The other “hidden city” trick that could shave $100 or more off your airfare

Many people had never heard of SkipLagged.com until news broke in January that United Airlines and the Orbitz travel web site were suing Aktarer Zaman, SkipLagged’s 22-year-old founder, for damages. Zaman’s sin in the eyes of the industry: to create a search engine that takes advantage of the fact that airlines often price connecting flights cheaper than non-stop flights. As a feature in The Economist explained:

At the time of writing, Delta’s cheapest one-way fare from Atlanta to Cincinnati on February 6th is $252. However, to get from Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth with a connection through Cincinnati—on that same initial flight—costs just $197. This is because Delta is the only airline to fly direct from Atlanta to Cincinnati, which are both Delta hubs, and so it can charge what it likes. Two other airlines, meanwhile, operate flights between Atlanta and Dallas. This limits Delta’s pricing power. For anyone wishing to fly to Cincinnati, therefore, the best bet is to book the connecting flight and walk out of the airport in Cincinnati (the “hidden city”), simply failing to show up for the second half of the trip.

But, there are strings attached to using SkipLagged. All of your baggage must ride in the cabin with you, as any checked baggage will be tagged to your final destination. Return trips must be booked separately, as going AWOL anywhere en route will automatically cancel the rest of your reservation.

And if anything goes wrong, such as overbooking or a cancellation forcing the airline to rebook you, they will only help you get to the city you’ve paid to be flown to, not to the hub you were planning to duck out at. So, the hypothetical passenger above planning to sneak away at Delta’s Cincinnati hub could be in trouble if Delta automatically rebooks him on a nonstop flight to Dallas instead, or on a flight via the Minneapolis/St. Paul hub.

There is, however, another version of the “hidden city” trick that could work well if you do wish to check your baggage. This involves booking a legitimate round-trip between your home airport and your intended destination, plus an onward future flight from your home airport that you have no intention of taking.

Consider the following example of a hypothetical Winnipeg-London round trip, departing on the randomly chosen date of July 11 and returning on July 24. It’s not a particularly cheap itinerary as you can see, at a price of $1,714.83.

YWG_LHR_1715

But check out what happens if you make a multi-city booking, taking the same flights from Winnipeg to London and back again, and adding an onward July 25 flight from Winnipeg to Calgary, a market in which Air Canada competes head-to-head with British Airways. Yes indeed, the total price actually drops to $1,603.08 — a saving of $111.75. Having collected your luggage 20 hours earlier in Winnipeg, just don’t show up for the July 25 Winnipeg to Calgary flight.

YWG_LHR_1603

This technique might also be useful for booking one-way flights in foreign lands, as well as for Americans looking to escape the extortionate fares that both U.S. and foreign airlines charge for international flights. Nonstop flights from Chicago to London, for example, currently sell for $2,471 (Cdn.) round-trip on the same July 11-24 dates noted above. Tacking on a July 25 flight from Chicago to Calgary via Denver reduces the price to $2,167 Cdn., a handsome $304 saving.

Cheaper still: making two separate bookings, one for a Chicago-Toronto July 10-25 round-trip, and the other for a Toronto-London July 11-24 round-trip, for a total of $1,877 Cdn. Even with two nights in an airport hotel factored in, the savings could easily amount to $400 per individual, or more than $900 for a couple sharing a room.

But before you do book such an itinerary, check out these cautionary words from the same Economist article quoted above:

. . . [S]ince most airlines’ conditions of carriage expressly forbid the practice, people who do it often enough to attract the company’s attention can have their frequent-flier accounts suspended, miles voided and any elite status revoked.

To search for hidden city itineraries for yourself, see Google Flights.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

2 Responses to The other “hidden city” trick that could shave $100 or more off your airfare

  1. Winnipeg Girl says:

    I consider myself somewhat of great travel planner and had not thought of this ploy before – I will try to keep it in mind – wish I had known for my Prague trip I just booked – who knows what I might have saved!

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    I’ve heard good things about Prague — and it’s apparently very reasonably priced, too, at least in terms of accommodations. (But beware of the pickpockets.)

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