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Hidden-city ticketing: Risky or worth it?

Report: United Airlines asks employees to report customers to corporate security

Stock image: rawpixel.com/Pexels

Either you know about this trick and maybe you’ve even pulled it off, or we’re about to let you in on a secret.

But we’ll warn you: It’s a trick some airlines would rather you NOT know about.

Here goes: There’s a concept, or a practice, called hidden-city ticketing, that some people swear by.

How does it work?

Let’s say you live in New York City and you’re trying to fly to New Orleans. Sometimes, it might seem impossible to find an affordable flight to the Big Easy. But let’s say you find a flight from NYC to Los Angeles that just so happens to lay over in New Orleans. You’d book the ticket to LA, but then carry on your luggage and get off the plane when it stops. You’d have no plans to set foot in California.

Is it risky? It sure sounds like it. What if the plane fills up and the flight attendants try to make you gate-check your luggage? What if there’s a situation involving adverse weather, and you can’t stop in New Orleans after all?

If you fly frequently enough, or the savings really mean that much to you, it might be worth a shot. Hope you can fit your belongings in a backpack under your seat!

Just a warning ...

Don’t say we necessarily recommend this hidden-city ticketing practice.

A travel industry website called Skift reiterated that hidden-city ticketing is not new -- and said sophisticated travelers have known about this hack for a long time.

Airlines hate it, saying it violates their contract of carriage.

“If a customer buys a ticket to San Francisco, they say, the customer must fly there,” Skift said.

And now, United Airlines is asking its employees to report customers to corporate security, if they book using the ticketing trick, according to Skift.

“This practice can potentially offer discounts on airfare and [is] not aligned with United’s contract of carriage,” United recently said in a memo to customer service staff, the Skift report says. “As the practice grows, we need to ensure that we’re both supporting our customers and properly enforcing the contract of carriage rules and United policies."

Repercussions

If you’re caught, or become a repeat offender, you could get a letter from the airline, asking for reimbursement -- as in, you’d have to pay the price of the regular ticket to the “layover” destination.

Airlines have made headlines for this in the past, according to Conde Nast Traveler, which reports that Lufthansa sued a passenger who booked 38 hidden city fares -- and it equaled $2,374 in lost revenue, reports said.

The case was thrown out of court in December, but Lufthansa officials said they’d appeal.

There’s even a website called Skiplagged to help travelers score these kinds of deals.

 

The site and mobile app are set up a lot like Airbnb, with a tagline right on its homepage reading, “Find flights the airlines don’t want you to see. We’re exposing loopholes in airfare pricing to save you money.”

Go check it out at your own risk, but now you know: a few dollars to potentially save, possibly some risks, and we’ll all be waiting and watching to see how these issues continue to unfold in court and on the airlines’ end.


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