Airline Marriage Tax

or, how to save big $ on your airline tickets


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January 2007

Much hay has often been made about the "marriage tax", where our tax code supposedly makes married couples pay more in taxes than they might if they were single and living together. Me? I have no personal knowledge of this being unmarried and not trained in the delicacies of our Federal tax code. (As an aside, I am happy to pay my taxes. I think I get a lot of value back for what I pay.) Apparently United Airlines is more equality minded; they charge any two people traveling together more than if they were to travel separately.

We often travel together and I'm the one to book the tickets. About a year ago I bought tickets to Palm Springs. Our PS friend is retired and, as many savvy retirees do, he keeps tabs on the cost of getting out of town. Just a day after I sent him our itinerary he responded with an email of a better offer, suggesting that I call the airline to see if we could get the better fare. After all, it was just a day later that they apparently lowered the price.

I knew that we had a snowball's chance of getting the lower fare and so I wanted to be prepared for the battle. I went on to the airline's web site to have the price sitting right in front of me. But lo, I could not find that fare! I searched and searched, but the cheaper fare was not to be found. Hmmm. I called the reservation line and spoke with a very nice agent pretending that I wanted to book the low cost fare through their web site. He listened to my story and then looked on his system.

"I can see the fare right here sir."



We went back and forth a few times, both of us truly puzzled. Finally he offered to book me the seat himself.

"I have one for you now."

"Oh, I need two."

"Oh, there's only one seat available at that price."

A-ha! That explains it. I reset my web browser to ask for only one seat and sure enough the lower price came up. So, if I book one seat on the flight, the price is less than if I book two seats. This is hardly fair.

I explained all this to Mike, one of my smart brothers, and he opines that perhaps they keep only one cheap seat available at any time. If you buy the one cheap seat and then wait 30 minutes, perhaps the system will make another seat available at that cheap price. Interesting idea.

I understand the game of having only one seat available at a low price. Fine. But why didn't the system offer to book me one seat at the lower fare and one seat at the next higher fare? In my mind, United Airlines is ripping me off just because I want to buy two tickets at once.

Now, a year later we're going to PS again. I go out to the United Airlines web site and check on the flights. Sure enough, if I buy one roundtrip ticket the price is $158. If I buy two then the cost is $183 each! This is a 16% penalty for booking two seats at the same time. Should I buy one ticket now, wait 30 minutes and then book a second one?

Inspiration hits me. I open two web browsers. In each I navigate to the flights we want. Guess what, each browser shows the cheap fare! In one I enter my name, in the other I enter her name. I go to the "next" screen and enter my credit card information on each. Both are locked and loaded. I click "purchase" on one and then on the other. I hold my breath. In two seconds each browser is now showing a confirmation number for each of us. The bastards! Maybe ALL the seats on those flights are available at the lower price as long as you buy them one at a time?

I now have two roundtrip tickets to PS. Instead of paying $366, I paid only $316. A savings of $50, or 16%.


Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)