In February, German airline Lufthansa sued a passenger for intentionally missing one leg of his flight, taking advantage of a much-whispered-about “hidden-city” loophole.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, hidden-city ticketing is a simple concept; you book an itinerary with a layover but miss your connecting flight because you’re already at your final destination. (In the case above, the passenger booked a trip from Seattle to Norway with a stop in Germany, but exited at Germany — a decision that could now cost them over $2700 in damages.)
As Vox points out, some travellers take advantage of this because direct flights are in higher demand than those with stops, and therefore, more expensive. And while it’s unclear if hidden-city ticketing is considered legal (though it is against the rules in several airlines’ contract of carriage), it’s probably not worth the risk.
You likely won’t be sued, but you could lose your status
According to Seth Kaplan, an author and airline expert, beyond the risk of a possible lawsuit, there’s a bigger chance an airline will invalidate any frequent flier miles you’ve accumulated if they discover you intentionally missed your flight. One traveller on American Airlines was threatened with losing their elite status if they didn’t pay for their missed flights.
Kaplan also explained there’s a lesser-known, but equally important risk in hidden-city ticketing. “Let’s say you’re trying to fly to Charlotte, but you book a one-way trip to Tampa on American Airlines with a connection in Charlotte because it’s cheaper,” he said on email. “Then let’s say your flight to Charlotte is canceled and American re-routes you onto Delta, connecting in Atlanta. What are you going to do, tell American that you really, really want to connect in Charlotte? …In that case, you could find yourself stuck paying for a much more expensive, last-minute flight.”
It’s unlikely an airline will catch you in the act of travelling on a hidden-city ticket (unless you do it often). People miss flights all the time, after all. But you should be aware that airlines have teams devoted to finding passengers travelling with hidden-city tickets and whatever savings you might accrue probably won’t be worth the threat of losing your status or facing legal action.
Plus, it might affect other flyers’ plans, too. By taking up an unnecessary seat, you’re denying another traveller from taking that spot. Worse, that decision could affect overall fare pricing for others, according to Kaplan. “It’s equivalent to maybe intentionally using a coupon to buy the wrong item: You’re taking money from the company and people who don’t cheat are paying more,” he said.
If you still insist on a hidden-city ticket, don’t abuse the loophole. And don’t check a bag, either, or it might end up at the wrong destination. Also, if you booked a round-trip, be aware that an airline will likely cancel all subsequent legs after you’ve missed a connecting flight, so don’t be surprised if you don’t have a return flight when you arrive back at the airport.