Scott Keyes is an expert when it comes to getting the best possible price for airline tickets.
The reporter for Think Progress and author of the e-books “How To Fly For Free” and “How To Find Cheap Flights“ is so good at it that he has planned a world trip that will take him more than 20,000 miles to 13 countries, all for free.
When Business Insider spoke with Keyes, he said one of his favorite hacks for getting cheap flights was taking advantage of “throwaway tickets,” something that many fliers have never even heard of before.
“This one can be a huge money saver,” Keyes told us about his favorite throwaway ticket website Skiplagged. “You just have to know how to use it.”
For those who don’t know, throwaway tickets — also known as “hidden city” or “point beyond” tickets — are flights you purchase to an unpopular destination.
Say you were trying to buy a ticket from New York to Chicago. Because of demand, these tickets will be much more expensive than flying from New York to Milwaukee, for instance.
A throwaway ticket would be if you found a flight to Milwaukee with a layover in Chicago. Then instead of getting on the plane to go to Milwaukee, you would throw away that leg of the ticket and exit the Chicago airport.
“The only thing that people need to know about Skiplagged is just making sure they understand how to approach it,” Keyes said. “Never buy a round-trip, because once you skip a leg of your trip the rest of your itinerary cancels. You also can’t check any bags since they’ll arrive at the throwaway city and not your actual destination.”
With that in mind, Skiplagged can find you some much cheaper airfare, especially if the city you’re visiting is a major thoroughfare such as New York, Chicago, or London.
This hack can save people hundreds of dollars, but is highly frowned upon by the airline industry. The website iscurrently being sued by both United and Orbitz, and nowlinks out to third-party websites where you can purchase the airfare.
“Skiplagged’s sole purpose has always been to help you become savvy travelers,” Skiplagged founder and computer whiz Aktarer Zaman explained on the GoFundMe website he created to raise money to battle the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, we have been doing too good of a job so United Airlines and a big travel partner teamed up with a lawsuit to get in the way. Everything Skiplagged has done and continues to do is legal, but the only way to effectively prove this is with lawyers.”
Airlines, for their part, compare the practice to switching prices on goods sold in a store. Here’s a sample letter American Airlines will send to its fliers explaining why the ticket pricing is structured differently for certain cities:
“Because we compete with other airlines with different route structures, we sometimes find it necessary to give a traveler who is traveling beyond a connecting point a better price than travelers who are just traveling to the connecting point. For example, a passenger who is traveling to Austin, Texas from Los Angeles can go on one airline via Phoenix for a price that is lower than the cost of traveling on American between Los Angeles and Dallas. If we want to offer the same price to Austin as the other airline, but the only way we can get travelers there is via Dallas, we find ourselves charging the Austin passengers less than the Dallas passengers.”
It’s also worth noting that passengers who are caught by major airlines for abusing throwaway ticketing may receive a written warning from the airline, be denied boarding, have their ticket confiscated, or be fined for the difference between the price they paid and the lowest applicable fare.
If you’re caught, don’t lie about what you’re doing — this could result in a fraud charge — but be honest and remember that though the airlines hate it (a lot), these tickets are not illegal.
Ultimately, throwaway ticketing can be a useful approach to finding a decent fare if you’re trying to save some money and are flying to a major thoroughfare such as Chicago, New York, London, Paris, or other major destinations with international airports.