A Strategy to Booking Cheaper Airfare

by Mike on July 20, 2012

As the resident traveler among my peers, the most common question I field is how to find cheap airfare.  This is a tough one to answer because it always depends on how far in advance you book, where you’re going, and when you’re going.  The best bet is usually to book in advance of your travel date, but not 330 days out when airlines typically load their schedule because competing airlines may not have their own schedules loaded to create any price competition.  I found that Cathay Pacific seem to load their schedule in advance of other airlines so they’re fares are more expensive during this time due to the lack of competition.

For domestic and in some cases international routes, one can use the “hidden city trick” to save on airfare.  This tactic has been syndicated in a vast foray of online publications and even the NY Times.  So this is no big secret.

The basic premise behind this trick is to book a one-way flight from your origin city to another city that is connecting through your desired destination city.  For instance, if I wanted to employ this trick flying from Hartford to Chicago, I would book a flight from Hartford to Kansas City via Chicago, which would price out cheaper than a direct flight from Hartford to Chicago.

Hidden City Trick

Booking from Hartford to Kansas City to find a cheaper flight to Chicago. Note: Red route is the Flown segment and the Blue route is the unflown segment

Once I touch down in Chicago, my intended destination, I would scrap the last segment of the flight and leave the airport since Chicago is where I intended to fly in the first place.

This trick works best when you’re flying to hub cities for a particular carrier.  Flying to Chicago, this trick would work best with American or United flying from another secondary city.

Hartford to Chicago hidden city trick

Booking Hartford to Kansas City is cheaper than booking to Chicago directly

Cost of Hartford to Chicago Direct

Airfare booking Hartford to Chicago Direct

Other city pairs that work well is Hartford to Norfolk via Reagan National if you need to get to Washington DC on US Airways.


Ideally, you would do the same trick getting back, but in all likelihood, it won’t work unless you’re flying between two hub cities in which case airfares are generally cheaper to begin with.  So, You’re most likely going to have to find another mode of transportation or book another paid flight back, which may or may not be cheaper than booking a round trip flight to begin with.

This trick is best poised as a repositioning flight on an award redemption.  If I booked a Detroit to Frankfurt flight on Lufthansa and needed a direct flight to Detroit, I could implement this trick to fly from Hartford to a third city via Detroit and skip the last segment.  This will price out much cheaper than booking a direct flight from Hartford to Detroit.

To return to my home airport, I would simply add my home airport to the return segment on my award itinerary at no additional miles.  Since it’s the last stop on my itinerary, I can tolerate connection because I’m not in a hurry to catch an onward flight.


When you booked one of these hidden city trick itineraries well in advance of your departure date, chances are you’ll receive a e-mail notification informing you of a schedule change that routes you through another city than your desired connecting city(final destination).

Naturally, our initial reaction will resemble some sort of profanity, but none of that is needed.  As long as the changes were involuntary, you can call up the airline and ask to be routed through the original itinerary you booked.  I personally had involuntary changes occur on different airlines and asked to be routed through my original purchased itinerary, which they complied with.

If you need an excuse, a wiser traveler than me told me that “any kind of justification like, you need to hand-deliver something to your connecting airport – is enough reason to stick with your original routing.”


For domestic route, airlines typically have two cabins, first and economy.  Within these cabins, there are numerous fares(see this table for UA fares), which is why you see airfare fluctuate – airlines pull these or add certain fares to a given route depending on demand.

On certain routes, airlines only allow certain fares to be purchased between a given city pair.  Take the United itinerary in the previous example.  United is only willing to sell a higher “H” fare economy ticket for a direct flight from Hartford to Chicago.    While with the city pair, Hartford to Kansas City, United is willing to sell a cheaper “S” fare economy ticket.  United may sell cheaper fares lower than an “H” fare, but certainly never as low as an “S” fare.  An astute traveler that can recognize the fare bucket differences and purchase a cheaper fare bucked code routing through their desired destination.


  • Don’t check luggage.  Obviously you can’t check luggage to your final destination if you plan on ditching the last segment.
  • Check equipment you’re flying, you maybe required to gate check your luggage, which isn’t a show stopper, but it’s slightly inconvenient.
  • Play around with other city pair combination through the hub city with matrix.itasoftware.com to find the lowest fare to implement this trick.


Airlines don’t like consumers taking advantage of this and affecting their bottom line.  If this practice is implemented once or twice it will most likely fly under the radar with no repercussions.  On the other hand, making this routine, resulting in numerous unflown segments will raise red flags with the airline and could bar you from flying with them again.

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