Real World Airfare Savings: Using Hidden City Ticketing to Travel for Less

Last year I explained how to use ‘hidden city ticketing’ to save big money on airfare.

Airlines often price tickets from one city to another through a hub cheaper than flights that terminate at the hub.

Flying United New York to Milwaukee through Chicago is often much cheaper than just flying New York to Chicago.

But if you get off the plane in Chicago and don’t board your connection to Milwaukee, you’ve potentially saved yourself a lot of money. This is called hidden city ticketing.

In the live example I gave in that post, I helped someone save $1415 on a one-way ticket. That’s a big deal.

If you’re interested in the technique, read the post, it walks you through how to do it – and how not to do it – including simple pitfalls to avoid (you only want to throw away the last segment of an itienrary, and you don’t want to do this and check bags, plus if you do this a lot it may be best to use another airline partner frequent flyer number to credit miles to).

The savings aren’t always as substantial as $1415, of course, largely because most domestic airline tickets aren’t that expensive to begin with.

But since I’ve just completed a throwaway that saved a bit of money, I thought I’d share the example.

I’m always amazed at how well the US Airways and Delta ‘shuttle’ products between New York, DC, and Boston are able to hold price even when the flights are relatively empty. Sure, there are corporate discounts. But flying during business hours, even on a Wednesday morning, isn’t inexpensive.

Here’s New York-LaGuardia priced two weeks out:

It’s not $1000. But it’s more than I want to pay for the 214 mile flight.

There are several cities that you can use to connect through DC (using the same New York LaGuardia – Washington National segment) where the total ticket price is lower. I’ve found good prices to Jacksonville, Orlando, and Providence at various times.

Here’s what the same ticket costs if adding on a segment to Raleigh:

Guess which itinerary I thought was a better deal?

Before using this technique yourself, read the instructions to avoid problems.

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, thanks for the great reminder. Is it a correct assumption that the “hidden city” ticketing only works within domestic US flights? In another words, is there a way to do a one way hidden city ticketing from US to Asia? or another continent? Thanks

  2. @Neet, rarely does hidden city work for international flights, since one-way international flights are usually exorbitantly priced and almost never a good deal. the only good deal i foresee are flights from Boston or NY into London (since london oneways are pretty nicely priced)…. and you pick an airline that connects thru Ireland or continental Europe.

  3. Wow, that’s a great thought I never had – I’ve used this plenty flying out of LAX and using LAS – but it honestly never occurred to me in all these years to try to via SFO to another destination. I’ll definitely file this one away looking for the $88 over the ~$200 it peaks at now.

  4. ^ amended to say, I only used this on transcon or similar itineraries. And as side note, I’ve also done it outbound, but it’s dangerous – my flight TO Vegas was cancelled once, and left me missing my first leg. That took some explaining at LAX, which the gold card got me out of for $100 (once the CS agent saw the price I paid they smirked; I still saved more than $500).

  5. And if you want to connect through RDU? What could be your most promising final destinations?

  6. Funny coincidence, i had listed this as one of my favourite post in the chrome book giveaway!!

  7. MSP seems immune to this… Been trying forever. Every time I have found it and helped a friend, it is gone a few weeks later, never to return

  8. I always forget about this trick – so a reminder is very helpful.

    Coming from SAN I’m always shocked at how much they can charge for flights to LAX. On my first hypothetical, this saved ~$76 one-way when booked to LAS instead. This could make a positioning flight (on a different carrier from the long-haul flight, to avoid any problems) much more palatable.

  9. Given that you have publicly admitted you violated US Airways’ contract of carriage, Section 05-02 on page 11, I would like them to assess you for the difference. Between this and your fake AAA card on December 16, you have shown an appalling lack of honor and morality, in the AAA case bordering on outright fraud. The miles and points world needs to seriously consider who its leaders should be.

  10. @Adam what I am discussing here was recommended not that long ago in the New York Times. I paid for my AAA membership…And in any case in this post all I asked was which itinerary you think I believed was the better deal. I did not “publicly admitt[.. I] violated US Airways’ contract of carriage,”

  11. @Gary I try not too have to much of an opinion on this as it is not something I want to do and I can only set standards for myself, however just because the overrated New York Times prints something does not make it cool, legit or whatever you want to call it.

  12. @Michael – its just not any NYTimes article, it was a NATE SILVER article for crying out loud!!! Praise be to NATE, Lord of the Numbers! Infidels to speak ill Nate shall suffer eternal statistical damnation! 😉

  13. Of course I’ve also had my flights rerouted when something was cancelled or delayed and then had to talk them into keeping me going through Portland to get to Seattle so I could “meet a friend” in the airport instead of being routed directly to Seattle.

  14. One more funny story: when I was living in NorCal a few years ago I did this through SFO and my flight was late. This made the connection time very short for the “leg I didn’t take.” All I remember is walking out of the bathroom and hearing my name paged over the intercom telling me to hurry to the gate lest I “miss” my flight. Made me feel guilty for about 30 seconds. Now it’s just funny.

  15. AndrewM thanks for the link, I never laughed more at a corporate admonishment. Such whiny self-serving language, essentially tantamount to a temper tantrum throwing toddler threatening to take their toys and go home.

  16. A variation on “hidden city” from the bad old days when most domestic one ways were priced higher than round trips, and a “circle trip” could only have two stopovers with no open jaws. So SEA-ORD-SFO-SEA priced out as 3 halves of round trips (say $500), but SEA-ORD-SFO-PDX priced out as 3 one ways (say $1500). When I wanted to go SEA-ORD-SFO-PDX, I booked SEA-ORD-SFO-SEA with a “connection” in PDX and saved some serious money!!

  17. And while you are at it, would you mind making a guide on how to scam retailers by switching price tags to get items cheaper than advertised? It would be greatly appreciated.

  18. I was always wondering about this practice (not that I criticize it) – do flights get a little delayed waiting for these “no shows”?

  19. Love it when the self righteous tell everybody else what the moral standard is!!! 🙂 Love this blog, keep up the good work !!!

  20. @Kris Ziel: it’s not at all like scamming retailers, and I speak as a retailer. If a retailer offers a large discount if you buy cereal and milk together, but you only want the cereal, there’s nothing wrong with buying both and discarding the milk in the trash can as you leave the store.

  21. @Michael – no, even though they publish a column called “The Ethicist” 😛 But it does demonstrate that it isn’t outside of mainstream thinking, or at least isn’t obviously so

  22. EXCELLENT post! I don’t think I have seen any other blog that covered this topic so succinctly. I might actually try this now due to your explanation! Thank you!

  23. i don’t understand the haters here… the reason why travelers do this are the airlines themselves with their idiotic pricing practices. if they would try to make honest living, none of this would ever be going on.
    kudos to everyone who is clever enough to find these tickets.

  24. My best hidden ticketing experience was booking AUS-IAD-ROC on United for several hundred dollars less than AUS-IAD. When I checked in, I was informed that the IAD-ROC flight was oversold. I volunteered to take a later flight, if needed, in return for a $200 travel voucher. Unfortunately, there were some no shows, but it almost turned into a double win.

  25. “It is tantamount to switching price tags to obtain a lower price on goods sold at department stores.”

    No, it’s not like that at all. If you switch a tag from a $100 item with a $10 item, the retailer looses not only some profit, but ends up selling at a large loss.

    What it is tantamount to is paying for a 3 course meal and then not eating dessert.

    On the other hand, when we did this for technical reasons on an award flight recently, we did have the decency to let the airline know that “illness” prevented us from taking the final leg. That way they could fill upgrades, and board waitlisted passengers, in case the flight was full. And no one would be paging us about a final boarding call. 🙁

  26. @Gary — Unlike US, DL does not sell Shuttle-to-mainline connections at LGA because the Shuttle flights exclusively operate out of the isolated Marine Air Terminal. While it’s possible to force a multi-city Shuttle/mainline booking on, this practice typically results in a costly broken fare. What’s more, connecting from the Marine Air Terminal to the main Delta terminals (C and D) requires both reclaiming checked baggage and re-clearing security.

  27. “I did not “publicly admitt[.. I] violated US Airways’ contract of carriage,”


    “But since I’ve just completed a throwaway that saved a bit of money, I thought I’d share the example.”

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