American Cracking Down On Hidden City Ticketing? Just Don’t Be A Hog

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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:

 

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?

HT: lakewood34, via DDF

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59 Comments On "American Cracking Down On Hidden City Ticketing? Just Don’t Be A Hog"

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Eli

Have you seen big savings NYC – LONDON ?
I haven’t managed to find any big savings yrt

Abey

AA doesn’t have any connection from London so obviously no

Morris

Doesn’t have to be with AA

Mitch

I doubt you’ll see big NYC –> London savings because NYC –> London is one of the cheapest flights across the pond you can find

Andrew

I know that this has surely been discussed, but do you think it’s right that the airlines prohibit it? The airlines get to sell your last leg even though you are paying for it. They either eliminate bumping someone or get to push someone on to the flight from standby. It’s no different than if I buy a medium fountain drink because there’s special on it making it cheaper than a small, and then filling it part way. If anything the store gains by having more product to sell because I didn’t take my full share.

Mike

The small vs large drink is a bad comparison because it’s the same product, a ticket to spot A Vs B are two totally different products

Izzy

more similar to buying a 2 liter coke instead of a 20 oz and spilling out half 🙂

Chucks

I think it’s more akin to buying a meal deal combo pack then throwing away the drink because the burger+fries are cheaper as the deal but you don’t care about the drink. But the restaurant still gets angry!

“Gosh you didn’t use your drink!”
“Yeah? It’s cheaper this way”
“But now no one gets to have that drink!”
“Well sure, but you sold me the drink with the meal deal at the price we agreed on.”
“Yeah but that ASSUMED you were doing to consume it! If you hadn’t bought it, we could have given sold it to someone else!”
“But I did buy it from you. At the price you advertised. That’s what happens when someone buys something from you, you can’t sell it to someone else. I bought the right to the drink as part of the meal deal. But I also don’t have to consume a product I buy from you, so I didn’t.”
“Yeah you do we totally put it in the fine print of the meal deal. You now need to pay us for the difference of the price of the burgers and fries by themselves and the meal deal.”
“If it makes you this upset, maybe you shouldn’t make the meal deal cheaper than the burgers and fries by themselves.”

Mike

If you do it once in a blue moon Without luggage, they can’t possibly prove it was intentional

ross

Is this the same plane and you just get off at the first stop, or it’s a different connecting plane and they see you missed it?

Brandon

Dan, I absolutely love the first sentence of this article!
And your disses on Spirit are quite sharp as well 🙂

Mitch

I laughed at it too!!

Simcha

+1

L

I have done it a few times from EWR to DTW. EWR to DTW can cost over $900. I have booked EWR to FLL on Delta for $130 and the the stopover is DTW

Jake

Is it illegal to purchase a hidden fare? If not how can they penalize?

ABC

Is it risky? Yea, if there’s a schedule change and they send you directly to FLL or via any city outside NYC.

Al

Or IRROPS

A

Dan would you mind sharing a copy of every airport code so we can just copy it into our ita matrix system

dd flyer

“whopping” 52 hidden tickets? Over how many years was that spread out? Doesn’t sound like such a big number…
A few years ago Dan posted about saving a few hundred bucks on RT to TLV by continuing the return to ORD. Just about everyone we met on the flight told us that their tickets continued to ORD

Jakblak

I checked out his post on FT, the email from AA says this, “You may respond to this message by 3pm, CST, Friday, August 31, 2020 stating you would like to bring your account back to good standing.”

As far as I know, August 31 was yesterday on a Monday, not Friday.

So either it is a mistake from AA or he is lying?

Eli

Is it a concern if they make you check in your carry on which happens sometimes on full flights ?

dd flyer

I would recommend using a backpack and not a wheeled carryon when flying with HC tickets. They are much stricter on rollaboards.

yossi

happened to me once and they insisted on checking the carry on bag to the final destination.( didn’t help i was late boarding to a jammed flight)
got off at the stopover and went to a cs rep and said that i am unable to continue now and i need my luggage .15 minutes later they delivered my carry on . I felt like i dodged a bullet and never did hc again

ETP

Whether 52 hidden city tickets is too many, depends on the time period. I wouldn’t say that 52 tickets over a couple of years or more are too many.

Yitz

Used to do it in Yeshiva all the time. Was much cheaper to go home on a break. Good memories. I once did JFK-BOS with a stop in DTW (Where I wanted to go) on DL. I missed the flight but told a gate agent to rebook me with a stop in DTW the next day so that I could meet someone and she agreed. So it all worked even the one time that it went south 🙂

Yankel

I’ve done hc once or twice dl and even JetBlue mint
Once did san-jfk-burlington
Then I ended up needing to check bags so I called JetBlue and had them cancel the second leg for me with no change

AYC

The best story of hidden city ticket: I got off at the stopover (my final destination), but instead of leaving the airport, I went to the gate of the next flight and got myself bumped for a travel voucher lol

Zvi

Dan,
I’ve used your great ITA hidden cities trick for years (but always as you suggest with no checked bag, no FF#, etc.). When Skiplagged came out, I figured it was just an easier way to do the same search. But here you are saying that sometimes the ITA search gets better results than Skiplagged?

Shmooger

For international flights, I find that Kiwi.com actually has excellent suggestions for the same concept as hidden city, Depart point A to B, but you are returning from point C to D. Usually it bring down the price to a fraction of the original price

Chaim

I booked nyc to tlv, tlv to bos bia nyc which was my final destination and when I got to the airport they said due to bad weather my flight nyc to bos has been cancelled so I happily accepted a refund.

Chaim

A round trip ticket starting in tlv to nyc is 818 however if you book an extra leg to bos say tlv to nyc nyc to bos then nyc to tlv it will be 737 if you skip the middle flight can they tell you that you can’t take the final flight? @dan

Skaner

You can only skip the last leg on a rt, if you do it on a middle flight the airline will cancel the remaining legs.

Chaim

Is that a fact especially now with covid?

bs

dan how do i aplly enywhere in the us, when using ita matrix

lindnuck

Pro-tip: When doing HC, don’t use Turkey as your final destination. We were going to Paris as our hidden city with Turkey as the unused leg; my wife got detained by Homeland Security and interrogated as to whether she planned to join ISIS. Almost missed the flight.

KSMH

LOL, does she look like that type?

Eli

I was once stuck in Toronto and needed to get to NYC, prices were insane. Found a last minute weekend getaway deal to Toronto from NYC, booked it, and just took the return back to NYC. They weren’t thrilled, but let me on the plane. Don’t think you can get away with that anymore… (Was 20 years ago…)

SK

“on an airline that’s not painted like a school bus with legroom meant for kids” Love it!

Nick

Do you have list of the airport codes you can share

Ganev

I once booked last minute LAX-JFK-TOR (about $180) with the intention to get out in JFK. (Flights to JFK were $300+) Flight to JFK was delayed making me miss my “connection.” so I called AA claiming that I was going to miss an important meeting in Toronto, and therefore want a refund for the entire trip plus a free ride home to LA. We settled on them only refunding me the JFK-TOR portion, which was about $30.

Deisy

what do you think about booking a ticket one way and missing the second leg and then booking with the same airline on the way back for that same day?

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