Is Hidden City Ticketing the Answer to Cheaper Travel?
Before taking flight, here's what you need to know.
Here’s the one thing nearly everyone can agree on: Traveling is the best, but getting through the airport is the worst. Not only is trekking through the airport a hassle, but finding tickets can be a complete mental drain. I fly from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, about twice a year and on multiple occasions it’s been cheaper for me to get a connecting flight in Charlotte, North Carolina, before going to Atlanta. That doesn’t even make sense. Charlotte is out of the way—how is that cheaper?!
Hidden city ticketing, sometimes called point-beyond ticketing, is when a person books a one-way flight with a layover, but they get off the plane in the layover city and don’t continue with their trip. It’s controversial, primarily because airlines… well, they hate it. That said, like most consumers, I’m on the side of the other consumers—so why should I care if the airlines are unhappy? It turns out that there are some legitimate reasons.
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First off, when you abandon your seat on the last leg of a flight, it can drive up ticket prices. You see, it looks like the flight is fuller than it is, so the airline can charge more because of what they perceive as scarcity of seats on that flight. I spoke with George Hobica, who created Airfarewatchdog and is now the Fly Guy columnist for USA Today, to find out what potential drawbacks could await people hoping to capitalize on hidden city ticketing.
“Imagine that you’re at the movies just before it starts and someone has put coats over several prime seats and tells you that the seats are taken—and the only seats left are in the back row at the side,” said Hobica. “Then the movie starts and you notice that no one has sat in the reserved seats. Well, that’s kind of what hidden city scam artists do to passengers wanting to fly on the segments that the hidden city travelers contracted to fly but didn’t.”
Got it—it’s cheaper, but it doesn’t only hurt the airline, it can unnecessarily penalize other passengers. Hobica also points out that some airlines have been known to take away miles and customer rewards if they catch customers. That said, it’s hard to get caught. It’s also important to note that customers capitalizing on hidden city ticketing can’t check bags because luggage ends up at the final destination, and if their flight is unexpectedly re-routed they could be completely out of luck.
I decided to see how much a discount hidden city ticketing could really offer. Using Skiplagged I checked flight prices for Wednesday, February 13—exactly two weeks out. The price for a basic economy seat averaged $156 on American Airlines. Next, I went to American Airlines’ site and searched for the same flight. The average ticket cost for basic economy was $175, there were fewer options for times and there were significant price increases for flights later in the day.
So yes, it’s cheaper for sure. I understand why it’s frowned upon and I would hate to penalize other customers, but if I’m being honest? I’m not above giving sites like Skiplagged a glance before I book my plane ticket.