Save Money On Expensive Plane Tickets With This Simple Trick

The recent spike in the price of crude oil — from which jet fuel is refined — combined with staffing shortages and pent-up demand for travel following the Covid-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm to send the price of plane tickets soaring. But a little-known loophole exists that could save you up to 80% off your next airfare purchase.It's called booking a "hidden city" flight, which the website jacksflightclub defines as "when you buy a ticket with the intention of leaving the plane at a stopover, rather than the final destination."

Normally travelers avoid layovers when possible because the process of landing, transferring flights, and taking off a second time adds significant time to a journey, not to mention the increased possibility of pitfalls like delays and lost luggage. With a hidden city flight, once you've arrived at the layover city, you just leave the airport, abandoning the onward portion of your journey.

For example, a flight from Miami to Las Vegas might cost $300 but a flight from Miami to San Francisco with a layover in Las Vegas might only cost $150.  In theory, the flight to Las Vegas should be less expensive than the other way around since the airline is transporting you hundreds of extra miles on a second flight to reach San Francisco, but airlines' pricing models are not always logical to the layperson. For instance, airlines may be locked in price competition with other airlines on certain routes, but not others. 

So what's the catch?

It's possible to identify hidden city opportunities using traditional tools like Google Flights or Kayak, but it's much faster and simpler to take advantage of a website that specializes in exploiting these secret deals. One of the best-known is called Skiplagged, a company that boasts "Our unique algorithm shows the cheapest regular flights and hidden-city flights faster than any other site." The website continues, "We are improvers and frequent travelers. We believe consumers should have more power over how they spend their money."

If you do decide to take advantage of a hidden city ticket for your next trip, there are a few caveats to know. In case it's not obvious, you won't be able to check any luggage since it won't be retrievable until the itinerary's official final destination. Furthermore, even bringing a carry-on bag is a gamble since it's possible that the cabin's overhead bins might fill up on a packed flight, requiring you to "gate check" the bag into the plane's luggage compartment. The best bet is to bring something like a backpack that's small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you, so do plan to pack light.

Not boarding the ongoing flight at the layover city will invalidate any additional flights on the same ticket, meaning that skiplagged flights shouldn't be booked as a round-trip. A second ticket must purchased separately for the return leg. Finally, it's probably best to avoid hidden city tickets with an international final destination, even if you don't intend to actually go there. Such itineraries could require a visa, showing your passport, or evidence of a return ticket to board the first leg. 

Is this even legal?

Booking skiplagged flights isn't illegal, but it most certainly is a violation of airline policies. In August 2023, a teenage passenger was banned from American Airlines for three years after he attempted to fly from Florida to North Carolina on an itinerary bound for New York, according to Forbes. Skiplagged itself has been sued by the airlines multiple times, including by United in 2014 and Southwest in 2021. While the United suit was dismissed, Skiplagged agreed to a confidential out-of-court settlement with Southwest.

The company is now being sued for a third time, this time by American Airlines, which asserts, "Skiplagged knows any ticket it issues is at risk for invalidation, and that American could simply cancel the ticket if detected, so Skiplagged hides its activity. It also tells its customers to hide it from American."

So while hidden city ticket can be a useful tool to occasionally save money on travel provided that you're okay with bringing minimal luggage, even the skiplagged website itself recommends that customers "Do not overuse hidden-city itineraries" and that "You might upset the airline, so don't do this often." A final caution is not to provide your frequent flyer account information to the airline when booking a skiplagged ticket to prevent retribution by invalidating miles or points in the account.