The VERY Important Rules of Hidden City Ticketing

The airlines are of course not incredibly thrilled about people taking advantage of hidden city fares to get a better deal. After all, the people who typically buy expensive last-minute airfare are the airlines’ most profitable customers.

But really, what can they do? You’re not doing anything other than buying a ticket from point A to B to C, but only flying Point A to B. They can’t physically force you to fly the second leg of your ticket, but they can do their best to thwart you from using hidden city tickets. Know these 5 RULES before using a hidden city ticket, and you’ll save money and fly hassle-free!

RULE NUMBER ONE: You may NOT check any luggage. Not even by paying a fee. This is the airline’s main line of defense, because they will not under any circumstances check your luggage only to the point you want to fly to. Therefore, PACK LIGHT with only carry-on luggage. EVEN BETTER, bring ONLY a “personal item” (your purse or laptop bag)…this is especially now that some airlines when charging a “basic economy” fare, don’t even allow a carry on. Make SURE your carry-on luggage meets the airline’s size and weight requirements. And KNOW WHAT TYPE OF AIRCRAFT YOU’LL BE FLYING ON – if it’s one of the smaller “commuter”-type jets or turbo-props with limited overhead storage space (any aircraft not made by Boeing or Airbus), the airlines may restrict you to JUST ONE bag (your “personal item” like a purse or laptop case).

This used to be pretty easy to do, but since the airlines have gotten fee-happy about charging you for checked luggage, more and more people are boarding with carry-on luggage they might previously have checked for free. This means that on a very full flight (which these days is nearly EVERY flight), the gate agents and flight attendants may insist that some passengers “gate check” their carry-on luggage when the overhead luggage space becomes filled. (And they won’t just check your luggage to your connecting point…it will go all the way to your ticketed “final destination”!) Also, many flights are operated on smaller jets, which don’t have as ample overhead storage space (if your flight is operated on anything other than a Boeing or Airbus aircraft, it’s probably one of these smaller jets…AVOID BOOKING FLIGHTS ON THIS TYPE OF AIRCRAFT if possible if you can’t keep your carry-on luggage at a minimum! In any case, attempt to get a seat assignment for the back of the plane (which usually boards first). If all else fails, and an airline employee is insistent that you check your carry-on, politely give them one of these (or similar) replies. By the way, make it a habit to be prepared so you can TELL THE TRUTH:

“I have medication in my bag which I must have with me at all times.” (By the way, aspirin is a medication…and you should always carry it to deal with the headaches that today’s airlines can give you.)

“I’m carrying some documents with me and am going to needing them in (name of your connecting city).” These documents might be a novel you are intending to read in your connecting city, but they don’t have to know that.

Or the simplest: “I’m sorry, but I need to keep the contents of my luggage with me at all times.” (If they want to know why, just tell them “it’s rather personal” and leave it at that.)

Above all, be politely firm (or firmly polite). Their biggest motivation is to get the plane off on time, and if you insist POLITELY that you must have your luggage with you, they will turn their attention to getting somebody else to volunteer. And NEVER believe an airline employee if they tell you they will gate-check your luggage only to your connecting city… IT’S A TRICK!

Overall, the very best prevention is to insure your carry-ons are minimal and EXCEPTIONALLY small…the gate agents and flight attendants are more likely to pick on the largest carry-on items of other travelers if YOU are traveling light.

RULE NUMBER TWO: ONLY BOOK YOUR HIDDEN CITY TICKET THROUGH THE AIRLINE WEBSITE. If you book your ticket through a “typical” travel agency, then only use the first part, the airline will possibly bill the agency for the amount of money you saved. This is a bill they can not deny paying…if they don’t pay it, the airline will prohibit the agency from further ticketing on that airline (and you’ll never be able to buy a ticket from that agency again). Travel agencies have been screwed by the airlines enough…they don’t need your help in letting them get screwed some more. By booking through the airline website, the airline has no recourse.

RULE NUMBER THREE: NEVER SUBMIT YOUR FREQUENT FLYER NUMBER with a hidden city ticket. Closing your account and revoking your miles is a tactic the airlines have, at times, tried to use to retaliate against frequent hidden city ticket users. While it’s never been legally successful for the airlines when a customer has the time, money, and legal guts to challenge, considering the money you’re saving and the paltry value of those miles anyway, it’s best just to not give the airline a way to track your use of hidden-city fares, especially if you use them frequently. (And we only recommend occasional use of hidden city tickets.)

RULE NUMBER FOUR: BE PREPARED FOR FLIGHT IRREGULARITIES. If you are ticketed to fly from Los Angeles to Minneapolis and onward to Columbus (but are only planning on flying as far as Minneapolis), you may find the airline to be exceptionally (and detrimentally) efficient when your L.A. – Minneapolis flight is cancelled due to weather or whatever other reason. Before even asking you, they may have re-booked you on a flight to Columbus via their other hub in Atlanta or Detroit, or even re-booked you on another airline whose flight to Columbus doesn’t come near Minneapolis. When this occurs, you must inform an agent that you booked this flight specifically because of the change of planes in Minneapolis so you could meet somebody (which is TRUE, assuming you are not going to Minneapolis to be completely alone and never see ANYBODY), and POLITELY insist that your new flight take you through Minneapolis on your way to Columbus. If you have prepared, you might also tell them that if you didn’t need to go through Minneapolis, you would have booked another airline or route. They may offer to put you on the next flight to Minneapolis even if the next connecting flight to Columbus is not until the next day…if so, just let them know that’s okay, you can stay with family or friends in Minneapolis (or the airline may offer to put you up in a hotel in Minneapolis for the night!). Again, the key here is to be insistently polite and politely insistent.

RULE NUMBER FIVE: Only book your hidden city tickets as ONE-WAY tickets, especially if you traveling on the same airline in both directions (which you should attempt to avoid). If you are, as is most likely, traveling round-trip, then book two separate tickets. This is because as soon as you “miss” your first connecting flight, the airline will automatically cancel the rest of your ticket’s reservations. In most cases, you would need to do this anyway, as when you return home, you’ll be departing from a different city than the one you were originally ticketed for, but in any case know that you can never begin your trip by “missing” the FIRST leg of a ticketed flight. You must always complete your DESIRED travel before “missing” any flights.

BONUS RULE! BRING YOUR PASSPORT. Sometimes your ticketed hidden city destination might be in a DIFFERENT COUNTRY! If so, the gate agent for your first flight may wish to see your passport to insure that you have it. You won’t ever actually need it…after all, you’re going to finish your actual travel at the connecting city before leaving the U.S.A. Still, the airline can refuse to carry you even on the domestic leg of an international ticket. So to avoid hassles, BRING YOUR PASSPORT if your ticketed destination is outside the U.S.A.