Now a days everyone is trying to save a buck when it comes to just about everything.
Travel is no exception to that rule.
With new gadgets, websites and ideas designed to save you money coming out almost weekly, it can be hard to sift through and find the ones that are actually worth using. One such idea, called “hidden city ticketing”, promises to save you nearly hundreds of dollars just by exploiting a loophole in the way that airfare works.
Before we get to deep into the explanation of hidden city ticketing, let’s first explain what it is in its simplest form. Lets say you want to get from city A to city B, but you find the flight to be a little too pricey for your liking. With hidden city ticketing travelers would book a flight from city A to city C, with a stop in city B (your desired destination) that will often times cost less than the direct flight and you would just skip the last leg of your journey.
Still can’t wrap your head around how this works?
Here’s a more detailed example and graphic to help. Let’s say you are a traveler who wants to fly from Philadelphia to Las Vegas. You head over to your favorite airline, in this case we will use Southwest for the example, and find that a flight from Philadelphia to Las Vegas, with one stop in Denver, Colorado, booked a week in advance, will end up costing you $579. Another flight, however, which travels from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, booked a week in advance, costs just $287 and has a stop in Las Vegas. With hidden city ticketing you’d book the flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, but just stay in Las Vegas when you arrive. Skipping the last leg of the journey from Vegas to L.A., would end up saving you $292.
The flight would be booked one way, so technically you could be saving double that amount as you make your return trip. Putting your savings near $600 in the example given.
How does this loophole exist? Well, airlines price flights based on demand. This means if there is a destination, like Las Vegas, with not as many direct flights to it as other destinations, prices will generally be higher. When flying to a destination like Los Angeles, where there are a number of flights from various airlines available, the airlines need to set the price tag at a much more competitive rate, meaning it will be cheaper for the traveler. The airlines don’t plan on travelers not completing their trips, which is where hidden city ticketing comes into play.
Now, you may be thinking, “Sweet! This hidden city ticketing idea is going to save me a bunch of cash!” There are, however, a number of drawbacks to using this method.
So what’s the catch?
While using hidden city ticketing can save you some serious cash in most cases, there are a number of hangups that could leave you wondering if the risk is worth the reward.
From landing in the wrong place, to being limited to one-way flights and a lack of luggage, to punishments from the airlines, take a look at this list of drawbacks and see how a little money savings can actually create quite the travel headache.
- It’s not exactly a foolproof plan for getting you to your desired destination. Flights could be delayed or even weather could affect the route, these may seem like minor issues, but when the airline re-routes the plane to a secondary connecting destination, all of your planning will be blown to bits. Instead of landing in Las Vegas like you planned, you may end up in Denver, leaving you holding the bag for finding another way to your destination. Having to find another flight will then certainly cut into the savings to had by booking the hidden city fare in the first place.
- The air travel will need to be booked one-way. Airlines will void a round-trip ticket if the passenger misses any leg of the assigned journey, thus your idea of getting off at a connecting city would then make your ticket worthless. Instead, travelers would need to book a one-way return ticket which may end up costing more than the flight out. Research would obviously be required for both legs of the journey, there and back, and travelers may not always find as great of a deal on the return trip due to them being limited to where they land.
- Hidden city ticketing also leaves you with a lack of space, in your luggage that is. While taking a flight a traveler will only be able to bring their carry-on luggage as a checked bag would end up in the final destination of a given flight. Packing light would be essential when using this form of travel, which may work for a quick trip, but not with a trip where more luggage is required.
- Major airlines are aware of this loophole in the booking system. The reason these flights are sometimes cheaper than direct flights is so that the airlines can compete on price with other airlines that are flying the same route. If caught booking a trip and only using parts of the flight, airlines have been known to revoke frequent flier status (as well as the miles that go with it) as it is a violation of their policies.
- Using the hidden city ticketing method can actually hurt other travelers too. When a flight is getting ready to leave, the staff of that airline is required to wait until the last possible second in order to give every passenger a chance to make their flight. When you intentionally stay off of the flight, the airline employees will wait for you, causing an unnecessary delay for everyone on board the plane. There is also a theory going around that this “hack” will cause airlines to eventually raise prices in the future. If more and more people start skipping legs of flights, airlines will begin to lose money as they are flying empty planes to destinations. Instead of letting that happen, airlines are more likely to raise their prices for these flights which will hurt every traveler, hidden city ticketing or not.
- You’ll also have to do an exorbitant amount of research to find these flights, which can waste a lot of time before traveling. I’ve looked into this extensively and it took me looking at multiple airlines, dates and routes to find a flight that would save me money. As it appears, flights that are booked within two weeks or so have the highest potential of saving you money with hidden city ticketing, however booking anything beyond that makes it far less enterprising, in some cases saving the traveler as little as $5, or even costing more than a regular flight. The easiest way to plan is to know the hubs of all the major airports, as that is generally where your connecting flight will be picked up, if you know that information, it makes hidden city ticketing a lot easier. (For example, Southwest Airlines has hubs in Baltimore, Denver, St. Louis and more; United Airlines has hubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., etc.; Delta Airlines has hubs in Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, etc.)
- Airlines really do not seem to like people who do this, viewing it as a way of gaming the system. Back in 2014, both United Airlines and the travel company Orbitz teamed up to file a lawsuit against Aktarer Zaman. The 22-year-old Zaman created Skiplagged.com, a website search service that allows travelers to target hidden city ticketing flights and use them to their advantage. The two major travel companies, however, claimed that Zaman’s site cost them $75,000 of lost income by engaging in unfair competition. The suit with United was dismissed in court based on regions, but Zaman settled outside of court with Orbitz in 2015. “We remain troubled that Mr. Zaman continues to openly encourage customers to violate our contract of carrier by purchasing hidden-city tickets, putting the validity of their ticket and MileagePlus status at risk,” said United spokeswoman Christen David in an interview with Mashable.com. United never refiled the lawsuit.
Regardless of where you stand on this travel hack, hidden city ticketing presents some interesting points for the airline industry.
Is it really the travelers fault for discovering this loophole and using it to save themselves some money? If it’s such a problem for airlines, why not make the overall price of flying lower? Is the fact that they sued a 22-year old over the exploitation of this hack an attempt to squelch free speech and keep their profits soaring?
All solid questions, but with the price of most flights the cheapest they have ever been and with search tools that make it easier than ever to find the cheapest flight, why does it really matter? There are plenty of other ways to save money on travel, for both accommodations and transportation, so the only question we really should be asking ourselves when it comes to hidden city ticketing is, are the risks worth the reward?
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