Is saving $200 worth the risk of a lifetime airline ban?
We’ll get to that in a second. But first…
If you’re looking for ways to save money on your next flight, you may have heard of something called hidden city ticketing. Maybe you’re unsure how it works or if it’s worth the risk.
In this guide to hidden city ticketing (sometimes known as the Flight Layover Hack), we’ll cover everything you need to know to make an informed decision.
From how it works to the pros and cons, and tips for maximizing savings while minimizing risk, we’ve got you covered. So let’s get to it!
What is Hidden City Ticketing?
Hidden city ticketing is a strategy where travelers book a flight with a layover at their desired destination but intentionally do not continue on to the final destination. Instead, they get off the plane during the layover. For example, if you want to fly from New York to Phoenix, you could book a flight from New York to Los Angeles with a layover in Phoenix, and simply get off the plane during the layover and stay in Phoenix.
This can sometimes result in significant savings, as flights to smaller, less popular cities can be much cheaper than direct flights to larger destinations.
Example of Hidden City Ticketing:
Here’s a simple example of the hidden city ticketing flight hack in practice:
The top flight ($87) is considered a hidden city fare because this itinerary is actually a flight from Newark (EWR) to Dallas (DFW) but with a stop in Los Angeles (LAX).
The bottom flight ($94) is a direct flight from Newark to Los Angeles, which costs $7 more than the hidden city fare.
Obviously, at such a tiny price difference this is not a flight many people who chose — but it still works to illustrate the point of how this all works.
The Pros of Hidden City Ticketing:
The most significant (and really the only) benefit of hidden city ticketing is the potential cost savings.
This flight layover hack can sometimes help you save hundreds of dollars on airfare, especially for international flights.
And now with websites and apps like Skiplagged that track and show you these hidden fares, it’s easier than ever to find hidden city ticketing options.
But all of these benefits come with some pretty significant risks which you1 need to know about before you consider this cheap flight hack.
The Risks of Hidden City Ticketing:
There are several risks associated with hidden city ticketing that you need to be aware of before deciding to use this strategy.
Firstly, airlines typically consider it a violation of their terms and conditions, and they may penalize travelers if they discover that they are using hidden city ticketing. You could be banned from the airline, or they could potentially confiscate all of your frequent flier miles, or take other legal action against you.
Additionally, if you miss a connecting flight due to a delay or other issue, you may be unable to continue your journey and could be stranded in the layover city.
Airline Cancels Your Return Flight
Another potential risk of hidden city ticketing is that airlines may cancel your return flight if they notice you are using this strategy. This means that if you book a round-trip flight and skip a leg of the outbound journey, your return tickets could be invalidated, leaving you stranded at your layover location. It’s important to note that you should only use hidden city ticketing for one-way flights.
Airline Changes Connection City Last Minute
This is rare — only about a 2% chance according to Skiplagged — but it does happen.
Sometimes due to maintainance or logistics issues, flight plans change at the last minute and the connection city you were going to stay in is no longer part of the itinerary at all.
Checked Luggage Issues
Finally, if you check luggage that is tagged all the way through to the final destination, you won’t be able to retrieve it until you reach the end of your journey.
This means that if you use hidden city ticketing, you should only bring carry-on luggage, as a checked bag will continue on without you, and you will have no way to retrieve it.
You’ll want to ensure that your carry on bag meets the size requirements. The last thing you want to happen is for your luggage to be over the size allowance, and have them force-check it at the gate. You’ll be out of luck.
If you’re using this hack to fly internationally, you could run into a visa issue and not be allowed to depart.
Most airlines will check before ticketing that you have the proper visa to enter the foreign country you’re supposedly going to as your final destination.
For example, if you book a flight from Boston to Beijing with a layover in Italy, and your plan is to just stay in Italy, the airline will still make sure you have a Chinese visa, because you’re supposedly going to Beijing.
Tips for Minimizing Risk:
To minimize the risks of hidden city ticketing, there are several tips you can follow:
Firstly, always read the terms and conditions of your airline’s contracts of carriage and loyalty program before booking.
Additionally, only use hidden city ticketing for one-way flights and avoid checking any luggage to ensure that you have all your belongings with you during the layover.
Keep in mind that this travel hack is mostly against the airlines terms and conditions, and they do not take kindly to it. You won’t get arrested, but there could be negative implications for your travel future.
Always Compare to Direct
It’s also important to note that while hidden city ticketing can be a great way to save money, it’s not always the best option.
Make sure to compare prices of direct flights and hidden city ticketing options to determine which is the most cost-effective and risk-free.
Often it is really just cheaper to fly direct to the destination.
Hidden City Ticketing FAQs
1. What is Hidden City Ticketing?
Hidden city ticketing is a travel hack where passengers book a flight with a layover at their desired destination and intentionally do not continue to the final destination. This can sometimes result in significant cost savings, as flights to smaller, less popular cities can be cheaper than direct flights to larger destinations.
2. Why would someone use hidden city ticketing?
The primary reason someone might use hidden city ticketing is to save money on airfare. This strategy can help travelers save hundreds of dollars, especially on international flights.
3. Are there any websites or apps that help find hidden city ticketing options?
Yes, websites and apps like Skiplagged track and display hidden fares, making it easier to find hidden city ticketing options.
4. Is hidden city ticketing legal?
While hidden city ticketing is not illegal as of 2022, it typically violates airlines’ terms and conditions/Contracts of Carriage. And with only a few major airlines left in the US, you don’t want to be banned by any of them, unless you can afford a private jet like Taylor Swift.
Airlines may penalize travelers caught using this strategy, including banning them from the airline, confiscating frequent flier miles, or taking other legal action.
Lufthansa has previously taken a passenger to court over the practice, but then later dropped the case.
For your reference, here are the Contracts of Carriage (aka Terms and Conditions) as of April 2023 for the top 4 US Airlines by passenger traffic:
5. What are the risks of using hidden city ticketing?
Some risks of using hidden city ticketing include being stranded at the layover city due to missed connections or airline cancellations, having checked luggage sent to the final destination, potential visa issues for international flights, and airlines taking punitive action against you for going against their terms of service.
6. Can I use hidden city ticketing for round-trip flights?
It is not recommended to use hidden city ticketing for round-trip flights, as airlines may cancel your return flight if they notice you are using this strategy. It is best to use hidden city ticketing for one-way flights only.
7. Can I check luggage when using hidden city ticketing?
It is not advisable to check luggage when using hidden city ticketing, as your checked bags will be tagged to the final destination and you will not be able to retrieve them during the layover. Travelers should only bring carry-on luggage when using this strategy.
8. How can I minimize the risks of hidden city ticketing?
To minimize the risks, always read the terms and conditions of your airline’s contracts of carriage and loyalty program before booking, only use hidden city ticketing for one-way flights, and avoid checking luggage. Also make sure you have the correct visas for international flights.
9. Can hidden city ticketing cause visa issues?
Yes, using hidden city ticketing for international flights could potentially cause visa issues. Airlines will check that you have the proper visa for your final destination, even if you plan to stay in the layover country.
10. How do I know if hidden city ticketing is right for me?
Hidden city ticketing can be a useful way to save money on flights. However, it’s important to understand the potential risks and restrictions before deciding to use this strategy and balancing that against the cost savings.
Compare prices of direct flights and hidden city ticketing options and the potential risks listed above to determine for yourself whether it’s worth it.
I don’t personally recommend using this method in most cases, but by following the tips for minimizing risk and weighing the pros and cons, you can make your own informed decision on whether hidden city ticketing is the right option for your travel needs.