Call it travel hacking or whatever you’d like, but we’re big fans of using the right tools to travel for cheap – even when they’re not really “hacks” at all. That means using Google Flights to find the cheapest flights possible, maximizing points and miles to make business and first-class fares nearly free, and never paying an ATM fee worldwide again.
But there’s one controversial method that some travelers swear by to save money … and many airlines hate. It’s the subject of lawsuits, news headlines, and arguments.
You may have heard of hidden-city ticketing or throwaway ticketing. More likely, you’ve heard of Skiplagged, the site that popularized this practice.
Before you use this method of scoring cheap flights, there are a few things you should know.
What is Skiplagged?
Skiplagged has turned hidden-city ticketing or “throwaway ticketing” into a household name. Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you want to fly from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Atlanta (ATL), but the prices are sky-high. However, there’s a cheaper flight from Minneapolis to Orlando (MCO) with a stop in Atlanta for much less. Hidden-city ticketing means you’d buy that ticket with no intention of flying through to Orlando. Instead, you’d just get off in Atlanta and skip that second segment altogether.
This hack has been around for a while, but Skiplagged.com helped popularize it – and made it much easier to find these money-saving workarounds.
Skiplagged.com‘s graphic explains the method best:
But before you take off to buy a bunch of hidden-city tickets, there are a few things you should know.
The 411 on Skiplagged & Hidden-City Ticketing
You’re probably already thinking of all the ways in your head that this could go wrong. Well, there are a few.
Take these “rules of skiplagging” into consideration before using this method on your next trip.
- It only works for one-way tickets. This is probably the most important part of hidden-city ticketing. For any flight, the rules are the same: once you skip a segment, the rest of your reservation will be canceled. So if you skip out halfway through on a roundtrip flight, you’ll have no flight home. To use this method for a round trip, you’d have to book two, separate one-way tickets.
- Don’t check a bag. Your checked bag doesn’t know it’s supposed to get off early. If you skiplag, you can only bring a carry-on. And pack light — if the gate agents require bags to be checked on an overcrowded flight, you’ll be SOL.
- Don’t make it a habit. Airlines despise this tactic, and for good reason. They might worry that you’re going to miss that second flight you’re purposefully skipping, and call your name out or hold the doors in hopes that you make it. But more importantly, airlines think that passengers who do this are breaking the rules of their “contract of carriage.”
Even the website itself warns against using this method often. Airlines could suspend your frequent flyer account and seize your miles like United has threatened, or worse. Some travelers who have used and abused this tactic have been sued. So yes, this means you should not attach your frequent flyer account to any flight you skiplag.
Keep in mind that Skiplagged is an online travel agency (OTA) just like Priceline, Expedia, and others. So when you’re booking through Skiplagged, you’re booking with a thrid-party agency rather than direct with the airline – they collect a small fee on the flights it sells. And they’re not only selling throwaway tickets: They sell normal one-way and round-trip flights, too.
So yes, Skiplagged.com wants to sell you flights. And while there can be savings, it’s not a guarantee.
In the travel age of coronavirus, we highly recommend booking directly with the airline to maximize flexible cancellation policies and protect yourself in case of changing travel plans.
Should I Skiplag to Save?
There’s no denying that hidden-city ticketing can save you a ton of money in certain situations. But don’t assume that you’ll save big bucks each and every time you search through Skiplagged or book a throwaway ticket.
Sometimes, the savings will be nil – or fares will be higher than just searching on Google Flights and booking directly with the airline.
For example, a flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Los Angeles (LAX) on Google Flights and booked direct through American is just $93. Meanwhile, the same date and destination search using Skiplagged.com for hidden-city ticketing comes up $20 higher.
In other cases, this could save you a lot on a one-way flight. Instead of booking Minneapolis to Charlotte (CLT) one-way for $216…
You could book the one-stop flight from Minneapolis to Greenville, South Carolina (GSP) and get off in Charlotte for a much lower fare of $81. Just remember – you have to buy a separate one-way flight back if you want to eventually get back home.
And remember, this method only works for one-way flights, so always compare the cost of two one-way flights to a roundtrip flight booked directly with the airline. For example, a flight via Skiplagged from Minneapolis to New York City (JFK) at $97 might sound like a deal.
But the roundtrip cost for flights booked direct with the airline is only $197.
You could technically book both ways with Skiplagged, but it’s a bit more complicated. And given the risks of using this method, it’s not worth it unless you’re saving a substantial amount of money.
As you can tell, there’s some trial and error involved to see if using throwaway ticketing will save you money.
How to Search Flights on Skiplagged.com
Remember: they are an online travel agency, not just a hidden city search engine. To start, search one-way flights to compare costs.
Once you’ve entered your departure city and desired destination, you’ll need to filter to only see hidden-city options. This will filter for flights that don’t end at your destination but simply have a stop there.
Some searches won’t have this hidden-city toggle. In that case, choose to filter by layover cities. This will mean a bit more work on your end: you’ll have to work backwards to research routes that often have your desired destination as a layover.
Unfortunately, Skiplagged.com isn’t a perfect search engine tool for hidden city ticketing options. But it’s by far the best tool for discovering some of the hidden-city options that might be able to drop the costs of your flight. And the keyword there is might.
We always recommend comparing the results to roundtrip fares searched through Google Flights. In our minds, Skiplagged and other services like it are best as a last resort when the airfare you need is high – not as your first stop for finding cheap flights.
If you’re feeling more confused than when you started, you’re not alone. Hidden-city ticketing is more complicated than it may seem – and often unnecessary. We recommend simpler methods like using Google Flights for the vast majority of flight searches, using these tactics only when the airfare you want is exorbitantly expensive.
Just please, we’re begging you: Be sure you book a way home, don’t check a bag, and don’t make it a habit.