In the 4th installment of Squirreling Gone Wild, I’ll move away from the example of my college buddy from back in the day. To refresh, this guy was quite a character, and his antics with “frugality” provided for some good stories. Anyway, one of the terms he used, which I had previously mentioned in an earlier addition of this series, was “arbitrage opportunity”. He threw this term around when he saw a chance to “get something for nothing”, or game a system to pay less.
Recently I came across one of these arbitrage opportunities, though it was after the fact and I did not intentionally take advantage of it. Here’s the situation: I was traveling back home to the U.S. from Canada, where I was on a short visit. Since I was visiting a few folks who gave some food and a small gift for my daughter to take back home to the U.S., my carry on bag had gone from being fairly full upon arrival to overflowing when departing. Thus, I had to expand the bag as I finished packing. I had carried the bag on the plane on my flight to Canada, but wasn’t sure if I could carry it on when I returned back due it being expanded.
When I arrived at the airport to check in, I did not check my bag and tried to carry it on. I thought I might as well try it, since I saw others with seemingly bigger bags walking through. So, on I went toward customs/security. Before I could even get to customs, I was told that my bag was too big and would I would have to check it in. I asked if I could proceed and then check it at the gate, but the individual who stopped me said no. Ok, I thought – I guess I’ll have to go back and check in. No big deal.
I backtracked and made my way back to the counter, where I told them that I was sent back because my bag was too big and needed to be checked. At that point, it occurred to me that I might have to pay, and thoughts raced through my mind that the food and gift that I brought would end up costing me quite a bit! I mean, the homemade fruitcake was good (very good, I might add), but were those slices of cake worth the checking fee?
Once I checked it in, the said I was all set – but never mentioned what the fee would be. I asked, and to my delight – no fee! I mentioned to the nice lady behind the counter that if I would have known that I would have checked it in the first place. To my surprise, she told me that if I had checked it there would have been a fee, but since I tried to carry on was sent back, there would be no charge.
Therein lies that arbitrage opportunity – if you simply take your bag through as a carry on and get sent back, you could avoid the charge!
Now, to reiterate – I did not game this on purpose, and did not try to do this. I simply found out after the fact purely by accident, and was happy to take advantage. I believe the savings was $29, if I remember correctly. My conscience was clear because I really did try to carry it on, as I saw others with bigger bags walking toward customs/security.
My assessment is that this is a clear loophole for people to avoid the carry on fee that seems to annoy so many people. That said, knowing this loophole for this particular flight (Canada to US), would you try to take advantage of it and go through carry on – even if you thought you would probably have to check in, Or, would you just check in up front and pay the fee? Personally, I would check in up front if I knew that the bags were definitely too big. But I tend to be a rule follower in those cases, and am wondering if there is a grey area here.
What do you think?