, most tickets are nonrefundable and, as such, this strategy wouldn't work out so well.

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    Most flights these days are almost full. That suggests that it would be a completely viable strategy to buy tickets early and selling them later on at, say, 90% of what the buyer would have to pay to get a ticket from the airline on that date. And that's without anybody getting gouged: the passenger gets a discount on the airline's price and the reseller still makes a tidy profit. Commented May 21, 2016 at 0:09
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    @DavidRicherby This sounds viable except that the airlines wouldn't sit idly by while that happened. For one, they'd stop discounting the fares for the far future. Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:31

Well, if the airlines change their policies, remove restrictions and make the tickets transferable, this would create a whole new market niche for resellers. If this happen there would be many complications related to liability of the resellers, quality guarantees, safety rules and more. It would be virtually impossible for the airlines to operate within the same legal terms, as the do now.

When I read the original questions and then the answer that explains "yield management" or "revenue management" I'd asked myself would I fly on the ticket I bough through an auction website? I would not.

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    Have you ever used Priceline? Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 18:40

Transfers can be two ways. If they have to register the transfer then of course they should be able to control the flow of cash. HOWEVER, if they don't register it, as for example might the situation if I gave you my bus ticket then, apart from the economic factors, there are clearly a few accountability and safety factors.

  1. If the plane crashes for some reason, the airline would not be in a position to state who was on board. So they would then end up reporting that the ticket seller/donor had died, when in fact it was the recipient.

  2. If the plane is hijacked, or even brought down by terrorists, it could be that the terrorists were the ones who bought the re-sold ticket. And the airline would think it was the original buyer.

  3. Ditto for the situation where someone might have been smuggling drugs or other contraband.

I'm sure you can come up with other safety and security aspects if you think hard enough.

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    1, 2, 3: All wrong, as there are loads of controls before boarding. You can't board without a passport/ID and it gets read electronically, so there's no overhead in storing the data instead of just checking it against the database.
    – maaartinus
    Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 20:55

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