Ummm…better late than never?
If you’ve been following the wacky world of travel for a long time, you may recall the story about a man in China who bought a first-class plane ticket and used it to eat a year’s worth of free meals at the VIP lounge at China’s Xi’an International Airport.
The news originally broke in very early 2014 and was covered by a lot (and I mean a LOT) of places online. In fact, if you search for passenger first class ticket eat free year china Xi’an Airport on Google, you get about 11.5 million hits. Granted, some were when the story was “risen from the dead” in 2015, 2017 and 2020, but yeah, that’s how popular it was.
According to the story, the unnamed man bought a first-class, fully refundable ticket aboard Eastern China Airlines. It allegedly came with access to a VIP lounge at Xi’an International Airport (XIY), where flyers could enjoy a free meal.
Seems perfectly legit so far.
The guy supposedly would go to the airport, eat his free meal, and proceed to reschedule his flight for the following day. He’d then return to XIY to enjoy another complimentary meal. Rinse and repeat for almost a year.
Eastern China Airlines officials were said to somehow eventually notice that something fishy was going on, but by then the same ticket had been rebooked over 300 times. That meant the man had (presumably) enjoyed over 300 free meals.
Officials supposedly confronted the man, so he stopped his daily scheme. To end it, he just returned the ticket for a full refund.
A spokeswoman for the carrier, also unnamed, was quoted as saying the man’s free-meal scheme was “a rare act.”
You don’t say…? “Rare act” indeed.
Like I said, the story originally came to light in early 2014. At the end of the very same month, January 2014, a publication called Shanghaiist, which reported on the original news, wrote an update. The author, Benjamin Cost, said that the story was, in actuality, not true and just a rumor.
Cost said that according to reports (Note: link is now dead), someone named 范峻_kelvin (Note: link is also dead) was the one who originally wrote the story on Weibo (a Chinese microblogging site). 范峻_kelvin eventually wrote another post that said that he heard this from someone else, and wasn’t sure about the authenticity of this story.
China Eastern Airlines apparently also explained in reports (Note: Really? Another dead link? Sigh.) that the loophole for the free meal wouldn’t have been that simple. Said Cost:
The company says that even if you have purchased a full-priced first-class ticket, with which the flight date can be amended any time within a year from your original flying date, to enter the VIP lounge area you’ll have to exchange your booking confirmation for a boarding pass and also get through the security gates. Meaning, once your itinerary has been changed, you can’t cheat the system to switch it back again.
Well, OK then.
SO…how DID this all go down? Who knows, really? Cost’s report on Shanghaiist was the original “update” to the story; they gave a “hat tip” to one “Mark W.” Only one other post, from That’s China, covered the update, and they tipped their hat to Shanghaiist.
Y’all, I went FAAAAAR into that Google search…those are the ONLY 2 publications I saw that gave such an update. Mine is, essentially, the 3rd (albeit 7.5 years later).
With 3 out of 3 dead links to be able to research, on top of the assumption that they might be written in Chinese (I don’t speak/read/write/understand any Chinese; I only took Spanish in school), it’s admittedly hard to tell, 7.5 years after the fact, what did or didn’t actually happen, or who said what.
I even tried to understand better the rules surrounding China Eastern Airlines lounge access or what was simply happening then. However trying to find out in mid-2021 what was the norm in early 2014 is pretty damn impossible. I mean:
- Lounge Buddy suggests all they offer are snack type foods, not actual, full meals But again, that’s what’s happening now. 7 years is a long time in airline years 😉
- There’s a video of the Xi’an China Xianyang Airport China Eastern Lounge Business Class but it’s only from 2019
- And worst of all? This whole story never even hit Snopes.com! Ugh!
So I dunno.
I’m going to say that *I* think the whole story was bullspit. If China Eastern Airlines actually confirmed in late 2014 that it couldn’t have been done, I’m gonna go with that.
And if the guy DID get 300+ days of free meals, well, good for him, I guess, for outwitting the system ;-).
Feature Photo: shimin / Wikipedia
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary