It might seem strange -- if you didn't know better -- that you can get on an airplane in many cities in this country and pay less than if you boarded during a stop en route to your final destination.

Fly from Cincinnati to Los Angeles for $841, for example, on the same Delta plane that originates in Dayton, Ohio, where you pay $838.

But why anyone would fly from Cincinnati in the first place is a mystery when one can drive to Dayton for a United flight via Chicago that costs $342 one way, coach. That's almost $500 in savings for the inconvenience of driving 60 miles.

United's Dayton-Los Angeles flight stops in Chicago before going on to Los Angeles. If you should be so unfortunate as to board at O'Hare, you pay a one-way coach fare of $937.

Chicago residents can avoid this fare by (a) driving to Milwaukee and flying to Los Angeles for $701 (one way, coach) or flying on United's economical discount fare to Kansas City for $100, then buying another one-way special walk-up fare, subject to availability, from Kansas City to Los Angeles for $272 (total $372).

It still is permissible to combine local point-to-point fares. American the other day revised its Rule 150 to bar the practice but quickly withdrew the filing when agents complained after receiving an alert from Minneapolis-based Airfare Report.

To go back to Chicago from Los Angeles, you might think the savvy traveler would buy the $342 Dayton fare and get off in Chicago, but the airlines' point-beyond rules prevent this.

In many instances, you wonder why travelers don't buy roundtrip excursion fares that are more than 50% cheaper and throw away the return portions, but that, too, is barred, under back-to-back ticketing rules.

The airlines on most of these routes are trying to compete with -- keep traffic from -- low-cost carriers.

The government cannot tinker with individual fares. It simply could rule that a passenger is not required to use all segments of a ticket, be it back-to-back or point-beyond, and that a passenger can combine point-to-point fares.

That might force airlines to reconsider of some of their anomalies while giving the little guys a chance.

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