Web

This secret trick could save you money on airfare — but beware

secret airlines hidden cities fares screws everyone else city plane tickets
With December just around the corner, it’s little wonder that travelers are scrambling online to book tickets home for the holidays. But along with travel aggregators like Orbitz, Kayak and Travelocity, there’s a new player in town generating a lot of buzz lately: Skiplagged. It’s little wonder why. The site promises lower fares than any of them through a little-known loophole called “hidden-city” fares. The tactic can save people so much money that United Airlines and Orbitz are desperately trying to sue it out of existence.

Sound too good to be true? The prices are quite real, but the consequences of buying tickets this way, from potentially losing all your frequent-flier miles to getting billed retroactively, aren’t always spelled out up front.

Here’s how hidden-city booking works: Let’s say you’re planning a trip from Portland to New York City, and the airline wants $250 for a one-way ticket. Through the intricate quirks of an airline’s advanced route and price planning, a ticket from Portland to Boston with a layover in New York City might actually be cheaper, at $150. If you book the ticket from Portland to Boston and just leave the airport when you arrive in New York City, you save $100. New York City is the “hidden city” in this itinerary.

If you’re caught, you won’t go to jail, but the punishment could be severe.

Essentially, you book a flight to a destination you never intend to make it to with your intended destination as a connection, and save some money. But airlines view your $100 savings as $100 of missing revenue, and therefore ban this form of travel in the terms and conditions you agree to when you buy a ticket (it’s such a sore topic, none of the airlines we contacted responded to our queries).

From an airline’s perspective, connecting flights are a way to offer fliers cheaper fares than nonstop flights, but still try to make a profit. Hidden cities are a consequence of the way they price tickets – based on the origin and destination cities.

“Airlines aren’t pricing flight segments; their pricing is set in order to get you from point A to point Z regardless of how many stops are in between,” explains Brett Snyder, president and author of one of the airline industry’s most recognized blogs, Crankyflier.com. “If people are buying one product from point A to point Z but they are getting off at point G, then they are impacting the airline revenue forecasts.”

Finding a hidden-city fare used to be a convoluted process that has required more time than it was worth for all but the most frugal fliers. But Skiplagged cuts out the legwork and shows you hidden-city fares whether you ask for them or not. What was once a small loophole among a small group of savvy fliers has turned into a well-publicized deal anyone can take advantage of with minimal effort.

“I can’t say I know how common it is in practice, but it’s certainly one of the more well-known tricks out there,” Snyder says. “The only reason people do this is to game the system and save money.”

Airlines may not like the practice, but it’s technically not illegal. In its lawsuit, United and Orbitz say Skiplagged.com is “intentionally and maliciously” promoting “prohibited forms of travel,” and giving the false impression that these fares are legitimate and, to the eyes of the Internet user, affiliated with United and Orbitz. They argue that not only does it mess with their operations (travel agents and travel sites aren’t allowed to offer customers the hidden-city option), but also it takes money away.

skiplagged

Snyder, who agrees with United and Orbitz’s lawsuit, finds hidden-city bookings unscrupulous, and advises against using it.

“Since booking hidden-city tickets is against the contract of carriage for most airlines, I would never suggest using this,” Snyder says. “We tell [clients] that it’s not allowed per airline rules and we aren’t able to help them with it.”

For those who do it successfully, it usually involves flying under the radar. That means never using your frequent-flier account, never checking a bag (checked bags go all the way to their final destinations), and only purchasing one-way tickets.

Still tempted? If you’re caught, you won’t go to jail, but the punishment could be severe.

“I have heard of chronic abusers being caught and charged the fares that they avoided by gaming the system in the past,” Snyder says. “There is no other benefit [other than saving money] and there are plenty of cons that could end up costing you if you’re caught.

“Airlines aren’t pricing flight segments; their pricing is set in order to get you from point A to point Z regardless of how many stops are in between.”

“While they won’t catch everyone doing it, they certainly can catch people,” Snyder adds. “And if it becomes a much bigger problem, then they will start stepping up enforcement.”

In the lawsuit, United Airlines claims that hidden-city bookings “adversely affect United’s ability to estimate head counts, which can not only cause disruptions at the airport gate, but can also require mechanical tweaks, such as variations in the amount of jet fuel needed for each flight.”

This is somewhat true, though airlines likely know and can predict the percentage of people who may miss connecting flights, and if this practice takes off, they’ll likely figure out the percentage of people who might use the hidden city trick, as well.

Of course, because it messes with head count, hidden-city fliers on full flights may take away a potential seat that another flier desires, and if enough people surprisingly skipped out, the airline may adjust the fuel on board to save money, which can delay takeoff.

But overall, the biggest fear is that since airlines hate this practice, we could see fares go up on certain flights if hidden-city bookings become more common.

There are plenty of tricks to find cheap fares online. And while you won’t go to jail for rolling the dice on hidden-city tickets, you should know the risks.

Product Review

Mediocre battery and a big notch slight Google's otherwise perfect Pixel phone

Google’s Pixel 3 XL has two big flaws: The gigantic notch on the front, and mediocre battery life. That being said, this is the best Android experience you can find in a smartphone today.
Mobile

These 100 best iPhone apps will turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

The iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the world, and we want to bring out the best in yours. Behold our comprehensive list of the best iPhone apps, from time-saving productivity tools to fun apps you won’t be able to put down.
Computing

Stay connected with the Surface Go LTE Advanced, coming November 20 for $679

The new Surface Go LTE Advanced model delivers benefits for anyone who is looking to enjoy LTE coverage and stay connected on Windows 10 when traveling on the road or away from home.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

How to change your Gmail password in just a few quick steps

Regularly updating your passwords is a good way to stay secure online, but each site and service has their own way of doing it. Here's a quick guide on how to change your Gmail password in a few short steps.
Computing

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. This list of the best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.
Mobile

Google honors Veterans Day by highlighting military service stories

For Veterans Day, Google is honoring the heroes that served the country with a new Google Doodle that highlights the stories of five veterans from the five different branches of the military.
Computing

Edit, sign, append, and save with 12 of the best PDF editors

There are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, and though the selection is robust, finding a solid solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here, we've rounded up best PDF editors, so you can edit no matter your budget or OS.
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Mobile

Apple to boost its Amazon presence with listings for iPhones, iPads, and more

Apple is about to start offering more of its kit on Amazon. The tech giant currently only has very limited listings on the shopping site, but the deal will see the arrival of the latest iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and more.
Computing

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.
Computing

Will Chrome remain our favorite web browser with the arrival of newest version?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.
News

Zoom in on famous works through the Art Institute of Chicago’s new website

Art lovers, listen up. The Art Institute of Chicago has given its website a serious makeover with new features that let you get up close and personal with more than 50,000 artworks by famous (and not so famous) artists.
Computing

Over a million veterans now eligible for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program

Comcast's low-cost Internet Essentials program, which provides internet access for just $10 per month, has expanded to include U.S. veterans. One million veterans now qualify for the service.