You Snooze, You Lose
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.
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:
- Des Moines
- Kansas City
- Las Vegas
- Little Rock
- 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!
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.
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…
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