I’ve got my visa.
I’ve booked my ticket: one way from Cartagena Colombia to Fort Lauderdale, USA.
There’s only one problem: I’ve read on multiple travel advisories, forums and blog posts about traveling to America that when I check in at the airport I may be required to show POOT.
No that doesn’t mean airport security is going to demand that I give them a stool sample. POOT stands for; Proof Of Onward Travel. It means that I have to be able to prove that I have a ticket out of the USA, as well as one to get there.
That’s a problem for me, because I don’t know how long I want to be there, or where I want to leave from.
America is not the only country that has a POOT rule. The Philippines, China, India and Thailand also state that it is a requirement of entry that travelers be in possession of outbound tickets.
It’s an easy rule to satisfy if you’re a mainstream holiday traveler who has a three week vacation planned. You buy a return ticket and the problem is solved. Likewise, if you are wealthy enough to afford a date-flexible ticket it’s easy as well. You just wait to lock in your return flight dates until you decide when to leave, or refund your return ticket and rebook.
Low budget travel hackers like me don’t buy flexible tickets. We buy the cheapest ticket we can find. They are date locked and non refundable. Kind of makes it hard to improvise your itinerary.
It’s well known that passengers are not always asked for POOT tickets, but it does happen, and if you can’t show them your outward ticket they will refuse to let you board your flight! That’s not a nice situation to find yourself in.
So what’s the POOT solution?
Some travel hackers just make fake reservation documents with Photoshop. Get an old e-ticket, do a little judicious cutting and pasting… As long as the check in desk doesn’t look too carefully or check with the airline your POOT ticket is supposedly booked with, you will probably get away with it. The downside is that technically you are committing immigration fraud, and that is frowned upon in most jurisdictions, and in the current paranoid era, could potentially lead to very ugly consequences. I personally don’t want to spend any time in jail just to save money on air travel.
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Another alternative is to book a full price ticket out of the country you want to visit, and then get a refund when you land. This sounds fine in theory but there are significant drawbacks.
Firstly, you need the money to buy the ticket in the first place, and secondly, airlines can be very intractable about handing over refunds. It could be a big hassle. You never get 100% refunds on air tickets anyway. There are always sneaky fees involved.
I considered all these things when I booked my flight to America, and I discovered another neat solution.
There’s a web site called Fly Onward* that will rent a POOT ticket to you.
I logged on, selected America as my departure point, and the date I wanted my rented ticket for, and paid Fly Onward US$9.00 via PayPal. Next day I had my itinerary. Easy as that.
(Below: this is the Fly Onward web page on my phone. Easy to use and hassle free.)
How does Fly Onward work?
Basically, Fly Onward buys a ticket on your behalf and then refunds it after you land at your destination. They do exactly what you would do, but they save you the risk and hassle of booking a ticket yourself.
The itinerary you receive is genuine, so it will stand up to scrutiny if you get a particularly over zealous check in desk clerk. As far as anyone knows, you have booked a real ticket home, but all you’ve put on the line is 9 bucks!
(Below: this is the e-ticket itinerary Fly Onward sent me. Totally legit.)
This trip to the USA is the first time I’ve used Fly Onward. The service was surprisingly easy to use, and hassle free. The ‘rented’ ticket arrived on time in my inbox, and I approached the check in desk in Colombia cool and confident.
On this flight I was not asked to show my POOT, but for me $9 was good value for peace of mind.
I’ll spend however long I want to in the USA and think about my exit strategy later when I know what I want to do.
Maybe I’ll go to Mexico. Maybe north to Canada. The thing is, I won’t waste money on a advance-booked ticket that I end up not using, and I’ll have complete freedom to choose my time and method of departure later.
My message to the US government: my POOT is none of your beeswax!
(*This post is my unsolicited opinion, and is not sponsored by Fly Onward. There are other similar web services, but my research has led me to believe Fly Onward is the most reliable and user friendly.)
Hi Guys! It’s Manny here, the guy who makes this blog :)
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