Airline advises passenger to book Hidden City Ticket? Wait, what?

George Hobica, February 01, 2010
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. I want to book a one-way flight from Burlington, VT to Philadelphia in with no connection.  The nonstop flight costs $450 but if I book a one-way flight to Richmond via Philadelphia the price is $69.  I called the airline’s 800 number and was told I could get off at Philly and just not take the second leg to Richmond (they also told me they would refund me the difference which I know is not true).  Not trusting this answer, I went to the Burlington airport in person.  The airline agent was very helpful and said I needed to do a couple of things to make this work: don’t check bags and don’t book a return flight on the same reservation as they would cancel my return if I didn’t complete the outbound. Why in the world would they price this so differently? And is the information I received accurate?

    A. I’m really surprised that an airline employee would advise you to use what the industry refers to as “hidden city ticketing.” As far as I know, it’s against most airlines’ policies, and US Airways labels this as an “inappropriate booking practice” on its web site. The only airline that flies from Burlington to Philadelphia nonstop is US Airways, and since they have a monopoly on that service they can charge whatever they think the traffic will bear. Were you to buy this fare from a travel agency, US Airways might charge the agency the full $450 fare by issuing a “debit memo.” Also, were you to do this often, you might find yourself kicked out of the airline’s frequent flyer program, so it’s best not to enter your membership number.