LAST UPDATED: 7/30/23 – Is Hidden City Ticketing Worth the Risk?
UPDATE: Hidden City Ticketing made the news recently when a North Carolina teenager was banned from flying by American Airlines. This is a prime example of the dangers of using this cost saving method that I discuss in this article.
As travelers, we are constantly looking for ways to save money on travel so we can do more. We explore new apps and websites to find the best deals on lodging. We do our research to find the most economic tours and excursions. And of course, we always have our eye out for bargain airfare.
In recent years, a strategy for finding low-cost airfare has emerged that has created a lot of controversy in the travel industry. This strategy, which is known as Hidden City Ticketing, isn’t illegal and it isn’t a scam. However, it does come with some risks. So much so that it has avid travelers debating whether or not the significant cost savings it can give you are worth it.
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What is Hidden City Ticketing?
Hidden City Ticketing is a strategy for booking airfare that takes advantage of the airlines pricing models for direct flights versus flights with layovers. The strategy uses those pricing models to get you a lower direct flight fare on a flight with a scheduled layover.
Instead of booking a more expensive direct flight from City A to City B, you book a cheaper flight from City A to City C with a layover in City B. However, instead of taking the whole flight, you skip the second leg.
For example, let’s say that I am looking to fly from Minneapolis to Denver. When I search fares, the lowest fare I can find is $500. However, I am able to find fares from Minneapolis to Las Vegas with a layover in Denver for under $200.
If I booked the ticket to Las Vegas, and then stopped in Denver without taking the second flight to Las Vegas, that is an example of using Hidden City Ticketing. And it can be very effective in saving you money on flights.
Now granted, you are going to have to book one-way tickets. The airline will automatically drop your return flights as soon as you don’t show up for the flight from Denver to Las Vegas. However, you aren’t restricted to using just one airline. It isn’t too hard to find two one-way hidden city flights that are cheaper than a round-trip fare.
The website Skiplagged.com is infamous for specializing in finding Hidden City fares that are rock bottom cheap. They are the website that put this ticketing strategy on the map.
Is it Illegal?
Hidden City Ticketing is not currently illegal, but it is really controversial. If you decide to use it to save money on flights, you aren’t going to get arrested in the airport for doing it.
However, you are not going to endear yourself with the airlines. There are bound to be consequences if you use it enough. I liken Hidden City Ticketing to counting cards in Las Vegas. It’s not illegal, but it is something that will get you thrown out of a casino really fast if you are caught doing it.
You will Increase the Fares for Others
While using Hidden City Ticketing might sound like a sweet deal for you, the abuse of this loophole has consequences. It will undoubtedly lead to increased fares for others. The airline industry is ultra-competitive, and their profit margins are not enormous.
If enough passengers hack cheaper rates, it is inevitable that fare increases will be the result. Not only will this not endear you to other travelers, but you are likely to be affected by the rate increases moving forward as well.
You Can’t Check Luggage
Probably the most obvious disadvantage to using Hidden City Ticketing is the luggage situation. You are unable to check any luggage if you use this ticketing strategy. If you are using a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas with a layover in Denver, you can’t check your bag for the flight because it won’t be unloaded for you until it gets to Las Vegas.
And don’t think you are out of the woods if you decide to carry-on your luggage instead. You are always at risk of being asked to gate check your luggage. In this case, the excuse you can’t because you aren’t going further than Denver isn’t going to endear you to the airline. In fact, per the ticketing contract you agree to when you purchase your tickets, they may not even take you as far as Denver.
The Risk of Itinerary Changes
Another significant risk to using Hidden City Ticketing is that there is always a risk that the airline will change your itinerary. When you buy your ticket, the ticketing agreement for the purchase allows the airline to adjust your itinerary where needed. This includes adjusting the departure times of your flights and even changing your connecting flights.
If you booked a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas with a layover in Denver, you are going to be in a world of trouble if they change your connecting city to Seattle. Again, explaining that you can’t do the layover in Seattle because you were really just going to Denver isn’t going to hold water with the airline.
Risked Relationships with Airlines
Arguably the biggest risk to using Hidden City Ticketing is ruining any relationship you have with an airline. Don’t even attempt to use your frequent flier program if you are going to use Hidden City Ticketing. As soon as you skip your connecting flight, there is no way the airline will give you the mileage.
In fact, if you abuse this strategy too much, there is nothing preventing the airline from revoking any status you have. This includes invalidating your frequent flier miles or even denying you service on future flights. Again, this is all in that contract that you sign when you buy any ticket with an airline.
Is Hidden City Ticketing Too Good to Be True?
So, is Hidden City Ticketing something that is too good to be true? My answer would be a resounding yes. While it isn’t illegal and it may save you some money in the short term, the risks and long-term consequences are just too high.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the airlines make moves to completely close this loophole in the future. I have already noticed that some airlines have already made some adjustments to their ticketing strategies to do just that.