Our mission at Fly.com is to help our users save money on airfare. With that in mind, we want to share our thoughts on “hidden city ticketing” – a topic that has received a lot of attention in the media recently.

Back in November of last year, news broke that United Airlines and online travel agency Orbitz were suing a travel website called Skiplagged for “helping consumers buy what the companies call ‘hidden city’ plane tickets.” Since then there has been ongoing media coverage, with many individuals rallying to the side of the perceived underdog – Aktarer Zaman, the recent college graduate who founded Skiplagged.

But what exactly are hidden city tickets, and why should you be interested in the story?

In a nutshell, hidden city plane tickets are those routes that include a connection. If an airline can’t compete with another airline’s direct route, it will sometimes offer a non-direct flight via one of its hub airports and will undercut the price significantly to stay competitive.

The end result is a loophole that has been around for many years: Airlines occasionally charge less for a multi-legged flight than they do for the first leg of the same route. This means travelers who are only looking to fly to the hub destination can sometimes find a cheaper ticket if they book a fare that includes a stop after that city. They then get off at the layover destination, instead of flying on to the end destination.

Fly.com’s Take: Hidden City Tickets Offer More Cons Than Pros

While travelers in the know have been taking advantage of lower-priced hidden city plane tickets long before Skiplagged got into trouble for encouraging people to book these type of fares through Orbitz (without Orbitz’s permission), there are a number of compelling reasons why you should think twice before following suit.

  1. It is a violation of many airline contracts of carriage. If you are a repeat offender, there is a chance you will get caught, and this will likely mean kissing goodbye to your frequent flier status or worse.
  2. You can only book one-way flights. If you book a roundtrip and jump off at the midpoint on your outbound flight, you will find yourself in the difficult situation of having no return flights to come home. Airlines cancel the remaining flights on an itinerary after a no-show.
  3. You will have to pack light. Checking luggage through to the end destination is not an option when you intend to treat the layover as your end destination.
  4. Flight delays and cancellations could end up in your being rebooked on a direct flight to an end destination that you do not want, or you could be rerouted through a different hub.

And if none of the above makes you skittish, consider the ethics. The Economist recently published an article that said hidden city ticketing is “both selfish and economically harmful.” The simple reality is that it disguises the true capacity status of a flight while also taking revenue away from the airline. This means increased prices for the rest of us because airlines need to compensate for the no-shows.

If airline systems show there are only a few seats left, prices go up. If airline systems show there are no seats left, you and the airline lose out (the airline loses money on the seat for the second leg and you don’t get on the flight you want). Of course, if airlines lose substantial revenue from hidden city bookings, fares will go up for everyone!

Featured Image: Plane Taking off at Sunset (Shutterstock.com)

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