Is hacking ticket prices cheating?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about why “travel hacking” is wrong. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to debate the morality of manufactured 12-2-14-1spending! I’m thinking about various ticketing schemes.  A couple of stories came out not too long ago about “cheating” the airlines’ ticketing systems that got me thinking. 

The first, from Fox News on “hidden city ticketing”. This is where you buy a ticket with a connection, and instead of flying to the final destination you get off the plane at the connection, which was your ‘hidden’ actual destination.  Example would be buying a ticket from San Antonio to New York that has a connection in Philadelphia, but instead of going to New York you end in Philadelphia where you were actually going.

Then Christopher Elliott at USA Today wrote about “throwaway ticketing”. This is similar to hidden city ticketing, but instead of ending your trip at a connection you just don’t use the return part of a round trip. Example would be buying a round trip ticket from Dallas to Las Vegas, but you stay in Vegas and skip the flight back to Dallas.

So why on earth would a passenger do this?  Well the simple answer is sometimes it is, bizarrely, cheaper.  Why would an airline charge less for a flight with a connection?  That’s the million dollar question. Is it because of supply and demand of airline tickets?  Like, the San Antonio to Philadelphia flight might be a flight that sells out even when tickets are overpriced, but for whatever reason (more competition?) San Antonio to New York has more challenges selling out. The airline prices tickets more competitively even though the distance to get to Philadelphia versus New York is shorter.  So essentially it’s the airlines playing the market.

Maybe another reason a flight with a connection might be cheaper is the savings airlines make using a hub.  So instead of having flights everywhere to everywhere, you route flights through hubs which saves money.

Travel hacking is not something new, nor is it considered breaking the law.  However, it can be against airline policy and if they catch you breaking it often enough they may penalize you.  I’ve never used either of these hacking methods to save money. While ticket prices are a factor in which flights I choose, as a business traveler timing and convenience are bigger considerations. That being said, I don’t know that I see either of these as actually “cheating” and I don’t know that I’m opposed to them in practice. But since people seem so passionate one way or the other I wanted to get your take on it.

Readers, what do you think about throwaway ticketing and hidden city ticketing? Are they cheating, or just working within the system airlines have given us? Any business travelers use these methods on a regular basis?


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  1. I look at it this way: I purchased a product. How much of that product I consume is up to me. Is this different than buying a tube of toothpaste but only using half of it? The airline got its money so, in my book, they have no right to complain. If they’re upset that I’m stopping halfway, maybe they should re-examine their pricing policies. I’m sure they’d find plenty of opportunity for additional revenue. 😉

  2. If the airlines had a pricing policy that didn’t gouge you for certain destinations (taking advantage of a lack of competition or whatever) they wouldn’t have this problem.

    All other things being equal, it’s ridiculous for somebody wanting to get to the first location a plane stops at to be paying more than somebody that started at the same place, and is continuing to a second stop after that.

  3. Whether it’s the same plane or a connection really isn’t a factor. Either way the airline has less costs if you don’t continue on, and you shouldn’t pay more.

  4. This is interesting. I just looked at the “hidden city” ticketing (but didn’t know it had a name) recently because it was $50 cheaper for the flight I was looking at. I was going to look into the repercussions of missing the second (and then first) flights, so good suggestions in the article about booking two one-way flights.

  5. Is arbitrage and it exist in many industries. I bought a pair of pants just for the belt, belt was nice, pants were not.

  6. Sounds like a good way to meet DHS and FBI officials during enhanced screening or at your home.

  7. So if I buy a big mac value meal but don’t eat the fries because it’s cheaper then buying the big mac and a coke separately is that wrong. No of course not. In fact you should be allowed to sell or give away that unused portion. I bet that would fix the stupid pricing fast.

  8. No, they are absolutely NOT wrong. You know what is wrong? Charging more for a one way ticket than a round trip ticket. THAT is wrong. And that is why my mother, my aunt and I bout round trip tickets from NC to New Orleans and only used one leg. It’s one of the reasons I am loyal to Southwest. That and the free bags, checked and carry on.

    What else is wrong is airlines charging fuel supplements even tho gas is now amazingly cheap. Most airlines are screwing us over in any way they are legally allowed, so I have no compunction whatsoever in doing the same to them.

    Except for Southwest. I treat that airline with the same respect it gives me.

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