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A few weeks ago, I wrote about my attempt to hidden city ticket in Tanzania and being threatened with arrest if I didn’t get back on the plane to my official destination. Nevertheless, since hidden city ticketing can often save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles, I wanted to outline four of the best ways I know how to do it.
What is hidden city ticketing?
Hidden city ticketing is when a passenger books a ticket to a destination that is different than their intended final destination in order to save money. For example, let’s say you want to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis on Delta Airlines. It is often cheaper to book a flight to Chicago with a layover in Minneapolis, and then simply leave the airport in Minneapolis, not taking the second leg to Chicago. This itinerary is typically cheaper because Delta’s pricing algorithm accounts for the fact that people are willing to pay more for a nonstop flight than for one with a stopover.
Because of how certain airlines price their award tickets, hidden city ticketing can often save you way more miles than it can save you cash. Below, I’ll explain which airlines have the best opportunities to do that and how to take advantage of them.
Before we start, it’s worth noting that airlines don’t like when customers hidden city ticket because it generally means they make less money. And while it’s not illegal (as far as I know–I’m not a lawyer), Lufthansa even went so far as to actually sue a passenger who did it, though the airline eventually dropped the suit. All this is to say that you should be prepared for things not always to go smoothly, especially if you hidden city ticket frequently. Here are a few rules of thumb to minimize the chances of things going sideways:
- Don’t check bags unless you’re going to the US because your baggage will be checked through to the destination on your ticket, not your intended final destination.
- Only skip the last leg of your itinerary because skipping any leg of your journey will automatically cancel the rest of the ticket.
- Have a refundable backup flight from your ticketed destination to your intended destination in case your stopover changes or for whatever reason you’re unable to get to your intended destination (as happened to me in Tanzania).
- Make sure you meet all the travel requirements for the destination you’re ticketed to, even if you don’t intend to go. For example, if you’re ticketed from Sydney to Mexico City but plan to get off in LA, you’ll still need all the necessary visas for Mexico to check in for the flight.
Avianca, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic: Multi-cabin awards
Avianca, Cathay Pacific, and Virgin Atlantic price mixed cabin award availability differently than multi-leg itineraries in a single cabin, meaning you can book a business class ticket to a destination more cheaply if you have another economy class leg afterwards.
For example, let’s say you want to fly from Frankfurt to Detroit. With Avianca’s LifeMiles program, the ticket cost is 63,000 miles and $147.
However, if we look at tickets through to Montreal, the total cost is just 61,110 miles and $13, saving 2,000 miles and $135.
What’s nice about this itinerary (and any hidden city ticket to the US) is that travellers to the US are required to pickup and recheck their bags. That means that if you were to fly this itinerary only to Detroit, you’d be able to check a bag and pick it up in Detroit, which is something you’re usually not able to do while hidden city ticketing because airlines normally check baggage through to your final destination.
KLM, Air France, American: Itineraries through hubs
When booking with KLM, Air France, or American, award tickets to hubs are often more expensive than award tickets to smaller airports, even if you have a stopover in said hub.
For example, let’s say you want to go from New York to Paris. The cost of a direct JFK-CDG flight is 73,000 miles.
However, a ticket from New York to Stockholm that contains the exact same flight between JFK and CDG is 25% cheaper than the other ticket, costing just 55,000 miles.
Turkish Airlines: Inter-region itineraries with stops in other regions
This one is pretty wild, and I have to thank one of my very favorite blogs, FrequentMiler, for finding a great recent example using Turkish Airlines’ Miles&Smiles program.
The generally principal goes like this: you want to travel from Region A to Region B. The cost to travel between regions (e.g. from Region A to Region B) is generally higher than the cost to travel within a region (e.g. from one place in Region A to another place in Region A). On certain airlines, you’ll sometimes find itineraries that go from one place in Region A to another place in Region A but stop over in Region B, where you want to end up. This itinerary will invariably be cheaper than a direct Region A to Region B because it’s technically counted as an interregion itinerary.
Using a real life example, let’s say you want to travel from Hanoi to Istanbul. The cost for this direct flight is 105,000 miles and $275.
Amazingly, though, an itinerary from Hanoi to Jakarta goes through Istanbul, which means we can actually get the same flight to Istanbul for just 30,000 miles and $530. Granted, the fees are higher, but the value of the points you’re saving is still a lot more than the extra fees.
This is just one example, and though many won’t allow you to transit a third region, I’ve frequently seen less outlandish versions of this same thing with other airlines including Cathay.
Delta: Itineraries between non-US cities with US stop
Delta frequently charges far more for award tickets, especially in business class, to or from the US. By buying an itinerary between two non-US cities that stops in the US, you can often get to or from the US in business class much, much more cheaply than you otherwise would.
For example, let’s say that you want to come back to LA from Sydney in Delta One. That ticket will cost you an eye-watering 410,000 miles.
Luckily, for just 95,000 miles, you can get the exact same flight by getting an itinerary through to Mexico City that transits LAX.
If you’re willing to take the risk, hidden city itineraries can get you a lot of bang for your points. New opportunities arise all the time and the ones I outlined here are only those I’ve found to work.