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The dangers of hidden city ticketing and should you be doing it?

I find the idea of “hidden city ticketing” pretty interesting.  The only reason to do hidden city ticketing is to save money on airfare.  The idea is best explained with examples:

Suppose you are trying to go from city A to city B.  The price of a direct flight from city A to city B might be more expensive than a flight from city A to city C that connects through city B.  If you take the second option, you could take the A-B leg, get out at B, and never take the B-C leg.

With real airports this time:  I want to travel from Houston to Charlotte (one-way) on October 3rd.  The cheapest NONSTOP ticket I found was $358.

iah-clt

However, if I book from Houston to Augusta with a stop in Charlotte, the entire itinerary is only $129 and the Houston to Charlotte leg is the same flight.  I could just get out in Charlotte and never take the Charlotte to Augusta leg.  That is a huge difference in price.  This is an example of hidden city ticketing.

iah-clt-aug

You can certainly do this, but there are a lot of things to keep in mind to see if the benefits outweigh the risks when attempting this type of thing.  There are certainly many dangers involved.

Is it illegal?

According to this random letter on the American Airlines website, this is not illegal, but more so unethical.  It states:

Although the issuance and usage of hidden city tickets is not illegal in the sense that one could be fined or sent to jail by the government, it is unethical and a breach of a passengers contract with AA. Both tariff rule 100AA and American’s Condition of Carriage, which are incorporated into every ticket sold by American as part of our agreement to carry the passenger named on the ticket, bar hidden city ticketing. In addition, it violates the agencies’ contract to act as an agent for American Airlines.

In addition, some may say it’s unethical on the grounds that you are taking an airplane seat that you don’t intend to use.  As a result, you are taking a seat that someone else may need.

Does it work on roundtrips?

Because the airline will cancel the rest of the segments of your ticket if you don’t take one of the legs, this works best on one ways.  If you do this on a roundtrip, the throwaway segment has to be on your last leg.  However, you could split up the round-trip into 2 one-ways.

Risk with luggage

In the example above, if you check in luggage, your luggage will be directed to the final destination (Augusta).  Since you are going to get out in Charlotte, you don’t want your luggage in Augusta.  Don’t check in luggage!  Just take a carryon.

Flight changes 

Again with the example above, what happens if the flight to Charlotte gets cancelled due to bad weather?  The airline will try to reroute you to the final destination, which means they could route you through a different city altogether.  That’s probably one of the biggest risks of doing this.  You will really have to convince the gate agent to route you through Charlotte.

Airline won’t love you

The airlines really frown upon this kinda stuff.  They do not want you performing hidden city ticketing.  You are not only circumventing the system by paying less in airfare, you are also ticketing a seat that you won’t be using and that they could have sold.  As a form of punishment, they can shut down your frequent flyer account and confiscate all the miles.  This is one of the worst things that can happen as your hard earned miles are valuable.  As a miles and points collector, this would be a big loss in an attempt to save a few dollars.  To potentially avoid this scenario, do not enter in your frequent flyer number of the airline you are flying.  Instead, you could enter in a partner airline’s frequent flyer number.

Don’t buy the ticket from a third party

It’s vital that you don’t buy the ticket from a third party (Orbitz) or a travel agent.  You should book directly with the airline.  The reason for this is that if the airline figures out what you are doing, they could hold the third party accountable and bill them for the difference of the airfare you saved.  If you are going to try to take advantage of a loophole, don’t hold a third party accountable.

How to find hidden city ticketing

Perhaps the best way to find hidden city tickets is ITA matrix.  Search one way fares.  Pick one stop flights and force the software to connect through the city you want to get out in.  As in the example above, your one stop flight should connect in Charlotte, and your final destination should be all the airports within a specified mileage range of Charlotte.  Once you find what you are looking for, just go to the airline website to buy the ticket.

Is it worth it? 

The answer is: it depends.  To me, there are too many risks involved as stated above.   As a result, I might consider it if the flight I need is very short notice, the fare is just outrageous and I can’t find anything with miles.  In addition, this is not something you want to do over and over again.  This tactic should be used very conservatively, if at all.

Final words

Hidden city ticketing is a way to save significant money on airfare, with significant dangers as well.   If you can understand the ideas and consider yourself a risk taker, you can certainly add this to your toolbox of travel tricks.  Use it conservatively, use it with caution.

Final tip

I live in Houston.  Houston (IAH) is a huge United hub.  An airport that United serves 80 miles outside of Houston is Beaumont Port Arthur (BPT).  United has a bus service from IAH to BPT.  For example, if you try to book ATL to BPT on United, you will fly ATL-IAH and then take a United bus from IAH to BPT.  There is no IAH to BPT “flight” on United.

IAH-BPT

In addition, if flying United, you cannot get to BPT without connecting in IAH.  As a result, if you are flying United and you want to get out in Houston, BPT would be a good destination for hidden city ticketing.  In case of bad weather, they can’t reroute you to BPT through any other city, unless they put you on another airline, which you could argue against.  In addition, you would not be missing a flight, you would be missing a bus (less trackable maybe?).  However, I do think the “no checking luggage” requirement still applies as the luggage is automatically transferred to the bus.  You don’t want your luggage to end up in BPT.

What are your thoughts on hidden city ticketing?

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Mia May 10, 2017, 8:03 pm

    Does this work with European airlines? Does Air Berlin allow hidden city ticketing without the risk of flight cancellation of round trip tickets (if I miss the second leg on the way to Europe)?

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