Back in 1999, while I was planning my first Eurotrip, I found that airfare would be one of my largest single expenses. So I wanted to minimize this as much as possible: $1,200+ roundtrip airfare was a HUGE chunk of my budget, and I need to decrease that.
Using online forums (RIP Eurotrip.com), I came across a lot of people talking about a company called Airhitch (or Air-Hitch) that seemed to not only offer unbelievably cheap airfares to Europe, but also open-ended and open-destination tickets. Since I didn’t know where or when I would be flying home from Europe (though I did assume I’d fly to Rome with my friends) I did not want to purchase a roundtrip ticket and be locked into a specific city and date I HAD to be in to come home. Airhitch (or Air-Hitch) seemed to be the perfect answer.
Airhitch’s prices and flexibility seemed too good to be true. This was in the days before 9/11 (RIP good old travel days) and travelers could not only show up to airports and buy tickets the day of from the travel desk, they could even buy reduced fare tickets and wait standby for the chance a flight wasn’t filled and would let you on. This is what Airhitch was based on.
Basically, for $165 US each way, Airhitch allowed me to show up to any airport on the East coast of the US (because I purchased the “East Coast option”) and wait for a flight that had an open seat to fly on. The destination of this flight AHD to be somewhere in Western Europe. Then when I was ready to come home, I had to do the reverse: Show up at any airport in any city in Western Europe and find a flight with an open seat going to the East Coast of the US or Canada.
Airhitch was the perfect answer to my roundtrip flight wish! I was super excited that I’d found this company and paid the $330 US even as my friends, and even parents, questioned the legitimacy of this company. Other people had used it and talk it up on these online forums. It has to be legit. What could go wrong?
Three weeks later I received an envelope in the maile with my Airhitch “voucher” and a thank you letter from the company with instructions how to find a flight to / from Europe. Reviewing my voucher, I was a bit concerned. It was nothing more than the company’s (poorly) hand drawn logo on a blue piece of paper. It looked like something my 10-year old sister would have done as a joke to me.
My friends howled with laughter and they and their parents said that if this was what I was doing to save money on my trip, me and my trip were doomed. Did I make a mistake that would cost me going to Europe? It was too late in the process to care3. We were leaving in a few weeks, and I didn’t have the funds to get a new ticket. I could only hope for the best.
Now to use the Airhitch “voucher” - and it was a VOUCHER, not a ticket, so basically it was the Airhitch saying “let this person on your plane and we’ll pay you something if you return this to us”, not very reassuring - I had to call their offices to get a list of all flights flying from the East Coast of the US to Western Europe for the FOLLOWING week. Their recorded service would grade each flight from A to F, with A being “lots” of seats available and a good chance of getting on the flight, and F being “few to no” seats available and a poor chance of getting on the flight.
When I called to find a flight, my best chance was flying to Madrid from New York City (8 hours from my home) one week before my friends were to leave. I made the snap decision to take my chances with this flight. So I packed my stuff into my new backpack (RIP Eagle Creek Travel Pack 40L), said goodbye to my friends and promised to meet them somewhere in Rome on the day they arrived, goodbye to my girlfriend and parents, and hopped on a train to NYC!
My adventure had begun, but would the airline accept my Airhitch voucher? When I arrived at JFK Airport in New York, I went up to the ticketing counter for my hopeful flight to Madrid and sheepishly handed the woman my blue, hand-drawn Airhitch voucher.
“Have you ever seen one of these?”, I asked the woman both hopeful and apprehensive. Luckily shehad and I could feel the relief wash over me. An hour or so later, I was sitting on a small plane headed to Madrid! What adventures awaited from me when I landed I could only guess. I was about to embark on a trip that, unbeknownst to me, would change my life. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get off the ground and start this…then the power on the plane went out.