WORST CASE SCENARIO: You Save Money on Airfare With Throwaway Ticketing, and Then…

Someone I know might have been flying on a throwaway ticket over the past few weeks.

This is one of the best, most useful techniques for saving money on airfare.

Sure, flying to Chicago might be really expensive, but connecting in Chicago enroute to Milwaukee is downright cheap. You buy a one-way ticket to Milwaukee, get off in Chicago, and save money.

That’s great until… either you have to check bags (those will go on to Milwaukee) or your flight is cancelled. The airline rebooks you. On a non-stop flight to your destination. That’s the risk.

That happened. And not the checked bag part.

The airline sent a flight cancellation notice, and it was my job to call and I found that the reservation had already been rebooked. To a city that was in the itinerary, but the passenger had no plan to visit.

That’s not going to work. I explain that I need the original routing, it was booked on purpose. If I needed, I had a whole bunch of reasons why that’s the case. My favorite of course is “I’m having an affair and I just need a 40 minute connection in the lounge…

What flights would I like? Why the departure that’s one hour later than the originally scheduled flight, thank you! And then the next flight onto the ticketed destination.

What, you don’t think anyone can have an affair with a 36 minute connection? That’s less than the published minimum coitus connecting time? Well then the next connecting flight will work. (No one is going to take it anyway!)

They agreed to do that. But they set up the reservation for the wrong flights, so it took another call (and they really, really wanted to help out with a non-stop flight). But problem solved.

You can save money, but it’s not always seamless.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. No need for the lounge. Most terminals have “Family bathrooms” these days.

  2. Just curious if your friend saved enough money on that ticket to make it worth the time and aggravation of going through the re-booking process.

  3. MKE’s an easy train ride to Chicago. Worst case scenario: take Amtrak from MKE to Union Station. You’ll probably beat the Blue Line anyway.

  4. Maybe not seamless, but it is unseemly!

    Newbies to hidden city ticketing need to know Southwest’s new unannounced policy: You earn ZERO points when you don’t fly the whole route, and there’s no remedy.

  5. Ok, I can see both sides of the issue. BUT, are you even remotely aware why airlines severely clamped down on this practice and can make a travelers nightmare (more to the point, a frequent flyer members nightmare) come true is because the TRAVEL AGENT community was practically advertising this practice, way before blogs came into existence. Debit memos and even fqtv account reviews sound familiar? Granted, the airlines pricing policies need review, but it would be nice to not see this type of promotion/practice plastered about blogs. If people don’t think airlines read blogs too, they need to wake up and smell the coffee. Too much abuse being touted, even if it is veiled to a certain degree, will surely bring about more restrictions for award travelers – like there aren’t already enough right now.

  6. At least THIS site doesn’t discuss it as much as another site, written by someone else, who seems to be constantly discussing this practice. His is more of a “beware” on one hand then a “wink wink nod nod” on the other hand.but still …

  7. >> You can save money, but it’s not always seamless.

    Or honest. I am constantly amazed not only that people are willing to trade their integrity for a few dollars, but also how brazen they are by putting their real name/identity to it.

    What must their employer’s think about people who are so morally bankrupt?

  8. How do legacy airlines handle points on hidden cities/throwaway tickets? For example, I recently booked DL MIA-MSP-DTW-ORD, but am getting off at DTW. Will I get credit for MIA-MSP-DTW before my upset stomach sets in and I miss the final leg?

  9. I needed CLT-ATL and the airfares on US and DL were absurd. Close to $1000. For a 36 minute flight!

    google.com/flights showed me a “throwaway” of $168 for CLT-ATL-SAV. For the return, same deal. I looked at ATL-CLT-AVL for $250 instead of $800 for the direct on US or Delta. In the end, I drove it. I just could not justify spending $500 (plus $300 for a rental car from ATL) that saved me no real time door-to-door. Maybe I’ll do it next time.

  10. If there is a cancellation, in the US, you can move to pretty much any flights you’d like (so long as they are operated by your carrier). While they may auto-book you to the non-stop to your theoretical destination, a simple phone call to say the proposed itinerary is unacceptable will resolve the matter.

    The only real issue HCT’ers face is if you inadvertently check bags. Schedule change isn’t an issue.

  11. Yeaa… been there… booked a DEN-MSP-ORD-xxx flight once for $40, with only that first leg needed….
    I missed the flight, and had to walk up to the counter. Very awkward discussion at the counter as they tried to put my on the direct flight to chicago! “I need to hand deliver a gift to a friend at the MSP airport…”

    They accommodated but probably knew…

  12. …and then AA sends you a letter and in a best case scenario confiscates 20k miles. In a worst case scenario, AA will close your acct and nuke your status. Plenty of folks reporting about this recently. Getting rebooked on a different routing is the least of your worries if you do this often.

  13. @HubFlyer: EXCELLENT, nicely put and could not agree with you more!!!
    @AAExplat: Very impressed by your response. It’s the kind I’d expect to hear from more people here especially those ‘in the know’. I mean its not just being cheap, it’s being dishonest and = to no respect. And some people wonder why airlines’ have a certain attitude toward frequent flyers at times?

  14. @Gary. I obviously didn’t know what airline you were speaking of, but I suspect if AA is enforcing it now, the others won’t be far behind.

    @CT. Bingo. My advice would be to be very careful with playing games with fares and inventory. AA is cracking down hard on all of those incident types. DL has to be capable and UA may take some time, but with three major players left (4if you count SW), the response may be swift and unilateral.

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