I have a confession to make! As most regular readers know, I’m a pretty chill, relaxed guy. There are not many things that get me worked up.
BUT, the other day I read something that got my blood boiling.
It made me SO MAD!
I immediately knew that I had to let others like YOU know so you didn’t become a victim. I went for a walk to regain my composure and brainstorm how I could fix this wrong. NOW, I usually write and schedule my blog articles a few weeks in advance. One thing blogging has taught is that if you aren’t organized, last-minute chaos will ensue as deadlines approach.
BUT what I read was so shocking that I had to share it right away.
So, here it is. I realize some people in the airline industry will criticize me for writing an article like this that shows people how to save money on flights, but I believe that information should not be hidden from consumers. It should be made available to everyone so YOU the consumer have the information required to make an educated purchase decision.
Save Money on Flights: How I Saved $412 (43%) on a $1000 Ticket
Last week I was researching flights from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia to attend a conference. I used Google Flight Search because it has some unique and helpful features that show you how to save money on flights.
The conference was less than two weeks away so I expected to pay a premium price. Google returned the best flight prices for my departure date which were just under $1000 CDN. These prices were not surprising as even a return flight booked several months in advance cost $500+.
But then I noticed SOMETHING CRAZY! Above the flight results was a tip from Google telling me that if I flew to Seattle, Washington instead (which is less than 200km South of Vancouver by air) I could save $412.
At first, I thought it was a misprint. I mean how could a flight to a neighbouring airport be 43% cheaper ($539 instead of $951). And both Seattle and Vancouver are roughly the same distance (4430km by air) from Halifax.
Regardless, I clicked in excitement and quickly discovered it was not a misprint at all!
Now here’s the real kicker! Regardless of whether I chose the Seattle or Vancouver route, I would end up flying on the same planes from Halifax to Vancouver. The only difference is that if I flew to Seattle I’d have a layover in Vancouver before getting on a third plane to travel from Vancouver to Seattle.
My brain immediately hatched the plan that I could just book the flight to Seattle and get off in Vancouver and save myself $412.
But I wasn’t satisfied. I told myself that there must be a good reason why there was such a large price difference between the two flights. I wanted to know why. So once my excitement faded, I turned my attention to figuring out why.
Then, I recalled a blog article I read a few years ago about a guy was sued by an airline for showing people how to save money on flights by doing the same thing.
Hidden City Ticketing – Learn The Strategy Behind The Savings
The strategy I explained above is better known as “hidden city ticketing.” It is the practice of a passenger disembarking an indirect flight at a connection point and discarding the remaining segment of their trip. The only motive behind someone using this tactic is to save money. Can you blame them? I know I can’t.
And money you will save!
Hopper found that someone who uses the hidden city ticket strategy would end up saving money 26% of the time with an average saving of $33 (about 21%) over buying the same direct flight. However, the study also found that some routes offered hidden city flight tickets at almost $200 (nearly 60%) cheaper than the same direct flight ticket.
The $412 Difference Must Be Due To Higher Canadian Taxes, Right?
Canada is known to have high passenger airline taxes. I figured that some of the difference in the ticket prices was because of the additional taxes that are incurred by someone flying to a Canadian destination rather than an American destination.
But I discovered that’s not the case in this instance. I looked at the tax breakdown for each ticket before the Canadian sales tax was added and the flight to Seattle actually incurred more taxes, sort of.
Halifax – Seattle Flight Taxes -> Total $92.80
Canada Airport Improvement Fee $29.00 / U.S.A Transportation Tax $46.22 / U.S Agriculture Fee $5.14 / U.S Passenger Facility Charge $5.84 / U.S.A Immigration User Fee $9.09 / Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) $12.10 / September 11 Security Fee $7.27 / U.S. Federal Customs Fee $7.14
Halifax – Vancouver Flight Taxes -> Total $84.25
Canada’s Airport Improvement Fee $70.00 / Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) $14.25
However, there was an additional strange surcharge added to the Vancouver flight that was not added to the Seattle flight. It was a $69 carrier surcharge. What is a carrier surcharge? Good question, because I had the same question. According to the airline’s (Air Canada) website:
“Carrier surcharges are included in the Air Transportation Charges and are collected by airlines to partially offset certain volatile, unpredictable or fluctuating operating costs and fees, and certain fare Premiums linked to peak travel periods. These carrier surcharges can be used to offset some (among others) of the following costs: fuel, navigational charges, insurance charges, or select peak travel dates.”
Wait, What! “can be used to offset some (among others) of the following costs: fuel, navigational charges, insurance charges, or select peak travel dates.”
Something stinks to me! So let me get this straight. My $69 can be used to offset those costs, or it could be used to offset other various costs that Air Canada has elected not to disclose? I’m getting that uneasy feeling that I get when a scammer calls me up and tries to tell me I have a virus on my computer and offers to fix it for an inflated fee.
What makes this carrier surcharge seem even more like a shady catch-all charge is that not every passenger on the plane pays it! There was no carrier surcharge for the passenger who booked the Halifax to Seattle route. Only the passenger who booked the Vancouver to Halifax route was hit with the $69 carrier surcharge, even though both passengers travelled on the same planes from Halifax to Vancouver.
This Is What Makes Me Really Mad
I can’t fault airlines for trying to cover costs and make a profit. I mean after all, they wouldn’t be in business long if they lost money. I also can’t blame the airlines for charging higher fares on certain, more popular routes. It all comes down to simple economics and the rules of supply and demand.
BUT, I despise a company who tries to hide information from the consumer. After all, that hidden information affects the consumers ability to make an informed purchase decision.
AND that appears to be what some airlines are trying to do.
Some airlines are penalizing passengers and suing websites who use or promote the hidden city ticketing strategy. In 2014, United Airlines filed a lawsuit against the website Skiplagged which is a website dedicated to helping consumers find hidden city tickets. A judge threw out the lawsuit but I’m troubled at what the United spokeswoman had to say.
“We remain troubled that Mr. Zaman continues to openly encourage customers to violate our contract of carrier by purchasing hidden-city tickets, putting the validity of their ticket and MileagePlus status at risk.”
That sounds like a threat to consumers that United Airlines will cancel their ticket and take away their frequent flier miles if they try to save money on flights by using the hidden city ticketing strategy.
If the airlines are going to engage in questionable pricing strategies, then consumers should be able to exploit those strategies in the pursuit of the best prices without the fear of being penalized by the airline. After all, it is not against the law and we live in a democratic society, don’t we?
The Risks of Using Hidden City Ticketing To Save Money On Flights
There are some risks to using the hidden city ticketing strategy but any of the below risks can usually be mitigated.
1) If the stopover destination changes, there’s nothing you can do about it. Most airlines fare rules state that they are only responsible for getting you to the destination on your ticket. Albeit rare, a stopover change could happen if your initial flight is overbooked or cancelled and the airline forces you to take a different flight route that bypasses your hidden city destination.
2) It violates most airlines fare rules. It appears that Southwest Airlines is one of the exceptions. Bravo Southwest Airlines, because many airlines have chosen to prohibit the hidden city ticketing practice. What does this mean? It means an airline could penalize you for using this strategy.
Penalties could include: (A) the airline cancelling the remaining parts of your trip (including return portions). To prevent this, I would recommend only buying one-way flights. If you need a round trip just buy two separate one-way flights.
(B) Some people have reported being threatened or actually losing the frequent flier miles in their accounts. To prevent this, I would recommend not associating your frequent flier number with any reservation using the hidden city strategy. You could always choose to apply for a frequent flier miles credit a few months after your trip is complete. Most airlines give you 6 months from your travel date to apply for any missing frequent flier miles.
3) You cannot check bags. You must travel with carry on luggage only. Any checked baggage will be checked through to the destination on your ticket. The exception to this rule is when you are traveling internationally to a country where your luggage must be processed by customs before you arrive at the destination on your ticket. This would require you to reclaim your luggage at a connection point before re-checking your luggage to the destination on your ticket. In this case, you could simply leave the connection point airport after claiming your luggage and clearing customs.
Where To Find Hidden City Flight Deals
There are three websites to visit if you are looking for hidden city flight deals.
Skiplagged should be your first stop as it is dedicated to showing you how to save money on flights by using the hidden city ticketing strategy.
Hopper is a good app for finding flight deals. It is exclusively for Apple and Android devices and can be downloaded for free in the Apple and Google Play stores.
Google.com/flights is also a great resource that shows you how to save money on flights. While its intent is not to assist you in finding hidden city flight deals, it does make recommendations that help you to find hidden city deals. If you can save money by flying to an alternate nearby airport or by changing your travel dates by a day or two, Google Flights will let you know. The site also puts destination prices on a map to help you visualize the cheapest flight route.
Now it’s your turn. Let me know what you think about the hidden city ticketing strategy and what you think about airlines punishing people for using or promoting this strategy. Also, be sure to share this article with others by clicking the “Share, Tweet, or Pin It” buttons below so your friends can save money too!