Runs and Places

A Devious (but Ingenious) Way to get Cheap Flights


If you’re looking to save money when traveling for races, I’ve already mentioned some of the more common methods to save on airfare in my earlier posts (booking flights 3-5 weeks out on Saturday evening and clearing your browser cookies before searching for flights, etc…).  Those are all good tips and they work pretty well.  But there’s one other method that I want to tell you about called hidden cities ticketing.

Before I say any more about this, I’d like to point out here that I’m not saying that booking flights this way is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m just saying that it’s a “thing”.  Years ago, travelers figured out that they could save money on their flights this way.  Whatever you personally decide to do with this information is up to you.

The idea behind hidden cities ticketing is that airline ticket prices don’t necessarily correlate to flight distances.  A direct flight from point A to point B might actually be more expensive than an indirect flight from point A to point C with a layover at point B.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you live in Chicago and you get picked in the lottery to run the New York Marathon.  So you want to fly from Chicago to New York during race week.  Well, the airlines know that there are tens of thousands of people who are planning to fly into New York from all over the world that week, so their fares are most likely going to be a lot higher than usual during that time.  So maybe you’ll find a direct flight from Chicago to New York that costs $400.  That’s a bit pricey.  But maybe there’s also a flight from Chicago to Baltimore with a layover in New York that only costs $200.  Well then, if you want to cut your airfare costs in half, you can book the flight to Baltimore with the layover and then ditch the plane after it lands in New York.

Why would a longer flight be cheaper?  It’s actually more common than you might think, and there are a number of reasons that it could happen.

The main reason is that airline prices are market driven.  If an airline knows that a lot of people are going to be traveling to a particular city while an event is going on, they’ll raise their rates for flights into that city because they know they can do it and still sell all of the seats on their planes…. On the other hand, if there’s a city that doesn’t have anything going on to attract a lot of travelers, the airlines will lower their rates on flights to that city to hopefully sell a few seats to travelers looking for deals that are too good to pass up.

Another reason is that airlines sometimes receive government subsidies to serve smaller markets, which helps keep flights into some cities lower.  And sometimes airlines simply have their own internal initiatives where they offer rate specials to try and increase business in certain regions.  Regardless of the underlying reason, the point is that longer flights don’t necessarily cost more than shorter ones.

I’d like to point out here that there’s nothing illegal about hidden cities ticketing.  However, because of the financial implications, airlines are strongly opposed to it (along with other variations of it like purchasing a round trip flight but never using the return flight because round trip tickets are generally cheaper than one way tickets, etc…).  If an airline catches someone doing this, they’ll usually revoke any frequent flier points that person has accumulated and cancel any other tickets they’ve booked without refunding their money.

How would you get caught?  I don’t know.  An airline would have a hard time proving that you blew off the second leg of your flight on purpose as opposed to getting off the plane to get something to eat and then getting lost in the airport.  In general, if you do this once every now and then, nothing will happen to you…. but if you do it every time you fly, then the airlines will start to see a pattern developing and that’s when they’ll crack down.  To be on the safe side, you should probably make sure not to use a loyalty card to try and pick up extra frequent flier miles if you ever decide to use hidden cities ticketing to book a flight.

Another thing to think about if you’re going to try this is that you’ll have to pack light since you can’t check any luggage.  Bags get checked all the way to their destination, so if you get off somewhere in the middle, you’ll have no way to retrieve any luggage that you didn’t carry on the plane with you.

Other than that though, like I said, airlines might not like it, but hidden cities ticketing is perfectly legal.  There’s even a website called that will help you search for hidden cities fares the same way you can search for regular plane tickets on any other travel site.  Note that skiplagged is currently being sued by Orbitz and United Airlines for violating the terms of service of their reservation systems.  The lawsuit doesn’t say anything about people not being allowed to use hidden cities fares though – the terms of service thing is a technicality that the airlines are using to try to get the site shut down since nothing else would hold up in court.  So we’ll have to see how that all shakes out, but at least for the time being, the site is still available if you want to check it out.

Now, keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that you do this.  I’m just telling you how it works.  If you want to save money on flights, or if you just like the idea of stickin’ it to the man by taking advantage of loopholes in airline pricing strategies, then there ya go. Enjoy….

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