Budget Friendly Travel Let's Travel Travel Tips

Travel Hack: Hidden City Ticketing

This is a somewhat lesser known travel hack that many travelers either aren’t aware of or have never used.  I’ve only done this once, a couple of years ago, and as I’ll explain later, it was because I had some miles to burn and I happened upon it by accident.

Hidden City Ticketing is best illustrated through example. Let’s say you need to book a last minute trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, but a one-way ticket is $350. But, you see there’s a one-way ticket to Washington DC with a layover in Charlotte that is only $225. You would book the ticket to DC, but ditch the second leg of your trip. You end up with a ticket that is $125 cheaper, which is a substantial savings.

That’s the gist. Obviously, there’s some “fine print” to keep in mind.

This hack does not work for round-trip tickets, because for all airlines, if you miss one leg of your trip, the rest of your reservation is automatically cancelled. So, understand that you’ll have to buy two one-ways or use miles to book the return leg if that’s what you need (which is what I did the only time I’ve ever done this.) You also cannot check a bag, since your checked bag will be sent through to the final destination, not where you’re skipping off. Also, there’s always the slim chance that your flight could get re-routed through a different destination, though in all my years of flying, such a thing has only ever happened to me once and it was a change from Chicago Midway to O’Hare, so it wouldn’t have made any difference if you were planning on ditching the second half of your flight.

I suppose you could try to do the same hidden city hack for your return trip, but airlines can absolutely catch onto this, and they really don’t like it. It violates most airlines’ ticketing policies. For that reason, don’t include your frequent flyer number when booking; I’ve read stories about airlines revoking passengers’ miles for abusing the practice. Legally, it’s a bit of a grey area. Airline ticketing rules don’t exactly have the force of law, so while the airline could ding you by revoking miles or possibly not allowing you to fly with them anymore, their penalties are pretty limited in scope. I read recently about British Airways cracking down on this, too. So this is a “Do at your own risk” kind of thing.

Finding these kinds of flights is not for those who are uncomfortable doing a lot of research and using advanced search methods on the internet. I happened across my hack by accident because I had seen something on Twitter advertising one-stop flights that happened to have a layover at my destination for a very cheap price.

But if you want to actually search a hidden-city ticket yourself, the best way to do it is by using this flight matrix. A quick how-to (here is a list of airport codes, which you’ll need for this hack):

  • Click on “One-way” then put in your originating airport.
  • Right under “Destination” click on “Advanced Routing Codes” which will open up another search space.
  • In the “Destination” space, put a few airports that might logically have layovers at your intended destination (you wouldn’t put SFO if you’re trying to go to New York from Texas, for example), and are otherwise major hubs (think LAX, ATL, SFO, and the like).
  • Then, in the “Enter outbound routing code” space, put x:[airport code of your actual destination].
  • Fill in your departure date and run the search; it will bring up all the flights to your listed destinations that have stops in your desired destination.

There is also a site called Skiplagged that can run these kinds of searches for you, though I’ve never used it myself so I’m not sure how easy or user friendly it is. United Airlines actually sued Skiplagged for this and lost, so round 1 goes to us cheapskate travelers!

I just did a search using the flight matrix and put in Charlotte as my actual destination, with flights to LaGuardia, Newark, JFK, Washington Reagan, and Philadelphia as my “intended destination”. It turned up a $117 one way ticket to Washington Reagan. A one way flight to Charlotte on Kayak was a $162 ticket, and a round trip ticket to Charlotte beginning on the same date and coming back a week later was $256.  Assuming you had miles for the return ticket or your return date had cheaper one way ticket prices than the ticket out there, it might be a worthwhile savings.   If you were to do something similar over  holiday weekend or during a busy flying time, you might get even larger savings.

Again, this is a lot of research and it doesn’t always yield flights that are cheaper enough to warrant doing it. So use other flight search methods before going this route. I think this method probably only comes in handy if you are extremely strapped for cash, where a $50 or so difference really matters, or if you are booking a very last-minute flight to a major hub city, since ticket prices to these destinations do fluctuate regularly and a last minute ticket could be extremely expensive. Ticket prices to smaller airports tend to have less fluctuation in ticket price, so the savings might not be as great if you’re trying to go to one of these smaller airports.



*Shout out to my BFF Melanie Donahue, who is the pinchiest of the penny pinchers, and inspires me to attempt budget hacks on the regular.

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  • Reply
    August 25, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    This is an awesome hack!!

    One way to search for the “final destination” for the matrix would be to look at the departures from your actual destination–unless it is a major international hub, there are often only a limited number of destinations you can reach from that airport. For example, DCA is my local preferred airport, and while not necessarily a small airport, it has a manageable list of cities it has departing flights to–and like Jayne said, with some common sense you can narrow that down even further to the ones that would be a final destination from your starting airport. Most airports have websites that will list the cities it has flights to; DCA’s is here: http://metwashairports.com/net/dcadepartures.aspx?t=rd. Also, FlightStats.com (and even more so, its app) is a FANTASTIC resource for all things flight-information related.

    Thanks for the post, Jayne!

    • Reply
      September 16, 2015 at 8:44 am

      When I travel, I want peace of mind about manikg sure my connections to and from the airport will run smoothly and like to explore my transportation options both price and convienience wise. It is nice to have access to detailed information in English about shuttle services, trains, etc even in places all over the world.I also usually look for customer reveiws about destinations and hotels, restaraunts, shopping etc.. I am a budget traveler, so I like to try and find the most bang for my buck wherever I go and I don`t like to rely on only commercial advertisements which may not give the full story. I also like to find out which destinations are unique to the area and which places are good for families (since I am now traveling with a small child). When planning a trip to Hong Kong for instance, I found out about an amuzement park/zoo/water park/aquarium/seaworld place called Ocean Park which turned out to be much less crowded and a better value than going to Hong Kong Disneyland and had a lot more culture as well! We only read about it in a few places but the place was fantastic and makes Hong Kong a wonderful family destination!

  • Reply
    September 15, 2015 at 10:31 am

    My husband and I trveal both in U.S.A. and in Europe for pleasure never for business. Which country or state we choose often depends on what there is to see or do there, with the cost of the flight itself being a only close second in priority. We live in Europe, and we’ve discovered that most American trveal businesses seem to be unable to process requests for information (brochures and such) sent to Europe, so getting that information online is very important to us. We seek trveal goals with interesting history, rich musical culture (especially traditional folk music), and nature trails for hiking and biking. Therefore, adding local bike rental shops and the area’s best hiking trails to a site would be very attractive to us. An interactive map also helps us to choose where to trveal. We like to make one city a kind of home base , so therefore suggested day trips from a certain location would be good. A list of area hotels is helpful, but we’ve found that it’s cheaper as well as more fun and interesting to just look for a mom and pop local hotel when we arrive rather than reserve a room in one of the more expensive cookie-cutter chain hotels. We couldn’t care less about shopping, restaurants, or nighclubs. We’re nature lovers, so where or what we eat is of little concern to us. Thanks for asking!

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