I wrote back in April that American’s Audit department seemed to be trying to justify their continued existence during the COVID-19 era.
Then in July they did a brutal DOT takedown of a family that gamed the system to generate mailers that bypassed credit card signup bonus rules.
Flyertalk member “HappyInTheAir561” writes that American’s auditors busted him for hidden city ticketing.
Hidden city ticketing is when you might book a flight from NYC to Las Vegas via Los Angeles for a fraction of the price of a nonstop flight to Los Angeles and then skip your connecting flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
I’ve written about it several times, including at length here, where I shared how to find hidden city fares that are significantly lower than Skiplagged.
That process still works better than Skiplagged and I’ve used it several times to help friends get to NYC at the last minute. On multiple occasions I’ve helped people from Cleveland find cheap tickets from NYC to Israel for a funeral, but the last minute ticket from Cleveland to NYC cost more than the ticket to Israel.
Enter hidden city ticketing.
For example a last minute flight from Cleveland to NYC for this Sunday on an airline that’s not painted like a school bus with legroom meant for kids is $299 to LaGuardia or $378 to Newark:
Skiplagged finds options from $122:
But using my ITA method to search for flights from Cleveland to anywhere in the US via LaGuardia or Newark:
Comes up with an $86 flight from Cleveland to Fort Lauderdale via Newark:
That’s a $292 savings off the price of booking the same Cleveland to Newark nonstop flight, by just booking an additional leg from Newark to Fort Lauderdale.
But isn’t it risky?
The headlines about the latest case said American is now cracking down on hidden city ticketing. But as we say on DDF, PGFHGS. Or pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.
Airlines won’t typically care if you do it a few times, unless you specifically tell an agent what you are doing or ask for your baggage to be checked to the hidden city. An agent can flag your record for review by the audit department, so those are both no-nos:
just random, saw this, from a group for AA agents: pic.twitter.com/jIzvhSUpYq
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) July 16, 2018
And you shouldn’t check luggage on a domestic hidden city ticket, unless there’s an overnight connection.
The best practice is also to not credit the miles for the flight to the airline operating the flight. You’re better off crediting them to a partner airline.
In this case, “HappyInTheAir561” was busted making a whopping 52 hidden city tickets. He also used his AA Executive Platinum mileage number, which is a dead giveaway.
It’s no surprise that he got caught.
The surprise is that American agreed to reinstate his Executive Platinum account with 600,000 miles for a mere $2,500 fine. That’s just a $48 penalty for each hidden city ticket.
Typically American would just ban a passenger for that much rule breaking. But perhaps we’re in a new era where American would rather keep the passenger and pocket a fine with a warning not to do it again? It’s also a price that will make sense for the passenger to pay and it justifies the auditor keeping their job during lean times.
Either way, I don’t think this means that we’ll see American bothering people who use a hidden city ticket once in a blue moon.
Have you ever used hidden city ticketing? Do you think American will start issuing fines instead of immediately banning AAdvantage violators?