Frequent flyers go to great lengths to save a few bucks on airfare. There are mileage runs, where people take unnecessary flights just to get award miles. And there’s hidden city ticketing, which is a sketchy loophole where you book a cheaper flight with a connection and purposefully miss it because the connecting city is actually your final destination.
Airline pricing usually makes no sense to consumers. There are fares that are inexplicably high, and in theory, hidden city ticketing can help alleviate that. For instance, a route from San Francisco to Milwaukee may cost $400, but a flight from San Fran to New Yew with a connection in Milwaukee may be half that. The idea is to book this fare you don’t actually need to get to Milwaukee. You can use search engines like Skiplagged to find these hidden fares.
It’s a victimless crime right?
Not quite. Airlines hate this because on top of the fact that they’re liable to lose money (obviously), it can be an inconvenience for other passengers. For instance, someone flying standby who actually needs to get from the connecting city to the final ticketed destination might not be able to fly because your seat is being held.
Some airlines also delay outgoing flights when they’re waiting for passengers with tight connections. Their working assumption is that you made it onto the first leg, so you’ll be here any minute. This is a double-edged sword, because if they wait, they might screw up a lot of other people’s flight itineraries, maybe requiring rebooking. And if they eliminate this common courtesy of waiting for connecting passengers, it makes it harder for people to catch connections.
The penalties for hidden city ticketing
Though strictly speaking, hidden city ticketing isn’t illegal – it’s like buying a record and not listening to the whole thing – airlines do have an arsenal of consequences at their disposal.
A passenger was just sued by Lufthansa for this practice, asking for the $2000 difference in fare. Though the lawsuit was dismissed in December, the airline has filed an appeal. And here’s the thing, even if Lufthansa loses, you don’t want to be sued by an airline. Because an airline has more money than you. This could go on forever. And if your cheap ass won’t pay the cost of a proper flight to your destination, then imagine having to pay for lawyers.
Aside from legal channels, an airline can really screw with your travel plans. For example, they can can cancel the rest of your itinerary for having violated their fare rules. In practice, this is why you should only do this on the last leg of a trip. If you do it on a round trip somewhere, you probably won’t have a flight home when you get to the airport.
Airlines can also penalize you by taking away miles or banning you from their rewards program altogether. So if you absolutely must do this, you should probably stay away from airlines you use frequently. If they were particularly petty, they can ban you from flying with them altogether.
Other risks with hidden city ticketing
Even if the airline doesn’t catch you and impose punitive measures, there are other ways this practice can bite you in the ass.
When you purchase a flight, you enter into an agreement with an airline to get you to the final ticketed destination. The connecting flight is just a necessary evil, but that’s liable to change. For instance, earlier this year I flew from Miami to Dallas to Madrid to Prague. But I missed my connecting flight to Madrid. So the airline rebooked me with a stop in London instead of Madrid on the way to Prague. If my intended destination had been Madrid all along, I’d have been screwed. I would have ended up three countries to the east and had to find my own expensive last-minute route there.
This can happen for a few reasons including inclement weather or poor ticket sales. Sometimes flights get cancelled altogether and consolidated or rerouted because they couldn’t fill it up. The airline doesn’t promise the connection will be the same, only that they’ll get you to your final destination.
Another hilarious risk of this practice has to do with checked luggage. It should be a no-brainer that if you intend to do this, you should travel light enough to carry on. The problem is that even if you don’t intend to check luggage, for a whole host of reasons, the airline might make you. They can tell you your bag is too big, too heavy, or simply that they feel like it. And then your bags will be on their way to Seattle, even if you were planning to get off in Chicago.
There are so many other ways to get good deals that hidden city ticketing sounds completely troublesome and unnecessary.