Southwest

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

By May 3, 2013 December 10th, 2013 11 Comments

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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11 Comments

  • nati says:

    Hi, thanks for this great post, I have a question please—-, how did you look on Wikipedia? what did you search exactly? what did you write? thanks a lot!

  • Aegt says:

    On SW the plane just keeps hoping from one city to another with same flight number. If I am not mistaken, FAs count the number of ppl on board after those who r suppose to get off have deplaned. Wouldnt throwing off the last segement confuse the FAs on SW

  • Lively says:

    Could you book 2 separate one-ways with Southwest and it would not cancel your trip back?

  • Jen says:

    Great post! BTW, would SW charge a now-show fee for the 2nd leg?

  • JW says:

    What confuses me is, you mentioned " Therefore it is best to not include your frequent flyer number on Hidden City Tickets", but how can you use point if you dont log in your SW account?.. Thanks.

  • Frequent Flyer University says:

    @Nati – I just wikipedia the Airport. In my case it was Midway, and then scrolled down to the Carrier (Southwest). Every wikipedia page for an Airport says which Carriers fly in and out, and where they fly.

    @Aegt – Sometimes they do that but it will say no plane change. In that case, you can't jump off the plane. For mine, there was a 4 hour layover.

    @Lively – Yes, you could do 2 One Ways and it would not cancel.

    @JW – Technically you can delete your number on the reservation when booking with points but obviously they could piece it back together since you did book with points. In my case, I included it because this is only my first time doing a hidden city with them.

  • Which other airlines allow one-way booking with frequent flyer miles? With programs like Delta and United, don't they charge the same number of points for one ways and as for round trips?

  • Frequent Flyer University says:

    @Jen – That fee hasn't been implemented yet so not sure how it will affect this.

    @Fishing4Deals – United, AA, Southwest, British Airways all allow for One Ways for half price. Delta and US Air do NOT and charge the full price of a round-trip award.

  • Pludester says:

    Google flights is also very handy for these kind of searches–you can select which connecting airport you want & any airline doing that pops up instantly.

  • John says:

    I live in Atlanta, and want to go to Austin, TX. If my originating airport is Charlotte, the price drops considerably. Obviously, I wouldn't board in Charlotte, but in Atlanta at the connecting flight.

    Example: Flight leaves Charlotte at 6am, arrives in atlanta. Connecting flight leaves from Atlanta at 8:30AM goes to Austin.

    Would it work if I checked in online, but never boarded in Charlotte, and got in at Atlanta? Or do you think Delta would cancel my itinerary since I was a no-show in Charlotte, even if I checked in and printed a boarding pass?

    Thanks!

  • Frequent Flyer University says:

    @John – That wouldn't work. The throw away part has to be the last part. If you don't show up in Charlotte, then they will cancel the entire flight.

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