Hidden city ticketing is when you buy a ticket with the intention of leaving the plane at a stopover, rather than the final destination. These types of journeys have the potential to save you a lot of money in comparison to a non-stop flight.
While a hidden-city ticket can work on one-way trips, in general, round-trip journeys are the most common way to take advantage of this loophole.
Why book a hidden-city ticket?
Well, as we’ve subtly alluded to above, it can save you some cash. Not only that, if you can work a little magic on your itinerary, you may be able to visit two cities during your holiday for less than the price of one non-stop airfare.
Let’s get into it with a more in-depth example.
Example: Booking a typical hidden-city ticket
Imagine you live in London and are looking to book a return ticket to Tokyo. You don’t mind taking a one-stop flight if it saves you a bit of cash, but if you can find a non-stop flight for a good price, you’d definitely book it.
If you were to book a traditional round-trip, your best bet is this non-stop route from London to Tokyo at £716 on British Airways. That’s a lot more than you were hoping to pay, so it’s worth investigating another option: hidden city ticketing.
To do this, you look at connections to Tokyo from other cities in Europe. Looks like Barcelona fits the bill. The one-stop from Barcelona to Tokyo, on the same date and at the same time as your non-stop option, is a whopping £240 cheaper.
This trip is a perfect candidate for hidden city ticketing, because:
- You can get yourself from London to Barcelona very cheaply via a quick, low-cost flight
- The stopover on the return flight from Tokyo to Barcelona is London, your home city.
So, you book it. When checking your options for a flight from London to Barcelona, you decide to fly in a couple of days before your Barcelona to Tokyo flight, because why not add a mini break in Spain? You’ve got some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket.
You then have a fantastic holiday in Japan. On your return leg to Barcelona, you get off the plane at the stopover in London and leave the airport. You’ve forfeited the rest of your trip back to Barcelona, but you’re already home, so it really doesn’t matter.
Let’s recap: you saved a considerable chunk of cash by DIYing a hidden-city ticket, and you experienced 2 destinations for less than the price it would have cost you to fly non-stop straight to Japan. It’s an absolute no-brainer.
In this case, booking a hidden-city ticket made a lot of sense. But be aware that this method isn’t the magic solution for unlocking cheap tickets every time you want to travel.
The potential pitfalls of hidden-city tickets
If you’re asking yourself: why aren’t more people taking advantage of these mega savings? Well, there are, unfortunately, a few downsides to booking hidden-city tickets, and they may not be the ones you’re thinking of.
You (usually) cannot check a bag on the return route
The main downside of hidden-city tickets are the rules around checked luggage. When you check a bag on a flight from your departure city to your destination (via a stopover), the bag will be checked the entire route, and will not be released to you when you get to your stopover.
So, if you’re planning on leaving the plane at your stopover and not completing your journey on the final leg, your bag will continue the whole way without you.
Because of this, make sure you DO NOT check a bag on the flight if you plan to get off before the final destination.
There is, however, 1 exception for this. You’ll need to be very careful about looking into the details of your route before you try this method, as 9 times out of 10 your bag will be checked through the final destination, and you won’t be able to use the hidden city loophole.
Example: how to figure out that you’re safe to check luggage on your journey
When booking your route, you will be told if you’ll need to change airports in your stopover city. For example, the route below (see image) includes an airport change from London Heathrow (LHR) to London Gatwick (LGW) on the return leg.
This means that you will have your checked luggage released to you at Heathrow when you get off the plane, at which point you can choose to head home, rather than taking the final leg of the flight.
Not all routes will have this as an option - the city you’re stopping over at needs to have a 2nd airport, for example. But, if you’re in a pinch, this is the only way you can check a bag and still use the hidden city ticketing trick to save money.
In general, if you need to check a bag, we’d advise you to just stick with a traditional ticket.
You can’t skip the first leg of your trip, or get on midway through the journey
When you skip ANY leg of your booked itinerary, the airline will proceed to cancel the rest of the trip. Because of this, a hidden-city ticket is fairly limiting: you must start the journey at the original departure airport, and should only skip a flight when you do not expect to take the rest of the journey.
So, in short, a hidden-city ticket only works when you intend to throw away the final part of either a return or one-way trip.
It can’t be on the outbound leg of a return journey, as even though these legs are probably days or weeks apart, they are grouped under the same booking. So, the airline will cancel your return leg as soon as you skip a flight, even weeks before.
There is a small risk of missing connection
If your plane has been re-routed because of poor weather conditions, or another unexpected reason (and it happens!), you may be forced to stopover in a city you weren’t expecting.
Because the airline cares more about getting you to the final destination on your ticket than making sure you stop over in a particular city, they may divert the plane to a different city if necessary. If this happens, you obviously won’t be able to complete your hidden-city ticket as planned.
There’s nothing you can do if this happens to you, other than accept that you’re along for the ride.
While this situation is obviously extremely rare, it’s a good reminder to make sure your travel insurance covers any unexpected changes to your itinerary, so you can at least recoup the money you’ll spend during this delay.
Make sure to check your travel visa
This will only be an issue if you choose to take a hidden-city ticket on a one-way trip, but it’s worth mentioning all the same. If your ticket’s final destination is in a country that you need a visa for, you will need to have all this paperwork in order before you can even board the plane in the first place.
It won’t matter if you know you’re planning on getting off before you reach this end destination, the airline will not let you begin your journey. Because of this, you should always double-check entry requirements for your entire trip before booking the ticket, just to make sure there won’t be any last-minute issues at the airport.
When should you book a hidden-city ticket?
So, now you’re aware of the pros and cons - when should you actually take the plunge and book a hidden-city ticket? Here’s a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself:
- Is the stopover your final destination?
- Is it significantly cheaper than a traditional non-stop ticket?
- Can you get to the departure city easily and cheaply?
- Can you fly without checked luggage?
If the answer to these questions is an emphatic ‘yes!’, then definitely consider booking the ticket!
If not, you’re probably better off going the traditional route and booking either the more expensive non-stop, or less convenient 1 stop.
How do you find a hidden-city ticket?
Airlines, in general, don’t like the idea that customers purposely skip out on their flight legs, so they tend to make it tricky to find hidden-city tickets. But, there are a couple of resources you can use to figure out if your upcoming journey is worth booking using this method.
If you want to try to DIY it yourself, Google Flights will be your best friend.
Before you start searching, though, it’s important to do a bit of research into the airlines that fly your intended route, and the most likely departure airports you’ll be searching from. Wikipedia is a great resource for checking which airline flies from which airport.
Once you know which departure airports you want to check, you can quickly search and compare them on Google Flights to see which make the most sense. We have a whole other article on how to use Google Flights to find cheap tickets if you need a refresher :-)
Remember to use the ‘Connecting airports’ filter to make sure all the flights you’re searching go through your home airport.
And, finally, you’ll also be able to check cheap flights from your home city to the departure airport you end up booking from.
At JFC, we don’t usually send deals with hidden-city ticket prices, so if you’re looking for an easy way to search potential deals, head over to Skiplagged. It has an archive of past deals it’s found, plus you can search your upcoming itinerary in real time.
It’s definitely easier and quicker than doing all the leg work for yourself, but it will show you all options for your itinerary ranked from the lowest price (not just hidden-city tickets) including multi-stop trips with long layovers.
Why are hidden-city tickets cheaper even though you’re travelling further than a non-stop flight?
Airlines price their fares based on a number of factors, but the largest is supply and demand.
Convenient, non-stop flights are always in higher demand than routes with stops (and usually have far less competition), so airlines price them higher.
For example, for flights from London to Lima, Peru, there are tonnes of single-stop options on airlines such as KLM, Iberia and Delta. But, British Airways is the only airline that flies non-stop, and so they are able to price their fare higher.
Is hidden-city ticketing illegal?
Airlines don’t particularly like when travellers take advantage of the pricing systems, but it is 100% legal to skip out on the last leg of your route.
Some airlines do state it in their contracts that the person must fly the entire route, but people miss flights all the time through no fault of their own and there are no repercussions (nor should there be!).
Are there any risks?
As mentioned above, there is a small risk that if the airline needs to re-route your plane for whatever reason, you may end up landing in a different city as your stopover. If this happens to you, you’ll have to continue to the final destination when you didn’t plan to.
We have also heard rumours of some airlines confiscating mileage/points from repeat offenders, or punishing them by forcing them to pay a revised ticket based on the actual trip taken, but we can’t find any personal accounts of this ever happening to anyone.
For more information on other methods of finding cheap flights, visit our ultimate guide.
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