How Hidden Airline Ticketing Works

While planning an upcoming trip I noticed that airfare prices have slowly crept higher over the year for the same route.

Related: Unconventional Ways to Save on Travel

I decided to use Google Flights so I could get a better idea of what prices were like to other cities. I was surprised to see that prices to destinations that were a longer distance away were actually cheaper than shorter trips. If I just planned a flight that had a layover in the city I wanted to go to, this strategy would be cheaper than the direct flight.

How It Works

Hidden airline ticketing is a money-saving strategy where the passenger books a flight to a city they don’t want to visit (that includes a layover in the city they do want to visit). The passenger simply gets off the plane at the layover city rather than continuing on with the rest of the flight.

Image Credit: Shai Barzilay

Image Credit: Shai Barzilay

This strategy can lead to lower prices since flights are based on demand, not distance. For example, a flight from Calgary to Vancouver is sometimes nearly 25% more expensive than a flight from Calgary to Seattle (with a layover in Vancouver).

Of course, this strategy only makes sense if the original (direct) flight is more expensive than one with a layover in the city you want to visit.

Controversy

The airlines have caught on to this strategy and have made attempts to crack down. Almost all airlines claim that although it isn’t illegal, it is against their far rules and is technically not allowed.

They have threatened to revoke the frequent flier accounts of some fliers who have used the strategy often. They have also taken legal action against one search website that allowed travelers to find hidden city flights that were cheaper in price.

Skip Lagged is an airfare search website that touts itself as the smart way to find cheap flights. It allows you to search for flights that include a layover that you can get off at instead of booking a direct, more expensive fare.

This concept didn’t go over well with United Airlines who sued the company. The site still works, and they have a Go Fund Me account to help pay for the legal bills set up. Apparently they have some solid support because as I write this, they’ve raised thousands of dollars to fight United Airlines in court.

Drawbacks

Although the biggest benefit is obvious (cost savings), the strategy does have it’s drawbacks:

  • If the ‘hidden airline’ flight is overbooked and the passenger gets bumped to another flight, there is the possibility the new route could bypass the layover city (defeating the strategy)
  • It requires the passenger to book 2 separate one-way flights rather than one simple (return) flight
  • Travelers who frequently use the strategy recommend not associating frequent flier accounts with the flights since the airlines are able to track them, which means you’d miss out on collecting rewards for the flights
  • You can only travel with carryon baggage and can’t check a bag, since it would automatically be routed to the final destination (which you wouldn’t want)

My Experience

I’ve never used this strategy but I can see how it would save money in some cases. It wouldn’t be practical for a long trip because there’s a greater chance the traveler would need a checked bag.

I spoke with a passenger on a recent flight that used this strategy in the past while flying from Vancouver to New York. Rather than simply booking a direct flight, he would strategically book cheaper flights that had NYC as a layover city (and then disembark in NYC). I’m not familiar with that route or the prices but this would only make sense if the direct flight (Vancouver to NYC) was more expensive than one that had NYC as a layover.

Conclusion: hidden airline ticketing is relatively new and is one strategy passengers might be able to save on the next flight. I haven’t used it myself in the past but will consider it the next time I fly.

Have you ever used hidden airline ticketing?

Related: What Percentage of Income Do You Spend on Travel?

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