If you’re starting to become a travel/points addict, you’ve probably come across the phrases “hidden city ticketing” and “throwaway ticketing.” I won’t go through a full explanation here because Gary at View from the Wing has done a fantastic job of doing that already, but I’ll give a basic overview in case you don’t feel like reading his post.
Hidden City Ticketing
Let’s say you want to go from city A to B, and the direct flight from A to B costs $500. There are some cases in which adding a segment from city B to city C might make the entire ticket cheaper, meaning it could become $400 to go A to B to C. But since your destination is actually city B, you’d just get off after the first flight (A to B) and “miss” your connection from B to C, which you never had any intention of taking.
As Gary explains in his post, “Airlines often price tickets from one city to another through a hub cheaper than flights that terminate at the hub.” If that wasn’t clear or you want to know more, see Gary’s post.
Throwaway ticketing is similar, except it usually involves booking a round trip ticket (A to B, B to A) when all you really want is a one way (A to B). I’ve found this to be most effective in Europe, where a round trip flight from Rome to Paris might be $200 while the one-way from Rome to Paris might be $250. You simply book the round trip flight, take the flight to Paris as you intended, then conveniently “forget” about the flight back to Rome. And you save $50 by doing so.
Applying To Award Tickets
So is it possible to apply this to award tickets? The first thing I’ll note is that it’s never beneficial to do a throwaway (round trip) award ticket since you already pay for each direction separately (note – see Gary’s commented below on one Delta case where it does make sense to do a roud trip ticket). But luckily there are some rare cases in which you can use hidden city ticketing on your award flights.
Thinking through it logically and mathematically, it would make the most sense on revenue-based points programs. Just as in my example above with the $500 ticket vs the $400 one, if the points required are tied to the revenue ticket, it means it would also be cheaper in points.
The biggest revenue based programs include Southwest, Virgin America, and JetBlue. I’ve not seen or tried to use this trick on the latter two, but Frequent Flyer University wrote an extensive post on doing this on Southwest.
But are there any other ones? They’re definitely not easy to find, but I’ll give an example of how you can save 5K United miles by skipping the last leg of a ticket.
Let’s say I want to go to New Zealand. There are plenty of flights from LAX-AKL and availability in Economy is pretty good, but it’s one of the toughest Business Class flights to book. In my example I’ll use an Economy flight since it’s easier.
A simple LAX-AKL flight in Economy is 40K points plus about $17 in taxes, as you can see below. This is the standard amount of miles required for this one-way flight.
Now let’s see what happens when I try booking a ticket to Fiji (NAN) on the same date.
Since there are no direct Star Alliance flights from Los Angeles to Fiji, the United award booking engine routes me through the closest and most convenient Star Alliance hub, which happens to be Auckland, New Zealand. So my flight path would be LAX-AKL-NAN on Air New Zealand, and the LAX-AKL flight is the same one we priced earlier.
The difference is that the award price is 5K points less – 35K for the one way plus taxes of $31. Yes taxes increased by $14, but I’ll pay $14 to save 5K United points all day long (in this example, I’m essentially paying $.00286/point).
And of course, using the same methodology I described above, you would simply skip the second flight and stay in your intended destination of Auckland.
Is this ethical? Everyone has their own moral code and limits. I’m presenting you with an option, and you can choose to use it or not. There are plenty of arguments against it. For example, hidden city ticketing and throwaway ticketing are actually against airline policy. If you do it repeatedly you risk your frequent flyer account being shut down, or other consequences.
And there’s also the matter of your reservation taking up a seat that someone else may very well intend to use. What if you happened to book the last award seat on the AKL-NAN flight and now someone that really wants to use it can’t? You may or may not feel bad about that guy. I would, but I don’t think it would personally stop me from saving 5K points on a trip.
Dangers and Other Considerations
There are plenty of dangers and other items of note for all these tricks. In my eyes, the biggest one is that you can’t check your luggage. In my Auckland/Fiji example, your luggage would probably be checked through to Fiji, so you have to have carry-on luggage only.
If you were using hidden city/throwaway ticketing on a revenue ticket (i.e. paying cash), and there happened to be “irregular operations ” of some sort, the airline’s duty is to get you to your final destination. If your plan is to get off at a connection city, you’re pretty much stuck if they route you through some other city or directly to the ticketed destination.
Again, I highly recommend reading Gary’s post since he explains the dangers (and everything else) very clearly.
Have you found any other interesting tricks to save points/miles?