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Airline Ticket Hacks - Hidden City, Back-to-Back and Throw-away tickets

Updated on January 5, 2012

Love to travel, but only have a beer budget. Before buying your ticket it's worth trying to be as creative as possible within the ticketing rules. You might want to think about variations on Hidden City, Throwaway and Back-To-Back ticketing which I explain below. I strongly recommend developing a relationship with a budget travel agent. Remember a good travel agent can save you much more than his or her commission.

Hidden City Tickets

Market conditions sometimes mean that travelling further is actually cheaper than a shorter journey. For example the last time I flew on Japan Airlines to Tokyo, the plane continued on to Hong Kong. Here's the surprise. The flight to Hong Kong was cheaper than the flight to Tokyo. Since Hong Kong is a hub city there is much more competition to that destination than Tokyo. Hence the Hong Kong ticket was much cheaper than the Tokyo ticket even though Hong Kong is further away.

I planned on cycle-touring and traveling in Japan for a year. Canadians can stay in Japan for 6 months on a tourist visa so I would need to leave and re-enter the country once. Here's what I did. I booked a one-year open ticket to Hong Kong with two layovers in Tokyo (the layover fee totaled $100, $50 each). This ticket was a few hundred dollars cheaper than a one year open ticket to Tokyo.

I flew to Tokyo and stayed for 5 and 1/2 months. Then took a three week break in Hong Kong before returning to Tokyo for 6 months. I saved money plus got a free trip to Hong Kong which allowed me a fresh 6 month tourist visa stay in Tokyo. It worked out perfectly.

Whenever you are flying from A to B, check if the plane continues on to a popular hub C. Then check to see if the fare from A to C is lower. Check the price of an extended layover at B. Finally add everything up to see if you can save any money. Always confirm your plans with your travel agent.

Throw-away tickets

When you're on a long adventure, stuff happens and you find yourself in need of a one way ticket. Airlines love these situations where you need a one-way ticket right now. There are often promotions offering cheap return fares. So a one-way ticket can be more expensive than a return ticket meaning big profits for the airline.

Whenever you need a one-way ticket from A - B, always check the price on a return ticket A-B-A. Buy the cheaper ticket. Be sure to call the airline to tell them that there is a family emergency and you won't be using the return leg of ticket. You've saved some money. The return leg of the journey is a throw-away ticket.

Back-T0-Back Tickets

For a while I was living in one city and working in another; flying out early each Monday and returning late Friday. In a year I flew back and forth about 50 times. The airlines noticed that Road Warriors love to return home on weekends and discovered how to profit from it by charging steeper fares if you bought a return ticket where you didn't stay at your destination over Saturday.

I asked my agent if there was any way to save on tickets. She told me about back-to-back return tickets. Here is how it works. Say you're traveling between Vancouver and Toronto. Ticket 1 is a return ticket leaving Toronto early on Monday and returning late on the following Friday. Ticket 2 is a return ticket leaving Vancouver late Friday and returning early Monday the following week. Each individual ticket meets the staying over Saturday condition so qualifies for the cheaper fare. By combining the two tickets you can save money and get home each weekend.

You fly out of Toronto Monday using the first leg of ticket 1 returning Friday using the first leg of ticket 2. Monday you use the return leg of ticket 2 to fly to Vancouver. And then the return leg of ticket 1 to get you back home to Toronto. Sweet!


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