Finding and Booking a 3X

This week I’m discussing the basics of fuel dumping. Remember, I’m not going to describe any particular dumps in detail so you can go out and book it yourself immediately after you finish reading this. I’m only trying to show you how to get started in the game so that, someday, you will be able to find such a deal with some effort of your own. There are lots of things I’m leaving out along the way, to post later if I decide I should, so you may think I’ve overlooked something. Feel free to email or comment if you think it should be added now.

Definition of a 3X

The abbreviation “3X” stands for “third strike,” meaning it is the third flight in an itinerary and you strike it by not flying. Normally missing the plane will result in the rest of the itinerary being cancelled unless you head to an agent and ask to be rebooked on a later flight. Since in this case it is the last leg, missing it has no real repercussions.

Of course, you don’t HAVE to miss the flight, but under most circumstances, you won’t be able to fly it. Generally a 3X is in some far away place. If you are flying from the U.S. to Asia, the 3X might be in Europe. Not exactly convenient. Some newbies try to book something like SEA-FRA-SEA and then dump it with SEA-PDX. Not going to work.

I’m not going to give any more geographical guidance other than warning you not to limit yourself by staying too close to home. This is an opportunity to be creative, and sometimes creativity begins with a 100 failed attempts. Still, some regions of the world do lend themselves toward being rich sources of efficient 3Xs, and you may get a sense of where to look after you read the rest of this post.

Efficient Dumps

When I say a 3X is “efficient” I mean that you save more money than you spend on the dump. Remember how I mentioned on Monday that every candidate fare has three components? Those are base fare, taxes, and fuel surcharge. You can’t do anything about base fare and taxes, so the point of the dump is to add a third flight that results in a lower fuel surcharge.

But it’s not quite that easy. Because you’re adding a flight, you have to pay the base fare and taxes on that, too. This means that a dump can be perfectly effective while being horribly inefficient. What good is dumping a $400 YQ if your 3X costs $400? Well, sometimes that can be worthwhile, but we’ll leave that until Friday…

My point is that “effectiveness” and “efficiency” have a subtle difference in meanings, and you must consider the role of each. An efficient 3X saves more money than it costs. An effective dump is one that removes a large enough portion of the YQ from the original fare to be worth the effort to find and book.

One of the easier ways to find efficient 3Xs is to search for very cheap flights, those with fares that are low enough that if they prove to be effective they will easily pay for themselves. Generally, cheap flights are short flights. And short flights tend to cluster in at least two kinds of places. I’ll leave you to figure out the rest.

Finding a 3X

For the most part, searching for a 3X involves a lot of guess and check. First you find the base fare you want to dump. Second, you figure out the YQ and all-in price. Finally, you perform a multi-city search using the candidate fare for trips 1 and 2 and the potential 3X as trip 3. Then you search and see if anything happens. There are patterns that exist, but I won’t go into them.

If the all-in fare goes down, check the fare construction as I’ve described previously and see if the YQ is actually lower. Another possibility is that the base fare is now higher because a different fare class was used, and this increase could have negated the decrease in YQ. This isn’t necessarily bad if you wanted to try to apply an upgrade that requires a minimum fare class.

[Side note: Don’t apply VIP upgrades to American Airlines flights or any other flights that require reissuing the ticket in order to process the upgrade. Your dump will be noticed, and the deal may be killed. To the best of my knowledge, United processes systemwide upgrades differently so that you can still apply for one using the online form. Obviously you should never call an agent to process an upgrade.]

You should make ample use of ITA’s “nearby airports” feature when searching for a 3X. This is one reason it can be beneficial to search for 3Xs in areas with a higher-than-normal airport density. However, remember that not all 3Xs are located in these areas and that you don’t want to overload ITA’s search engine by searching too many airports at once. It will timeout after 60 seconds, so you must strike a balance.

Specificity

Finally, be warned that 3Xs are very specific in every sense. They can be direction specific, meaning that the 3X must be booked as traveling from X to Y but not from Y to X. It also means that the fare you are trying to dump is direction specific, so that you it works only when flying from the U.S. to Europe but a different 3X is required when traveling from Europe to the U.S.

The list of conditions gets longer. A given 3X may be able to dump any candidate fare from airlines in a particular alliance, or perhaps only from one or two carriers. However, it may be flexible and work on several different city pairs within the same region. If a 3X dumps a candidate fare from SFO to LHR, it may also dump fares from LAX to LHR or from SFO to CDG. The amount dumped may vary, and sometimes it does turn out to be very specific to a particular city pair.

To convey some of this flexibility while also maintaining the code used in most online forums, a continent naming convention was introduced as follows:

  • C1: North America
  • C2: Europe
  • C3: Asia
  • C4: South America
  • C5: Africa
  • C6: Oceania
  • C7: Antarctica

C7 doesn’t matter much for now, but we can always hold out hope… :)

The list basically just names regions on the map from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, starting with North America. Sometimes certain regions will get their own codes if necessary, such as C1.5 or C2.5.

Booking

I’m not going to spend much time on this because it should be obvious. In most cases, you can’t book a dumped itinerary on an airline’s own website. These itineraries generally involve multiple airlines that are not always in the same alliance, so an online travel agency (OTA) becomes necessary.

Just because it worked on ITA doesn’t mean it will work on your OTA of choice. Sometimes it will appear to work, but you will get a call or email later complaining that they couldn’t process the ticket and asking if you want to rebook it at the much higher “normal” price. If this happens, just decline. You don’t need to attract attention to what you’re doing.

There are many more OTAs out there than the big names like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

As for real travel agents, don’t bother. While it is relatively easy for a travel agent to “force” a fuel dump by constructing the ticket in a certain way, there are rules against this, and it will only lead to bad results. If you convince one to do it for you, he or she will likely get a debit memo from the airline demanding the missing YQ. And then they’ll come after you. At all times you should avoid interacting with real people in this process. Don’t talk to the airline or a travel agent about anything.

There. To all you worrywarts, I don’t this was that revelatory. You are always welcome to suggest any necessary edits.

About 

Scott created Hack My Trip while traveling on a budget during graduate school and continues to share his thoughts on better travel. He maintains elite status with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hyatt, and Starwood.
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  • Frequent Miler

    Bravo!

  • Paul

    Great job Scott! I really appreciate to understand one little thing; you correctly said that if someone find and book a 3x/FD , don’t have to call immediatly airline for question about tkt, fares, availability and confirmation…but my question should be: who guarantee me for that price? indeed who guarantee me that when’ll arrive in apt to flight my 3x tkt, someone won’t ask me to integrate my tkt with correct price (specifically YQ component price)?! ;-)

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      There’s no guarantee. Assuming your credit card is charged and the ticket is issued (i.e., you have ticket numbers and a confirmation number) you should be okay, but this is a risky game. Do your best to select seats online, check-in at a kiosk, etc. so you don’t have to talk to a person.

      • Paul

        yep,it’s a great trick, but anytime someone on arrival/departure can stop me and tell me: ”hi guy, you dumped our YQ, so you have to pay 400$ more for your return flight or you’ll not flight back home”?!

        furthermore, in that case…how can i prove my ”good faith” (commercial sense!) ;-)

        • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

          You can’t, really. Like I said, it’s a risky game. If anything goes wrong you have to be willing to (1) pay back the savings or (2) walk away and lose the money you spent on the ticket. You could always play dumb and claim you really are going to use that 3X (and some people are), but that may not always work.

          • Paul

            Ok! but for instance, if i book a 3x like this: FRA-JFK-FRA-BUD with a FD, how can they demonstrate my fuel dumping?! it could be perfectly regular, because i really have to travel from FRA to JFK than to BUD, and i could be in good faith..

            conversely, but at the same time, I’m wondering.. whichever time i book a flight, how can I be in certainty that i didn’t booked unintentionally a fuel dump flight?!

            so, if everytime someone could stop me at arrival/departure apt it absolutely could be a nightmare!!

          • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

            The airline can always demonstrate fuel dumping by showing that no YQ (or a low YQ) was included in the fare. All you can do is come up with some explanation that you didn’t realize what you were doing and you plan to fly that itinerary as booked. But like I said, it’s very unlikely anyone will notice unless you have an issue with your trip and bring it to the attention of an agent. That’s why if you know you’ve booked a fuel dump you should suck it up and not tell anyone.

  • Paul

    ok! someone has already ”tested” fuel dump troubles in apt?!

  • Mark

    Thanks Scottrick for your explaining. The one thing I actually miss is a timeframe to book the 3x. Should it be a month after a-b-a or perhabs a day after or a week. Ismthere a generall rule for it?

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      If you are aiming to collect some frequent flyer miles, I would aim for a month or so of separation to let those post to your account. Of course, if you plan to use the 3X as part of another trip, timing doesn’t matter.

  • Mark

    In other words if you’re going to strike the third leg it doesn’t matter which date you book the 3x, besides after the A-B-A trip. So you can choose your cheapest fare for the 3x. Or do 3x usually have the same rate for almost every day.

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      Most of the 3Xs I’ve seen are pretty consistent in price. These tend to be cheap flights that are operated on a regular schedule to connect nearby cities. However, if the price does vary, then pick a day with the lowest price because every dollar you spend on the 3X is a dollar you no longer save from a dropped YQ.

      Fare rules might restrict how far out you can book it, which could determine whether you will be able to use it in time as part of another trip.

  • Mark

    Keeping the miles out of the equation off course :-)

  • Joel

    Thank you for this post! I went on my first YQ dump hunt. Took about 3 hours figuring out how to get a YQ dump hunt, and… got it!

  • David

    Hi,

    Am a newbie and I must say your post was very helpful (helps to decipher the talk on flyertalk!)

    anyway can I ask if this is relevant for people living outside of US? I’m living in Singapore currently so would it be possible to find such flights?

    • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

      Yes, but you can’t dump Singapore Airlines.

      • David

        oh ok why not? (sorry if this is a really basic question haha i just got into the whole flying game)

        i’m actually quite lost!

        • http://hackmytrip.com Scottrick

          Because dumping involves finding loopholes. Any loophole can be shut down by a properly designed reservation system. Singapore runs its airline well and doesn’t let this kind of stuff happen. Other airlines, not so much.

          • Ray

            Any other airlines that are also a no-go due to their being run properly? No purpose is barking up a bad tree.

  • http://twitter.com/UtdJohn John G

    Hey I showed up here a little late. I’m trying to plan a trip for 2013 with a $495pp YQ. I tried adding 3x, but it’s still there. Can’t understand what I’m doing wrong.

    • Scottrick

      You need to find a different 3X. I’ve rarely seen more than two or three that knock off more than 50% for a given route. Every route has its own best 3X. It’s like if you had two identical puzzles. One was fully assembled and one was mixed up in a box. You get to pick one piece from the assembled puzzle, and you need to find the identical piece in the scrambled box without looking.

  • Docomo

    Hi Scott, great post and this is like the best fuel dump 101 guide, very much appreciate all the effort putting this up.  This got me started tricking and I found two routes of interest from ITA:

    DL LAX-SEA-NRT-HND-LAX
    UA SFO-LAX-NRT-LAX-SFO

    Both with over $500 YQ.  Now I am on my quest for a 3x but haven’t had any luck in the past few days.  Now I am kind of stuck and would like some help from you.  

    First of all, I saw the FT Trick It thread has a lot of posts with OW route, is it much easier to trick OW then these RT route returning to the same city.  

    I am basically interested in finding a C1-C3 and C3-C1 route without going over to C2, with your experience, are these routes likely to have a 1X or a 3X?  I kept trying to find a 3X but to no avail, wondering if I should focus on 1X instead.

    Lastly, I tried a lot of different OW between Asia cities with airlines for my 3X but still with no success, wonder if you may shed some light.  With these routes and airlines, should I try finding a 1X or 3X with US domestic or I may have better luck with a cheap OW within C2.

    Just want to get some hints on the magic pair that may trick DL or UA fare (or other fares going to TYO).

    Thank you very very much for your time and help and again excellent guide for us newbies who want to get into the game.  Really look forward to learning the skills so I may afford more traveling to Asia.  Have a wonderful day :) 

    • Scottrick

      There was a pretty good 3X that died not long ago. I know of a few 1Xs that work still, so consider searching for those, too. I would suggest that you keep looking. Don’t worry too much about where it connects. Just search SFO/LAX to TYO (allow for the possibility that you could fly into HND and not NRT).

      There are no magic 3Xs. It’s been slim pickings for even the experts lately, but there ARE some deals out there if you keep looking.

      • Docomo

        Thanks Scott for your quick response.  So 3X maybe out there just that the chance is slim?  I will start trying to find a 1X.  So in ITA I will keep the SFO/LAX TYO RT and add a random cheap OW.  A little more hints if possible, since the route I am looking into are offered by C1 metal, is it likely the 1X be a OW offered by a non-C1 metal and further a non-C1 OW?  I saw somewhere Caribbean OW will be a good candidate, any more hints on which region I may look into given the route I am searching :)  

        I tried using the map in FareCompare to look for cheap OW and find that very useful.  Wonder if there’s any similar tool for finding a cheap OW in non-C1 region?  

        Thank you very much again for all the time and help.  Hopefully I can catch up some knowledge soon and become one to start contributing.  Have a great night. 

  • maximizer

    Can’t the airlines flag frequent fliers who have a lot of missed last legs, then claim they are in violation of the rules and close their accounts or ban them or something.  I thought they do this for back-to-back tickets, why not for this?

    • Scottrick

      They could, but not all airlines communicate well with each other. The fact that these flights are operated by different airlines contributes significantly to the effectiveness of fuel dumping.

  • Travelfanatics

    I just became aware of FD for the past 2 weeks and I am glad that I found your blog. I couldn’t thank you enough for your explanation on FD and the tricks associated with it.  I just found my first 3x to Asia! Will now be visiting family and friends more often. :D 
    Thank you! Thank you! 

    • Docomo

      wow that’s excellent Travelfanatics, I have been trying to find a 3x since discovering this and for the last three weeks wasn’t able to find one.  I too also want to travel and visit my family and friends more often and with low fare.  If possible can you please share your tools and insights on this.  I am basically looking for flights going to Japan or Hong Kong.  If possible, can you please email me at dai_ba_wongs@hotmail.com.  Thanks very very much, have a wonderful day.

      • Travelfanatics

        I just followed Scottrick’s examples and explanation. Just keep plugging your desired destinations using ITA. With a little luck, a lot of sleepless nights and  the possible onset of CTS, you will surely find it. Read Scottrick’s FD thread again and again to pick up on the clues. IMHO, his is by far the easiest “guide” to understand among all the other how-to articles that you can Google.

  • Swoods

    What’s C2x-HAV ?

    • Scottrick

      That sounds like a flight originating somewhere in the C2 region, possibly including C2.5, to HAV.

  • travelgirl

    Newbie question:  If you’ve identified a potential FD itinerary, at what point in the process should the actual loss of the YQ show up, assuming you’ve identified a good 3X?  Step 1 (ITA), Step 2 (pricing the flights on a third-party online travel agent’s site), or Step 3 (after selecting a particular itinerary on the third-party online travel agent’s site like you’re actually going to buy it)?  (Or at some other point?)  

    • Scottrick

      In an ideal world all three. Most of the time you’ll see it on ITA, and then your goal is to find an OTA who will actually book it. Not all will do that because they have systems in place to catch the dump. So you find another OTA and search there instead. And so on.

      Other times, the dump won’t appear on ITA but it will appear on the OTA. This is harder to find because ITA is easier to search with.

      • travelgirl

        Thank you–that’s extremely helpful (and quick!).

  • ai-travel

    hey whats up i guess i am late to the party!! just trying to figure out why i am getting one way fares for my first round trip flight on ita insteas of getting roundtrip fare plus one way??

    • Scottrick

      I’m not quite sure what your question is. If you’re asking about how the trick works, you need to (1) search for a round trip fare that you want to dump, the one you actually fly, (2) search for a short and cheap one-way flight, which you will not fly, and (3) combine the results from #1 and #2 in a multi-city itinerary to see if the dump succeeds. If not, repeat #2 and #3.

      Your roundtrip fare from step #1 will often show two one-way fares because that’s how many fares are priced these days. It allows flexibility if you fly into one city and out of another. But the actual itinerary is still roundtrip. You need both one way flights.

  • Marcin

    Does 3X fare must be codeshare with my RT fare (A-B-A)? Does my RT trip must be direct or can it be with layover (eg. Paris via London to NYC and back the samy way)?

    • Scottrick

      No, it does not need to be a codeshare. No, it does not need to be direct.

  • dundili

    Hi Scottrick, I love your blog, and was really impressed by the bucket list feature. I then found this thread, and it is fascinating to me. I have done quite a bit of research over the past few days and have actually found some cool 3xs, for example getting the lax-tyo yq entirely removed and around 480ai.

    My question is this: is it possible to 3x or 1x united or LH flights c1-c2? It seems that when I try to add numerous different 3x, it not only keeps the YQ but automatically shifts the class of service to B (from K for example), resulting in a 4k+ ticket. Am I just barking up the wrong tree?

    Thank you so much for everything you do, this is definitely one of my top three blogs now! Kind regards

    • Scottrick

      It was at one time, but I am not clear if it still is. I see no reason why not. I know it is a difficult route to dump, if possible. The service class shift is not uncommon, but clearly it isn’t advantageous to you in this circumstance. Saving $300 only to pay $3,000 more isn’t exactly winning.

      • Dundili

        Thanks so much for your reply! I will search more, and hopefully find something that works.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.muratori Andrea Muratori

    From Internazionale to Wind City 3 aug to 21 , there ‘s some possibility of a good 3x ?

  • Hugo

    Hey Scott, no idea if you still follow this but I have a question. If I´ve found a candidate for a FD and I am looking for a workable 3x or 1x, I check on the fare rules and it says how I can or can not combine the fare, gives me specific airlines or even flight numbers. My candidate should be one of the allowed options? or I should try to avoid what is allowed and go for something crazy? I think the first option makes more sense, but in this FD business chaos seems to be what brings good FD :). Thanks in advance!

    • Scottrick

      If the candidate fare says it can’t be combined with other fares, you might be out of luck. But try anyway. I usually don’t investigate fare rules too much unless I want to dump a very specific fare and am having trouble with it.

      Otherwise I’m an opportunist. Does the price go down when I run it against some 3Xs on ITA? Great! Can I book it? Great! The fare rules can help save time or troubleshoot, sure, but knowing them isn’t always important.

  • Sol

    Hi Scott,

    Kudos for the blog. I appreciate what you are doing and trying to balance the need to keep this low profile so it doesn’t get killed (even though I can hardly construe FD as being “illegal”, since it’s only use the airlines’own set of rules and fare constructions to build the fare components in a way that suits you – – besides when you purchase a ticket you are not signing a must-fly commitment anyway). I can, however, see how this can easily be brought to the attention of agents who will undoubtedly kill the entire stream.

    I have been reading extensively and researching about it, but I must admit that I am still baffled by some of the processes.

    Is there any chance that I could PM you to show you my trend of thought just so you can see if I am moving along in the right direction?

    Also have you heard of a similar strategy that TAs sometimes use called market-advantage dump?

    Cheers,
    Sol

    • Scottrick

      You can always send an email to scottrick@hackmytrip.com. I’m not aware of the term “market advantage dump” but it sounds like the result of different fares that depend on the originating country, either for reasons of competition or currency exchange. For example, some flights departing CMB to the United States in first class can be 10-20% the price of the reverse routing, from the US to CMB.

  • erkantarik

    Scott, are flights operated by TK generally dumpable?

  • n00B_FB

    Hi!
    Thanks for this helpful article. I’d just like to know if the 3X flight has to be direct or not ? Does the FD work if there is a connection ?
    Thanks again!

    • Scottrick

      A 3X is one segment.

  • Tom

    Hi Scott,

    thanks for the article. Eventhough it doesnt say much for a very obvious reason, it got me started and im thirsty for information. I just subscribed to MP and im now learning about the 3x, 1x and more FD options. I am trying different routes and flights just to learn how to work with it – ive always been booking my flights so i am pretty familiar with the airport codes. What i dont understand, when trying to find the right 3x is if i should look for specific airlines for the 1 last segment with choosing a specific flight or just try my luck with a random search on the ITA search engine and see if the price drops itself? Its still unclear how this last segment dumps the YQ. Did you ever do an article, blog post or something on FT / MP so i can do some more reading and research to understand the whole point of it? I am a very enthusiastic traveller and willing to give this as much time as it will require.
    I was doing some flight searches between prg-lax for jan17-feb15 and found out most of the airlines are now charging $145/one way, and ranging between $250 – $390 on the YQ. Adding multiple 3x worldwide was only increasing the price, am i doing anything wrong? I tried a lot of destinations with high number of airports in the same region, nothing worked..

    If you ever have a second, i would love to chat for a bit to get some ideas of which direction to go, what to or where to read:)

    great job on your blog, this is now on my very favorite list.

    Thanks,

    T.

    • Scottrick

      I don’t apply a specific airline to my search for a 3X. When exploring I’ll only list the cities in my multi-city search, and sometimes I will specify the airline on the flown portion of the itinerary (legs 1 and 2) if I really care. But I don’t know what carrier is going to be operating the 3X until I find it.

      Once I have a known 3X, then I will specify the carrier and try to apply it to other itineraries, this time leaving the carrier for legs 1 and 2 open ended.

      You should only add one 3X to most itineraries, although sometimes a combination of a 1X and a 4X will work (that is, sandwich the two flown legs between two disposable legs; sometimes you will need to fly the 1X if they’re any good about sharing information with the other carriers). You are correct that fuel dumping is most effective with itineraries that have a very large fuel surcharge (lots to save) and a very cheap 3X.

      • Tom

        What im trying to understand is “how does the last XY segment drop the YQ”. I understand that only taxes, base fee and other airport and country fees are necessary and the YQ is the one to drop, but HOW DOES it another (XY) segment drop the YQ? Thats what i dont understand.

  • Andrew Lombardi

    on FT when they mention using a “simple X” or X Treatment, what does that mean? Does it mean A-B-A-X ? (no x-y, but a-x?)

    • Scottrick

      I assume so, but that sounds like new shorthand that’s developed since I stopped reading that thread.

      • Andrew Lombardi

        cool. I’ve found one of the candidate fares they are referring to. Haven’t found a way to trim it yet. This is fun