Category

Southwest

Hidden City Ticketing & How To Use It To Save Some Money / Points

You Snooze, You Lose

Last Friday, I talked about how I was planning a last minute trip to Florida this past week and realized that you can’t exactly trust the British Airways Award Engine.

Well instead of booking the trip last Friday, I made the mistake of waiting one extra day and booked it this past Saturday afternoon.

In the space of 12 hours between Friday and Saturday, the price for the Return flight on Southwest JUMPED from 7,260 Points on Friday…

to a WHOPPING 21,900 Points on Saturday Afternoon!

While I have a considerable amount of Southwest Points and it is my fault for waiting until the absolute last second to book, I didn’t really feel like spending 21,900 Points for an Economy One Way on Southwest. On United or AA, that same One Way would have only cost 12,500 Miles!

As my mind raced to figure out if it was worth dropping 21,000 Points on the ticket before the price changed again, I remembered a little trick called Hidden City Ticketing.

If you aren’t familiar with Hidden City Ticketing, Gary from View From The Wing covered the concept in detail here and here or you can read about it on Wikipedia.

To quote Gary, basically:

Airlines often price tickets from one city to another through a hub cheaper than flights that terminate at the hub.

Flying United New York to Milwaukee through Chicago is often much cheaper than just flying New York to Chicago.

But if you get off the plane in Chicago and don’t board your connection to Milwaukee, you’ve potentially saved yourself a lot of money. This is called hidden city ticketing.

Normally Hidden City Ticketing is only useful to save money on Revenue Tickets since most Award Programs have a fixed cost for Awards (25,000 Miles for a Roundtrip Award in US, etc.). However on Southwest, the Awards are based on the actual cost of the corresponding Revenue Ticket, so luckily you can use this little trick to save some Points!

Hidden City Ticketing – Real Life Example

I am fairly lucky that Chicago’s Midway Airport is a hub for Southwest, so tons of Southwest flights from around the Country connect in Chicago.

In my dilemma above, I wanted to get on the 7AM Southwest flight out of Fort Myers to Chicago but didn’t want to pay 21,000 Points. Therefore, I opted to see if there were any cheaper Hidden City Tickets available that routed thru Chicago.

The first thing I do when looking for a Hidden City Ticket is to figure out what my Point A and Point B are, and then work my way backwards to find a suitable Point C.

Point A = Departure Airport

Point B = Connecting Airport (where you ultimately plan on ending your journey)

Point C = Arrival Airport (where the Airline thinks you are going)

In my case, Point A was Fort Myers and Point B was Chicago – Midway.

Once I have my Point A and Point B, I then try and find a Point C which will result in the absolute cheapest fare.

Since I won’t actually be flying to Point C (because I am actually ending my trip at Point B in Chicago), it doesn’t matter what city Point C is in as long as it is the cheapest.

Since I knew that my Point B was Chicago, to find my Point C, I needed to see what flights connect thru Chicago.

The best resources for this is Wikipedia!

Simply Wikipedia your Connecting Airport (Point B) and scroll down to your Carrier to see what other cities they fly to from Point B.

For Chicago – Midway, Southwest flies to the following cities:

Southwest has quite a few options for Chicago but in my case I am really only interested in Point C Destinations that are in the Midwest. This is because East and West Coast cities are serviced by other Southwest hubs, so they probably wouldn’t route their connections thru Chicago.

With the information above, I knew the following:

1. Southwest flies from Fort Myers to Chicago (Point A -> Point B)

2. From Chicago, Southwest also flies to all the Cities mentioned on Wikipedia. (Point B -> Point C)

With this information, it was now time to start basically plugging and chugging different combinations of Flights going from Fort Myers (Point A) to Point C (which we are searching for), BUT also have a Connection in Chicago (Point B).

In the end, I ran about 13 searches on Southwest.com for flights departing from Fort Myers, connecting in Chicago, and continuing on to the following cities:

  • Akron–Canton
  • Austin
  • Branson
  • Cleveland
  • Denver
  • Des Moines
  • Kansas City
  • Las Vegas
  • Little Rock 
  • Louisville
  • Nashville
  • New York
  • St. Louis

Almost all of the above options which routed thru Chicago, turned out to be cheaper than flying direct Fort Myers -> Chicago.

The two cheapest options I found were Fort Myers to Nashville and Fort Myers to Denver.

As you can see below, the 7AM flight that I wanted (which would have cost 21,900 Points if I flew it directly to Chicago), was substantially cheaper if I opted to “continue” on to another city like Nashville or Denver.

In the end, I simply booked the Fort Myers to Denver flight which had a Connection in Chicago – Midway. Instead of paying 21,900 Points to fly Fort Myers to Chicago directly, I paid half that cost and got on the exact same 7AM Flight out of Fort Myers and then just hopped off the plane in Chicago instead of continuing on to Denver.

In real dollars, this was the difference between paying $197 for the Fort Myers -> Chicago -> Denver flight, or paying $376 for Fort Myers -> Chicago flight, thus saving around $200!

Total Cost

All in all, using a combination of British Airways Miles and Southwest Points + Hidden City Ticketing, I was able to go down to Florida for a very reasonable cost.

British Airways (ORD -> RSW): 7,500 Avios + $2.50 in tax

Southwest (RSW – > MDW -> DEN): 10,500 Points + $5.00 in tax

Total: 18,000 Avios / Points + $7.50 in tax

Limitations Of Hidden City Ticketing

While I was able to save 10,000 Points by using Hidden City Ticketing successfully, there are some limitations to this trick.

1. Only Works With One Ways

If you try to do Hidden City Ticketing with a round-trip ticket and get off the Plane at the wrong airport, the Airline will cancel the rest of your round-trip ticket. Therefore, don’t do that! This trick only works with One Ways, and the Hidden City connection has to be the Final Leg of your Flight.

2. Hub Centric

Hidden City Ticketing mostly works with hubs, since that is where many of the Point B connections take place. If you live in a smaller city that isn’t a hub for a major Airline then you probably won’t be able to find any Hidden City options.

For example, had I wanted to do a Hidden City Ticket down to Fort Myers, I would NOT have been able to because no Southwest Flights connect in Fort Myers thus making it ineligible to be considered a Point B. Whereas on the other hand, coming back from Fort Myers, Chicago – Midway was perfect for a Point B because there are so many random Southwest flights connecting there.

3. Can’t Check Luggage

Since you are getting off the plane early, you can’t check any bags since they will most likely be checked thru to your final destination (Point C).

4. Use Sparingly

Airline know about Hidden City Ticketing and normally turn a blind eye towards it because it isn’t worth their time. However if you do it excessively, Airlines have been known to crack down and shut down frequent flyer accounts. This doesn’t mean that Hidden City Ticket is illegal, it just means that it is frowned upon by the Airlines. Therefore it is best to not include your frequent flyer number on Hidden City Tickets.

Recap

Hopefully the Point A, Point B, Point C stuff made sense. If it doesn’t, feel free to shoot me an email or comment and I will try to clarify.

While in my example, I did a Hidden City Ticket for a Southwest Award, you can use this trick on Revenue Tickets for any Airline!

If you do Hidden City Ticketing right, it is an easy way to save some Money or Points but ultimately the process is far more of an art than a science. Depending on the Airline, there can be a lot of guess work in figuring out the cheapest Point C.

I got lucky in that I was able to find a cheap Hidden City Ticket and ultimately saved 10,000 Points. However the real lesson here is that had I just booked the flight on Friday AM instead of waiting until Saturday afternoon, I could have paid 7,000 Points and not had to even deal with finding a Hidden City in the first place…

-Parag

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Always Double Check The British Airways Award Engine

Earlier this week my Friend asked if I would be interested in going down to Florida next Tuesday.

Given that it isn’t exactly Summer yet in Chicago, I was more than willing to escape to some warm weather.

As usual, the first thing I did was to look for Award Flights. Since it is less than 21 days to Departure, Award Tickets on American Airlines and United were out of the question because of their RIDICULOUS $75 Close-in Ticketing Fee.

That basically left me with either Southwest or British Airways.

Given that Southwest is my favorite Domestic Airline since they let you cancel tickets for free, I decided to check them first.

Southwest Award Tickets are based on the actual cost of the corresponding Revenue Ticket. While that sounds bad for Consumers, it is actually pretty great for short flights and in the past I have found some amazing steals.

Unfortunately in this case, the exact opposite happened. The cheapest flight going down to Fort Myers was 21,900 Points!

The flight back to Chicago was much more reasonable with the cheapest flight costing only 7,260 Points!

All in, a Roundtrip Flight on Southwest would have been around 29,000 Points.

Since Domestic Awards on United or American typically cost a flat 25,000 Miles, Southwest charging an extra 4,000 Points isn’t a huge deal.

However given that my Cousin and I both traveled to Austin for 30,000 Points total, 29,000 Points for 1 person on Southwest does seem expensive…

Since the Flight down to Fort Myers was going to cost 21,000 Points on Southwest, I figured that I might as well search British Airways and see if there was anything available.

At a minimum, I’d happily pay 25,000 Avios for a One Way Business Class Award down to Florida instead of spending 21,000 Points to fly Economy on Southwest.

Since Southwest and British Airways both allow for One Way Awards, I could fly British Airways in Economy or Business Class down to Florida and then do a Southwest One Way for 7,000 Points back to Chicago.

I headed over to BritishAirways.com to search and first looked up a Roundtrip Award to Fort Myers.

Surprisingly there was no availability for either days…

I am not sure why I did this since the British Airways Search Engine was clearly showing no availability in either direction, but I decided to search for the Flights as One Ways.

From no availability 2 seconds earlier, MAGICALLY 3 different flight options appeared…

I don’t know if this a widespread glitch or not but it is kind of frustrating because if I hadn’t have searched for the flights as a One Way, I would have just assumed that there were no Awards available when clearly there were!

While I was extremely happy to find an Award, the silver lining is that since British Airways Awards are distance based, the Flight down to Florida on American Airlines using British Airways Points was only 7,500 Avios!

Not only is that 3x less than the 21,000 Point Southwest Ticket down to Florida, but had I booked the same exact seat on the same exact flight using American Airline Miles, it would have cost me 12,500 AA Miles + $77.50!!

It is for this exact reason that if you don’t have a British Airways Credit Card, you should really think about getting one!

Although British Airways Avios are fairly useless for traveling abroad, they are absolutely spectacular for Domestic Flights on American Airlines!

Not only are British Airway Awards on American Airlines substantially cheaper BUT you also avoid the non-sense $75 Close-in Ticketing Fee that American Airlines charges!

Recap

Of the many things I have learned over the past few years dealing with Frequent Flyer Miles, one is that Airline Award Engines are pretty goofy. The second is that it is always good to have your Miles in multiple programs.

If I only had United or American Miles, I would have been stuck paying 25,000 Miles + $75 in fees to get down to Florida.

However since I have Miles & Points in Southwest, British Airways, US Airways, Delta, United, and American Airlines, I have extreme flexibility in booking Awards!

In this specific example, by doing 2 One Ways on Southwest and British Airways, I was able to avoid United & American’s non-sense $75 fee and get a Roundtrip Ticket for only 14,000 Points instead of 25,000 Miles on UA or AA!

As for the British Airways Award Engine, I have no idea what caused it to only show the Awards flights when I searched for One Ways or if this is a widespread issue.

The only advice I have is that if you are searching British Airways and you are finding no availability, try searching only as One Ways and see what happens!

-Parag

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Southwest Companion Pass = $3,666 In Free Travel

Southwest 50,000 Point Offer Back

Last week, Chase brought back the Southwest Cards that offer 50,000 Point after spending $2,000 in 3 months.

In my post last week about logistics for Austin, I showed first hand how amazingly valuable Southwest Points can be.

Instead of the normal 50,000 Miles for 2 Award Tickets on United or American Airlines, using Southwest Points we only spent 33,718 Points TOTAL for 2 Tickets and saved $1,000+ in out of pocket costs on Airfare.

It is fairly obvious but the reason why I LUV Southwest is that their Award Ticket redemptions are mind blowingly cheap!

For another example, my Brother wants to go to NYC for his Birthday later this month.

One Award Ticket on Southwest costs ONLY 8,761 Points!

So for around 17,000 Points, BOTH OF US can fly to NYC for only $10 in taxes…

On United or American, an Award Ticket to NYC from Chicago would be 25,000 Miles EACH!

The reason why Southwest Awards tickets can be substantially cheaper than United and American, is because the cost of Southwest’s Award Tickets are based on the price of the Revenue Ticket.

For Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” Fares, the formula to determine the amount of Rapid Reward Points needed is:

Base Fare (including Excise Tax) X 60 Points Per $1 = Rapid Rewards Points Needed

For the New York Ticket, the total cost of the Revenue Ticket was $167.80.

Clicking on the Fare Breakdown, you can see what the actual cost is, less all the 9/11 fees, etc.

So for this ticket, $146.00 (Base + Excise) x 60 Points per $1 = 8,761 Points needed

This formula can be applied to any Southwest Revenue Ticket, so depending on the price of the Revenue Ticket, you can get some major steals on Award Tickets!

Southwest Companion Pass

If you are planning on getting the Southwest Card and are in a relationship or primarily travel with 1 person, instead of both people getting the Southwest Card, I’d recommend one of you go for the Companion Pass.

The Southwest Companion Pass is EXTREMELY valuable and is probably the best “airline perk” out there for non-Elites!

For those of you not familiar with the Southwest Companion Pass, it is a pass that allows your Companion to fly with you FOR FREE on any Paid or AWARD flights on Southwest! So basically anytime you fly, your Companion can come along for free!

Although this kind of benefit may have existed way back in the day, it is unheard of in today’s Airline Industry. Just imagine if United or American offered something like this…

Why The Companion Pass Is Valuable

The reason why I tried to get the Companion Pass this year is that if you primarily travel with 1 person, the Companion Pass either cuts the cost of your Airfare in half (if you are buying Paid Tickets), or it doubles the value of your Points (if you are doing Award Tickets)!

So if you paid $250 for a Southwest flight from Chicago to Las Vegas, with your Companion Pass, your Companion would fly free. Therefore the total cost for 2 tickets would only be $125 each, which is a steal!

If you used Points and redeemed 20,000 Points for an Award Ticket on Southwest from Chicago to Las Vegas, your Companion would again fly for free. Your total cost in Points for 2 tickets would only be 10,000 Points each!

As you will see below, the Companion Pass is valid FOR THE YEAR YOU EARN IT AND THE NEXT YEAR!

So if you earned a Companion Pass now, it would be good until December 31st, 2014!

How To Earn The Companion Pass

To earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you need to take either 100 One-Way flights on Southwest (aka 50 Roundtrip flights) or earn 110,000 Points in 1 Calendar Year.

Thankfully, as of right now, Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses and Points earned from using your Credit Card currently count towards the 110,000 Points needed to earn the Companion Pass.

The reason why this is important is because by signing up and completing the Minimum Spend Requirement for both the Southwest Premier Personal and Business Premier Credit Card, you can earn 50,000 Points for each Card. This will get you 100,000 Southwest Points and put you within 10,000 Points of the Companion Pass.

Remember you can register for a Business Card even if you don’t have a “traditional business”. More information here.

Link to Southwest Premier Personal Card – 50,000 Points

Link to Southwest Premier Business Card – 50,000 Points

I signed up for both the Southwest Business & Personal Cards last year and earned 100,000 Points (which would have counted towards 2013 Companion Pass status) BUT Chase messed up posting the Points and half the Points got posted in 2012 and the other half in 2013.

Thus I am left with only 50,000 Qualifying Points in 2013 : (

Luckily Chase a few variations of their Southwest Card, so in a few months I will apply for another one, get another 50,000 Points and hopefully earn my Companion Pass!

The Final 10,000 Points

While 2 Southwest Credit Cards will get you to 100,000 Points, you need 110,000 to get the Companion Pass.

To get the final 10,000 Points, you have a few easy options:

  • Spend $10,000 on your Southwest Cards.
  • Fly & Spend $833 on Business Select fares, $1,000 on Anytime fares, or $1,667 in Wanna Get Away fares and earn 10,000 Southwest Points.
  • Transfer 30,000 Ultimate Rewards to Marriott Points, then transfer those 30,000 Marriott Points into 10,000 Southwest Points. 
  • Transfer 15,000 Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt Points, then transfer those 15,000 Hyatt Points into 7,200 Southwest Points. 

I had 30,000 Marriott Points laying around, so last year I transferred those to Southwest. It takes about 48 hours to show up in your Southwest Account.

Although the transfer ratio is terrible with Marriott, those 30,000 Points would have gotten me over the 110,000 Point hump needed to earn the Companion Pass, so it was worth it.

If you don’t have any Hyatt or Marriott Points, then I would recommend going with Hyatt because it will only cost you 15,000 Ultimate Rewards Points instead of 30,000 with Marriott.

One thing I will point out is that you CANNOT earn Companion Pass Qualifying Points by transferring 10,000 Ultimate Rewards directly to Southwest! You have to go through a intermediary like Hyatt or Marriott!

To check the status of your Companion Pass, click here.

How To Maximize The Companion Pass

Getting the Companion Pass in itself is awesome, but if done right, you can really expand its shelf life.

So the Companion Pass is valid for the Calendar Year it is earned in AND the following Calendar Year.

If you earned your Companion Pass in 2013, then it would be valid for the rest of 2013 AND all of 2014.

As I stated above, all the Points for the Companion Pass need to be earned in a Calendar Year. Even though my Companion Pass got screwed up and it is already March, even if I earn the final 60,000 Points needed in June of 2013, my Companion Pass will be valid for ALL of 2013 AND 2014! So basically another 1 1/2 years!

If you do this correctly, the value you are getting out the Companion Pass is UNREAL!

Not only will you get the 100,000 Southwest Points from the Credit Card (which you can use with your Companion Pass), but you will also have the 10,000 Southwest Points from the Hotel Transfer at your disposal.

Since you have the Companion Pass, those 110,000 Points are basically now worth double since your Companion can fly with you for free. In other words, it is like you have 220,000 Points at your disposal!

As I talked about above, Southwest has a fixed formula for their Award Flights, so the 110,000 Points you earned to get the Companion Pass are worth $1,833 towards Wanna Get Away Fares. However since your Companion flies free, in reality that is $3,666 in free travel!

As long as it isn’t a peak travel time and you book in advance, from my experience you can fly anywhere on Southwest for around (or less) than 20,000 Points round trip.

So with this Companion Pass, at a minimum you should able to fairly easily get 2 Tickets x 5 Round Trip flights by signing up for the Southwest Personal and Business Credit Card and getting the Companion Pass.  

Frequent Asked Questions

Here are some questions I suspect people have. If you have a question, simply leave a comment and I will answer it and then add it to the list.

Q: Can I Change My Companion?

A: You do physically have to assign someone as your Companion, so you can’t switch your Companion every time you fly but if you want, you can switch your Companion up to 3 times during the duration you have your Companion Pass.

Q: Can I Use My Southwest Companion Pass On Air Tran?

A: No, unless the route is being operated by Southwest.  

Q: Can I Still Redeem My 110,000 Points For Flights Once I Earn The Companion Pass?

A: Yes, and you can also use your 110,000 Points with your Companion Pass.

Recap

If done right the Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best deals out there, hands down.

By signing up for 2 Credit Cards, you and your Companion can basically fly anywhere Southwest flies for free or 1/2 off!

While it would have been nice to get my Companion Pass at the beginning of 2013 (I have already taken 3 trips on Southwest this year), even if I earn the Pass in June, it will still be valid for another 1 1/2 years so not the end of the World.

The Companion Pass can also be a great deal for families because if the 2 Parents each get 2 Southwest Cards and earn a Companion Pass, then the Parents can designate the Children as their Companions and they would fly for free. By doing that, you could potentially get $7,322 in free travel! That is a lot of free trips to Disney…

Anyways I seriously hope everyone considers getting a Southwest Card or a Companion Pass because it is an absolutely amazing deal if done correctly!

-Parag

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