In this era of rising travel costs, globetrotters and budget-conscious travelers are eager to take advantage of clever ways to save money. Airfare eats up a big portion of our travel budgets, but there is a trick that can save you hundreds of dollars. Hidden city ticketing, also known as “skiplagging,” is a strategy used to unlock significant savings.

This unconventional method involves booking a one-way ticket that connects at the airport you intend as your destination. The actual destination you book a ticket to doesn’t matter, so long as a connecting airport is the place you intend to travel to.

Understanding Hidden City Ticketing

Hidden city ticketing is based on the fact that flights with layovers in popular destinations are often priced lower than direct flights to those destinations. For instance, a direct flight from City A to City B may be more expensive than a flight from City A to City C with a layover in City B. The idea is to book the cheaper flight to City C but disembark at City B, treating it as the actual destination.

Let’s take a look at an example: Assume you want to travel non-stop from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Atlanta, Georgia this Friday.

Screenshot of airfares for nonstop flights from Pittsburgh to Atlanta.

Delta offers non-stop service for $270 one-way. American Airlines offers a slightly lower fare of $258, but it would require a connection in Charlotte or Washington, D.C. (not pictured). Either way, a flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta requires a steep fare — but you can do better with hidden city ticketing.

Screenshot of airfares for flights from Pittsburgh to New Orleans with a connection in Atlanta.

Searching for a one-way Delta Air Lines ticket from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, Louisiana (with a connection in Atlanta) reveals a much lower fare — just $179 one-way, a savings of about $90. That ticket to New Orleans will take you to Atlanta and, once there, you can simply skip the connecting flight and leave the airport.

Important Factors to Consider

Hidden city ticketing can lead to substantial savings for travelers willing to embrace the method. However, there are several factors to consider before employing this strategy:

  1. One-way tickets: Hidden city ticketing works best for one-way journeys or when the traveler does not require a return ticket. Attempting to use this method for round-trip tickets will result in the cancellation of the return journey after a segment is skipped.
  2. No checked baggage: Passengers using hidden city ticketing must travel with only carry-on luggage. Checked bags would be tagged to the final destination on the ticket purchased (in the case of our example, New Orleans), rather than the layover city.
  3. Consider the destination: Due to the hub-and-spoke model employed by most airlines, hidden city ticketing is most likely to be effective when your intended destination is a major airline hub like Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles. This strategy wouldn’t be of much use for someone traveling from Roswell, New Mexico to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for instance, as neither airport is traditionally a connecting point on airline itineraries.

Risk Mitigation and Maximizing Savings

While skiplagging can save travelers a significant amount of money, it is essential to approach this strategy with caution:

  1. Ethical considerations: Airlines frown upon hidden city ticketing as it disrupts their revenue models and is a violation of their terms and conditions (though it is not illegal). Frequent use of hidden city ticketing may result in potential consequences, such as frequent flyer account suspensions or even legal action, although I have found no evidence of the latter occurring in the United States.
  2. Use third-party search tools: Numerous online platforms specialize in finding hidden city flights, making it easier for travelers to identify potential routes and savings opportunities. Skiplagged is the most popular of these sites, though you may wish to purchase the ticket from the airline directly as it makes requesting special assistance for disabled airline passengers simpler.
  3. Be prepared: Hidden city ticketing often involves uncertainty, as airlines may change routes, schedules, or even cancel flights. During irregular operations, airlines may attempt to reroute you through a different connecting airport, which would defeat the purpose of your ticket. You’ll need to be an advocate for yourself in such a case, without revealing to the airline what you are doing.

The Risk of an Airline Ban

Last week, American Airlines imposed a 3-year travel ban on Logan Parsons, a teenager who intended to skip the final segment of his ticket from Gainesville, Florida to New York-JFK via Charlotte.

Airline staff at the Gainesville Regional Airport became suspicious after the passenger presented a North Carolina ID card at check-in. Hunter Parsons, the teen’s father, told Queen City News that his son was subjected to a “brief interrogation” and that “They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disboard in Charlotte and not going to make the connecting flight.”

As a result of the teen’s confession, he was made to purchase a new ticket to Charlotte and was subsequently notified of a three year ban on future travel with the airline.

The treatment seems harsh for a first offense, but the teen did what one should never do when intentionally breaking a rule: he admitted to it! While I don’t personally engage in hidden city ticketing (I travel often and have too many frequent flyer miles to put at risk), there are any number of excuses one could make to evade a ban after skipping a leg of an itinerary.

Final Thoughts

Hidden city ticketing represents a controversial but potentially money-saving approach to air travel. By strategically exploiting the pricing dynamics of connections and layovers, travelers can unlock significant discounts on one-way tickets.

Large numbers of travelers effectively execute this strategy every day, and they achieve success by keeping quiet about their intentions. Ultimately, it is up to individual travelers to weigh the benefits against the risks and decide whether this strategy is right for them. When the potential savings are high, infrequent travelers may consider skiplagging to be a no-brainer.

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