Hidden City Ticketing: How to Save Money by Skipping Leg(s) of Your Flight
What is Hidden City Ticketing and How Does it Work?
Hidden city ticketing is a clever travel hack that can help you save money on airfare, but it does come with some risks. The basic idea is that you book a flight itinerary with a connection, but you get off at the layover city instead of taking the second leg of the flight. For example, let's say you want to fly from New York to Chicago. A nonstop flight costs $300, but you find an itinerary from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago for $200. You would book this itinerary, but deplane in Chicago and skip the LA leg. You just saved $100 on your ticket to Chicago!
This works because airlines price tickets based on the entire journey, not individual legs. Sometimes a connection itinerary costs less than a nonstop flight between the same origin and destination airports. By hidden city ticketing, you're taking advantage of those variances in flight pricing.
To make it work, the layover city has to be your real final destination. The classic hidden city pairings are hub cities like New York-Chicago, San Francisco-Dallas, or Seattle-Denver. Large airlines like United, American, and Delta have hubs in different cities and run a lot of connecting flights between those hubs. That opens up price differentials you can leverage.
There are a few things to keep in mind. First, only book one-way tickets when hidden city ticketing. If the airline sees you skipped a leg on a roundtrip ticket, they can cancel your return flight. You also want to be sure you book the flight far enough in advance that your checked bags will make it. With short connections, your bags might not make the flight which causes complications. Be aware that some airlines like United explicitly prohibit hidden city ticketing in their contracts of carriage. If caught, they may revoke your miles or cancel future tickets. While not illegal, it's a gray area so you assume some level of risk.
Hidden City Ticketing: How to Save Money by Skipping Leg(s) of Your Flight - Potential Risks and Downsides of Hidden City Ticketing
While hidden city ticketing can save you money, it does come with some potential risks and downsides to be aware of. Here's what you need to know before trying this travel hack.
One major risk is that the airline can cancel the rest of your itinerary if they catch you skipping a leg. This usually happens when you book a roundtrip ticket but only take the outbound flight. The airline will see you as a no-show for the return and may proactively cancel that flight. You'd have to book a new ticket home at the last minute, likely at a higher price. Stick to one-way fares when hidden city ticketing to avoid this.
You also run the risk of your checked bags not making it if you have a tight connection. Airlines won't send bags past the final destination on your ticket. So if your itinerary is Denver-Chicago-New York but you get off in Chicago, your bags will go to New York without you. You'd have to arrange for their return to Chicago, which is a hassle. Give yourself longer layovers when hidden city ticketing to reduce this likelihood.
Some airlines like United and Delta explicitly prohibit hidden city ticketing in their contracts of carriage. If caught, you may have your frequent flyer account shut down or miles revoked. While it's not illegal, it violates the terms you agree to when purchasing a ticket. Major airlines don't look kindly on this practice. Budget carriers care less but have less pricing variability to exploit.
You also lose out on elite qualifying miles and points for the skipped segment. Say you buy a ticket from Los Angeles to New York with a layover in Chicago, but deplane in Chicago. You'd only earn miles for the LA-Chicago portion, even though you paid for the full itinerary. For frequent travelers trying to earn or retain status, this is an important downside.
One other risk is the airline cancels or changes your flight before departure. If you booked solely for a specific connection, you may be out of luck if that connection time changes. Similarly, if the first leg of your itinerary gets cancelled, the rest is cancelled too - you can't just take the second flight. Building in backup options helps mitigate this if you're set on a specific hidden city route.
Hidden City Ticketing: How to Save Money by Skipping Leg(s) of Your Flight - Finding Hidden City Ticket Deals and Optimal Routes
Hidden city ticketing relies on finding airfare deals where a connection itinerary is cheaper than a nonstop flight between the same origin and destination airports. This pricing quirk doesn’t happen all the time on all routes, so you need to be a bit strategic in searching for hidden city opportunities.
The best way is to be flexible on your origin and destination cities rather than fixed on a specific route. Look at flights from major hub airports like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These hubs have a lot of traffic between them, increasing the chances of a price differential on connecting itineraries.
Use flight search engines like Google Flights and Skyscanner which make it easy to browse various routings. Don’t limit yourself to nonstop flights. Look at options with 1 or 2 stops to see if any are significantly cheaper than nonstop fares. If you see a connection for $200 but nonstop flights are $350, that’s a prime hidden city opportunity.
When searching, pay attention to the layover cities along a route, not just the endpoints. Those layover cities can be your target destinations to get off the flight, not the final arrival city. Sometimes Chicago-New York via Boston is cheaper than Chicago-Boston direct. Boston becomes your hidden city.
Aim for layovers of at least 90 minutes in your target city. This reduces the risk of your checked bags getting stuck on a downstream flight or missing a tight connection if the first leg is delayed. Build in a buffer so you have time to deplane and exit the airport at your layover city.
Be aware of which airlines dominate certain hub airports. For example, try searching United-heavy connections like Newark to Chicago or Houston to Denver. American Airlines routes like Dallas to Miami often have good hidden city potential. Build a mental map of airline hubs and focus your searches in those city pairs.
Occasionally you can find hidden city opportunities in regional flights, like Spokane to Portland via Seattle. But the biggest savings come from longer haul domestic or mid-haul international flights between major hubs. The longer the full journey, the more likely pricing irregularities you can take advantage of.
Don’t forget to try nearby alternative airports too. Washington, D.C. has three airports: Reagan, Dulles and BWI. Checking fares into all three can uncover hidden city deals you’d otherwise miss. The same goes for Chicago O’Hare versus Midway or New York JFK versus LaGuardia.