Airfare pricing doesn’t always make sense and you can sometimes save money by booking a roundtrip flight instead of a one-way ticket or a flight beyond your intended destination and skipping the connecting flight.

How to Book Hidden City Tickets for Cheap Flights

This type of itinerary is often referred to as a “hidden city” or “throwaway” ticket. For example, let’s say you want to travel nonstop from New York to Dallas, but it’s cheaper to fly from New York to Albuquerque with a stop in Dallas. You can book the cheaper “hidden city” ticket from New York to Albuquerque and just skip the connecting flight from Dallas to Albuquerque once you’ve landed in your intended destination, Dallas.

What You Need to Know About Hidden City Tickets

In short:

  • Only skip flight legs at the end of a flight itinerary
  • Don’t check any bags
  • Don’t tell the airline you intend to skip a flight
  • Don’t use hidden city tickets too often

Once you have skipped a flight, all remaining flight legs on your itinerary will be canceled by the airline. So, you wouldn’t want to purchase a roundtrip flight itinerary if you planned on skipping a flight leg on your outbound trip. Instead, you would need to book two separate one-way flights in each direction or plan to skip a leg at the end of your return flight.

Can I skip the first leg of my flight?

No, you cannot skip the first leg of any itinerary. As stated above, after you’ve skipped a flight, all remaining flight legs on your itinerary will be canceled by the airline. It may seem silly, but this is a common mistake many infrequent travelers make. For example, it’s more expensive to buy a nonstop flight from San Francisco to Tokyo so you buy a cheaper flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo that stops in San Francisco. You cannot simply skip the first flight from LA to SF and board the plane from San Francisco to Tokyo. You must position down to LA and start flying from LA.

Can I skip my return leg on a roundtrip ticket?

Yes, but don’t make it a habit. Sometimes roundtrip tickets are much cheaper than one-way flights. You’ll find this more often on international flights. For example, at the time of writing, the cheapest one-way ticket on a nonstop United flight from San Francisco to London-LHR is $2,059 while the cheapest roundtrip ticket is $392 ($552 in standard Economy). If you only want to fly one-way on that specific flight, save up to $1,667 by booking a roundtrip flight and just don’t show up for the return flight.

San Francisco to London $2,059 one-way in standard Economy

San Francisco to London $392 roundtrip in Basic Economy

San Francisco to London $552 roundtrip in standard Economy

If you do this on a regular basis, the airline may take action against you since you are technically breaking the airline’s rules by intentionally missing your return flight. But if it’s a one-time occurrence, there is a very small chance the airline will notice.


Related: You Might Be Buying Domestic Airfare All Wrong


Can I check bags when skipping a flight?

For the most part, you cannot travel with checked bags when flying on a hidden city ticket. If your flight is ticketed from New York to Albuquerque via Dallas, your checked bag will go to Albuquerque even though you plan to get off the plane in Dallas.

The only times you can check a bag when you are planning to skip a flight leg is when traveling on a roundtrip ticket where you only plan to skip the return flight or if you’re able or required to pick up your checked bags at an intermediary stop.

For example, international flights landing in the U.S. require you to claim your luggage at the first point of entry, take the bags through customs, and then re-check to the final destination. Even though your bag may be tagged from Tokyo to Los Angeles, if you are stopping in San Francisco on the way, you will be able to pick up your checked luggage in San Francisco and still skip the flight from SF to LA.

This is a requirement for international flights arriving in the U.S. but is not the case when connecting in many parts of the world. Make sure to check what the procedures are for checked luggage when connecting in other countries before you check a bag. If your itinerary requires a long or overnight layover where you intend to stay, you can usually check a bag to the intermediary stop, but confirm this with the airline.

Can I gate check my bag when skipping a flight?

This depends on the type of aircraft you’ll be flying. Most regional carriers operating flights on smaller jets for American, Delta, and United only gate check your larger carry-on bags to the next airport where you claim it at the gate once you arrive. In this case, it will be ok to gate check your bag since you will be picking it up at the gate immediately after exiting the aircraft.

However, if you’re flying on a larger mainline aircraft, bags checked at the gate usually get tagged to the final destination on your reservation and will be transferred by the ground staff at the connecting airport. Therefore, it is imperative that you board the plane as early as possible to ensure there is space in the cabin for your bag. It’s best to travel as light as possible when you plan to skip a flight so you don’t run into a situation where you are forced to check your bag.

Keep in mind that Basic Economy passengers are last to board so you may want to pay a little extra for the standard or Main Cabin Economy fare.


Related: A New Look at Basic Economy for Domestic and Short-Haul International Travel


Should I tell the airline that I plan to skip a flight?

While you may think it’s good will to let the airline know there will be a free seat on the next flight, you should not tell the airline you plan to skip a flight. Airlines frown upon passengers who skip flight legs to save money. There is usually a provision in the contract of carriage that prohibits this action, and if the airline finds out you plan to skip a flight, your ticket may be canceled.

Some airlines may go as far as canceling any frequent flyer miles you have earned with the carrier so you may not want to associate your account number when you plan to skip a flight. Unless you skip flight legs to save money on a regular basis, the airline most likely won’t notice.

Do I need a visa or proof of onward travel when traveling on an international itinerary?

As far as the airline is concerned, you are traveling to the destination on the ticketed itinerary. If you have booked a ticket to an international destination, you must travel with a passport and may need to provide documentation that you have any required visas or proof of onward travel if you only have a one-way ticket. These documents are usually required when you check in for the first flight on your itinerary—even if the first leg is a domestic flight. Be prepared with the required documents and keep this in mind when booking a hidden city ticket with an international itinerary.


Related: How to Provide Proof of Onward Travel When Traveling One-Way Internationally


What are the risks when traveling on a hidden city ticket?

In rare cases of irregular flight operations or cancelations, your flight may get rerouted through another hub city. This is the risk you’ll have to take when traveling on a hidden city ticket. If this happens, you can plead with the airline that the routing no longer works for you and try to suggest another routing through your intended destination. It helps to be extra courteous in these situations, but there is no guarantee you’ll be able to reroute. An airline is only obligated to fly you to your ticketed destination.

As stated above, it’s also a risk that you’ll be forced to check a bag beyond where you intend to travel. If you can travel with just a small personal item, you’ll never have to check a bag. Traveling on a Basic Economy ticket is the riskiest as you will be the last to board. Also, keep in mind that United’s Basic Economy fares only allow a small personal item onboard for domestic and short-haul international travel.

While skipping a flight to save money doesn’t break any laws, you may be breaking an airline’s contract of carriage. It’s pretty rare, but an airline may cancel your frequent flyer account. So, if you’re aiming to get elite status on an airline, you may want to avoid hidden city ticketing.


Related: Why You Should Never Skip an Onward Flight


How to Find Cheap Hidden City Tickets

Skiplagged

The easiest way to find hidden city tickets is by searching on Skiplagged. It was created for this very purpose and is an excellent tool to reveal cheaper flights that may go beyond your intended destination.

When searching for flights on Skiplagged, it will indicate which flight options are “hidden city” tickets by stating it’s a “skiplagged rate”.

When clicking through to book these flights, Skiplagged will give a warning that you are booking a hidden city ticket and make you click a checkbox that you understand the caveats when booking this type of ticket. Skiplagged will then provide a direct URL that you can copy and paste into a new browser window and it will take you directly to the airline site to book your ticket.

Skiplagged also sells tickets for standard itineraries that do not require you to skip a flight. In this case, Skiplagged acts as an online travel agency (OTA) and usually charges a fee to book the ticket depending on the airline. After searching a few routes, I found booking fees to range between $5-$35 (it seems to be a percentage of the fare and depends on the airline). And some of the fares listed were much higher than what is available on the airline’s website so I would recommend checking directly with the airline or another OTA to compare.


Related: The Best Tools for Flexible Date Searches


Google Flights Explore Map 

There are also other ways savvy travelers can unearth hidden city fares and it’s a good idea to check since no one travel site is perfect and Skiplagged’s algorithm doesn’t always find all options. At the time of writing, my example of a one-way flight from New York-LGA to Albuquerque with a stop in Dallas-DFW is selling for $87 on several sites and travel dates, but this flight option is not showing up on Skiplagged if you search for a flight from New York-LGA to Dallas-DFW as it should.

To find hidden city ticket options using Google Flights explore map, first search for a flight to your intended destination. After figuring out which airlines fly nonstop, if any, isolate those airlines using the filters to search for flights on those airlines only. Then, delete the arrival city and either hit the tab key on your keyboard or click in a blank space outside the box. This will bring you to a map view where you can scan around and zoom in/out to find where there might be a cheaper flight available to another city that may route through your intended destination.

This method will take a little trial and error so it may be best to first search on Skiplagged for the cheapest airline and then try Google Flights explore map just to see if there may be any cheaper options on that specific airline. In my example, I decided to only isolate American Airlines, because Dallas-DFW is a hub city for American. Looking at the map, I see the $87 flight to Albuquerque and after clicking through I see that it does indeed have a stop in Dallas-DFW. This flight is cheaper than the $139 nonstop flight and also cheaper than the $117 option I saw on Skiplagged.

New York to Albuquerque (via Dallas) $87 one-way

New York to Dallas $139 one-way, nonstop

New York to Dallas search on Skiplagged $117 one-way (filtering out Spirit)

For more advanced searches, use ITA Matrix software to conduct custom searches where you can use codes to search for flights utilizing specific layover cities and even specific flights. You won’t be able to book any flights through ITA searches, but you can use the information to book flights directly with the airline or any other booking engine.


Related: Airline Hub Guide: Which U.S. Cities Are Major Hubs and Why It Matters


When Skipping a Flight Can Save the Most

You’ll notice the biggest savings when you simply want to fly one-way internationally on certain flights that have exorbitant prices. By booking a roundtrip flight and just skipping the return flight, you can often save hundreds or even thousands.

Most “hidden city” deals are one-way flights to hub cities where it can be very expensive to fly on a standard nonstop flight ticketed to that destination. Airlines often charge a premium to fly nonstop—especially on routes with little competition. An airline will often sell cheaper flights to places like Florida or Vegas where there is a lot of competition. If you’re traveling from a smaller city, those flights may route through a large hub and could be cheaper than the overpriced nonstop flight ticketed only to the hub city.

Of course, if you are booking one-way flights and plan to return to the city you’re departing from, you’ll need to see how much it is to fly back to see if you’ll actually save any money compared to booking a normal roundtrip flight. It can be hard to find cheap hidden city tickets for one-way flights in both directions unless you are flying between two hub cities. If you have any frequent flyer miles or points to use, it may be worthwhile to book an award flight in one direction when traveling the other direction on a hidden city ticket.


Related: How to Find the Cheapest Flight for Your Next Trip


When You Should Avoid Hidden City Tickets

Not every traveler is able to or should take advantage of hidden city ticketing. If the savings are minimal, it’s probably best to travel on a regular ticket to avoid any potential issues. Also, if you are trying to earn frequent flyer status with an airline, it may be best not to risk losing any privileges by breaking an airline’s contract of carriage.

Travelers who pack heavy should also avoid hidden city tickets since you cannot check bags and an airline may require over packed or extra carry-on bags to be checked at the gate. And you should also avoid hidden city ticketing on a regular basis since the airlines are likely to notice and take action if you are continually skipping flight legs on purpose.

Skipping flight legs to save money is a controversial issue. Some say hidden city tickets are cheating the system and raising airfares for other consumers. Others argue that a customer is not required to consume all that they have purchased. Since there are many potential issues when traveling on a ticket beyond your intended destination, it can be a stressful and complicated way to travel. For an easier way to take a cheap flight, sign up for airfare alerts and be notified when standard tickets go on sale to your intended destination.


Related: Why Airlines Hate Hidden City Ticketing (and maybe you should too)


Featured image by Uskarp / shutterstock.com

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