If you’ve ever heard me speak at a travel show or if you subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, then you have heard me talk about the hidden city travel hack. It’s also known as ‘throwaway ticketing’, ‘point beyond ticketing’ or skiplagging. I’ve even included it in my article about 17 ways to find cheap flights but I warn: You didn’t learn it from me!
For those not up to speed, hidden city ticketing is when you buy a ticket with a layover and get off at the layover destination instead of going on to the flight’s final destination. Let me give you an example to help explain it another way. About 20 years ago, I needed to get from Los Angeles (LAX) to Cleveland. A non-stop, one-way ticket was $600. So I took my own advice and searched nearby alternate airports to try and find something cheaper. I figured if I could just get to a nearby airport, I could just take a bus to Cleveland. To my surprise, while doing my research, I found a flight to Buffalo with a stop in Cleveland for only $230. Yes, that first leg to Cleveland was the exact same $600 flight I had originally found.
I was scratching my head too, because it makes no sense since Buffalo (BUF) is farther from Cleveland and you have to take two flights instead of one. But that’s the airlines for you. I later learned that United obviously had a lot more competition between LAX and BUF so they offered lower fares. However, they were the only carrier at the time to fly nonstop between LAX and CLE, which is why they were able charge so much for a nonstop.
If I’d wanted to break airline policy, I could have just gotten off in Cleveland and let my connecting ticket to BUF go to waste. If I had done that, I would have bought a one-way ticket, made sure not to check a bag, or put in my mileage account number.
The hidden city trick is not illegal but it is against airline policy since it’s beating the airlines at their own game and they don’t like it. As I wrote in the post, “remember, I’m not recommending this trick and if you do it a lot you WILL get caught.”
Sure enough, a teenager just got caught doing it because his father booked him a hidden city ticket using skiplagged.com, and apparently does it often.
According to KTLA, “The purchased flight was from Gainesville, Florida to New York City with a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. The plan was for Hunter Parsons’ teenage son to get off the plane in Charlotte, where he lives, and not continue to New York City.”
The story continues to say: “Hunter says that once at the airport in Florida with his North Carolina driver’s license, the gate agent was skeptical of his son’s final destination. According to Parsons, his son was “interrogated a little bit” before being “taken to a security room.” “They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disboard [sic] in Charlotte and not going to make the connecting flight,” the elder Parsons told Nexstar’s WJZY. That’s when an American Airlines representative reportedly canceled the ticket and made the family purchase a new direct flight ticket.”
It turns out Hunter’s son was flying for the first time alone so it really makes American Airlines look bad, interrogating this boy still wet-behind-the-ears. American Airlines should be able to see who purchased the ticket and should have contacted the father. On the other hand, it is the traveler’s responsibility to know what kind of ticket they have, just like it’s their responsibility to make sure everything in their bag is legal for transporting.
American Airlines did make a statement about the incident to WJZY saying, “Purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares (hidden city ticketing) is a violation of American Airlines terms and conditions and is outlined in our Conditions of Carriage online. Our Customer Relations team has been in touch with the customer to learn more about their experience.”
In 2013, a website called Skiplagged.com was created and it shows what hidden cities are available instead of searching the old-fashioned way like I did. United Airlines and Orbitz both tried to get it shut down but failed. However, Skiplagged does have a disclosure on their website that states:
“This [hidden city ticketing] is perfectly legal and the savings can be significant, but there are some things to be aware of:
Backpack only — We recommend only bringing a backpack that can fit under the seat in front of you. Anything larger risks getting checked at the gate, and all checked bags will end up in final ticketed destination!
Don’t associate a frequent flyer account — If you do, the airline might invalidate any miles you’ve accrued with them.
Some airlines may require proof of a return ticket during check-in. If this happens to you, just buy a refundable return ticket directly from the airline and cancel it ASAP after boarding.
Do not overuse hidden-city itineraries. Do not fly hidden-city on the same route with the same airline dozens of times within a short time frame.
In rare times of irregular operations such as bad weather, your itinerary may change at the discretion of the airline (2% chance).
You might upset the airline, so don’t do this often.”
The takeaway from this story is if you are going to use the hidden-city money-saving hack, you better know the game. It can’t be done often (at least not on the same airline), has to be one-way, you can’t check luggage and don’t input your frequent flyer number because the airlines will catch you.
Unfortunately, Hunter’s son learned this lesson the hard way.
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