What airlines don’t want you to know about hidden city ticketing

Hidden city tickets are not illegal, but airlines don't like them.

Hidden city tickets are not illegal, but airlines don't like them.  (AP)

What if I told you that your next airline flight could cost you 50 percent less than what comes up on the airline’s website or any online travel website for that matter? Would you be able to stomach those airline fees a little better? Would you feel differently about airline travel in general? 

Say hello to hidden city ticketing, a way of booking tickets that has been around for decades, but one you may not be familiar with today.

How hidden city works

Let’s say you need to travel to Philadelphia from Charlotte and the one-way airfare is $590. That might seem outrageous to you for a flight that takes roughly 90 minutes.   But then you find a cheaper flight to Boston, with a connection in Philadelphia –and just get off in the City of Brotherly Love.

Is it legal?

Hidden city ticketing isn’t illegal, but the airlines hate this practice.  Long ago they acted to prevent it by canceling the remainder of your ticket if you missed any legs, with no compensation to you.

But that apparently didn’t stop all hidden city ticketing. The practice was in the news again earlier this month when a website called was sued by United Airlines and online travel website Orbitz. offers fare comparisons and allows you to book hidden city fares.

The airline and online travel giant sued the website for “intentionally and maliciously” interfering with their business by promoting hidden city ticketing and undermining their contractual relationships with customers.  They also claimed that hidden city tickets create a security risk because it’s difficult to confirm who is on a flight.

Click here to see the suit.

Hidden city comparisons

You don’t need a website to play the hidden city ticket game. Indeed, you simply need a travel agent to compare prices, or to do it yourself, based on individual one-way tickets that are booked as separate reservations. And travel agents usually won’t book hidden-city fares because they can be penalized by the airlines.

Hidden city ticketing won’t work to save you money in every instance, so it becomes a case of trial and error. This is due to the fact that many round trip ticket purchases can come in at a lower price point versus two separate one way tickets, but it doesn’t hurt to compare prices based on two different booking methods.

Getting help with fares

Many travelers don’t realize it, but when they book on websites like Orbitz or Expedia, they are booking through a travel agency. It might be a mega-agency, but it is still a travel agency. The difference between using an online travel website or a more traditional travel agency is that you are doing the work and any mistakes are on you, not the online travel website.

Due to the myriad of fees charged by airlines, booking a simple airline ticket is now more complicated today than ever. It’s nearly impossible to determine the true cost of any particular flight, even when it’s a simple point-to-point service.

The onus is on you, the traveler, to wade through the mess we call airline pricing, or find someone—like a good travel agent—who can do it for you.

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Mark Murphy is a noted travel expert, author and founder of  You can follow him on Twitter at @murphytravels.