What is a Hacker Fare? 3 Easy Steps to Hacked Fares

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Book ticket button - Hacker Fares

Hacker fares sound like shady business, but they’re a legal way to book cheaper flights. Here’s everything you need to know about this popular money-saving travel hack. 

If you aren’t familiar with how a hacker fare works, there’s much to learn if you’re looking to save on flights. This popular travel hacking method may seem complex for the unacquainted, and travelers are advised to learn more about the booking technique before giving it a go. 

What is a Hacker Fare? The Real Meaning

Booking a hacker fare

So, what does hacker fare mean? A hacker fare may be described in two ways: the first method is completely safe, while the other has an unsavory reputation. 

Regardless, both methods revolve around the premise that two or more one-way flights may be more affordable than a round-trip ticket. If you frequently book flights, you already know this to be true.

Here’s how both hacker fare methods work. 

The safe way

This type of hacker fare is a set of one-way tickets that cost less than a round-trip ticket to the same destination. For example, a traveler may find considerable savings by booking two one-way flights to and from his destination on two airlines instead of seeking a round-trip ticket. 

He may also compare the numbers and discover that the same airline offers cheaper one-way flight options that cost less than its round-trip ticket offerings.  The internet seems to agree that the term “hacker fare” was coined by the travel agency and metasearch engine Kayak.

So what is hacker fare on Kayak? To help travelers seek cheaper flights, Kayak plays an airfare matchmaker by finding two one-way tickets to make a roundtrip flight. The platform does this to offer you a set-up that costs less than a regular roundtrip flight.  

The not-so-safe way

Some people looking to save on airfare turn to shadier ways of booking a hacker fare. Outside of reputable sites offering hacker fares like Kayak, Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), Dollar Flight Club, or Skyscanner, you may have heard of air ticket shopping methods travelers refer to as hacker fare. 

Also called “hidden city fare” or “hidden city ticketing,” this hacker fare method involves booking a two-leg flight to take only the first leg. The traveler then leaves their seat unfilled for the final leg of the journey.

A traveler purchases a ticket that connects to their intended destination and forwards to another city. At times, because of airline revenue management strategies, this method is a lot more affordable than taking a direct flight to their intended destination.

For example, a ticket from City 1 to City 3 with a connection to City 2 may be much more affordable than one from City 1 to City 2. Do note that travelers who book hacker fares this way run the risk of encountering severe penalties if they are caught. 

The risks of booking hidden city flights

For starters, airlines may cancel your return flight or remove all the frequent flier miles you earned. If something happens inadvertently and reroutes your flight, you may be stuck, as your airline is only obligated to take you to your final destination and not your connecting city. 

You may also be forced to pay full price for the cost of your trip or, in more severe cases, be banned from using the airline. 

See Related: How to Earn Airline Miles Without a Credit Card

Comparison of different types of hacker fares

MethodDescriptionRisk LevelPotential SavingsBest For
Standard One-Way PairingBooking two one-way flights separately instead of a round-tripLow10-30%Budget travelers, flexible schedules
Hidden City TicketingBooking a flight with a connection as the final destinationHigh20-50%Adventurous travelers, no checked bags
Throw-Away TicketingBooking a multi-city trip and skipping the final legModerate20-40%Flexible travelers, short trips
Nested TicketingCombining multiple tickets with overlapping routesModerate30-50%Experienced travel hackers, complex routes
Fuel DumpingBooking based on anticipated airline price changesLow10-25%Travelers with flexible dates
Currency RouteBooking in a different currency for potential savingsLow10-20%International travelers, currency knowledge

Steps to booking a hacker fare

Booking a plane ticket

This guide will focus on the safer way of booking hacker fares. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to save on airfare by booking two one-way trips instead of one round trip. 

1. Understand that it takes work 

It should go without saying but looking for two-one-way fares on different airlines requires much more work than booking a roundtrip fare on Expedia, purchasing it, printing out your boarding passes and getting to your destination.

You’ll have to do a lot more research, and research may take a lot of time. Regardless, the savings will be worth your extra time at the computer. 

Booking a hacker fare is a pretty straightforward process. When you encounter a high roundtrip fare or if you’re looking to save, all you need to do is to run a bunch of searches on one-way flights through various websites.

You’ll have to bookmark all your options and select the best combination.  The platform’s lead computer scientist developed the idea behind Kayak’s Hacker Fares, who booked flights using this method for years.

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2. Know the best time to book a hacker fare

Booking hacker fares make more sense in some situations. Here are the best times to try out this money-saving travel hack

  • When prices are high. If you’re familiar with airfare, you’ll know when prices have inflated. This is a good time to save by booking hacker fares. 
  • When you’re booking last minute. Travelers purchasing tickets close to their day of travel may also benefit from booking one-way fares on one airline at the last minute while still being able to look for an advance purchase discount one-way on another airline. 
  • When flight times are inconvenient. When flight times don’t fit your schedule, booking a different one-way flight on another airline may fit your schedule better. 
  • When you’re looking to take advantage of a loyalty program. Sometimes, roundtrip fares can be too high. By booking a hacker fare, you can book only one cheaper flight on an airline where you have a lot of miles. You may even be upgraded or enjoy early boarding as part of your trip. 

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3. Start your search

The first thing to do is to employ a general search. Check out various flight search engines to learn which airlines fly to your destination. Once you find out which airlines fly the routes, you can begin searching around their sites. 

An easier way to do this is to collect suggestions from hacker fare websites like Kayak and compare the results with your searches to see if you can find even lower airfares.

While searching, do your best to keep track of the best fares you find by writing them down or compiling your findings in a spreadsheet. You can also bookmark your prospects to get back to them easily. 

The best websites to find hacker fares and cheap flights

You’ll find a variety of travel search engines online that can help you find the lowest one-way airfares. The best hacker fare websites collect data from a plethora of airlines. This saves you time from having to do your research. 

Kayak

Kayak website

If you want to save on flights, booking a Kayak hacker fare may be the best option. This search engine offers travelers options on not only flights but hotels and rental cars.

Kayak airfares are some of the best available online, thanks to the website’s various tools that help travelers develop better search results. 

Kayak hacks prices with its plethora of technologies. Price Alerts allows travelers to track prices on hotels and flights via phone or email notifications, while “Trips” conveniently compiles your travel information into an easy-to-read itinerary.

Travelers can then edit this itinerary to build their perfect vacation. Other features include Private Deals, which save even more on hotels and rental cars with a Kayak subscription, and Price Forecast, which advises travelers when to book or wait for a flight.  

Going.com (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)

Going (Formerly Scott's Cheap Flights) Review

Since 2015, Going.com (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights has saved its members hundreds of millions of dollars in airfare. The website combines sophisticated software and a team of flight experts to help you find flight deals and mistake fares that save you up to 90%.

The website sends its members email notifications of available deals as soon as they appear. Going.com differentiates itself from automated fare alert services by rigorously evaluating all deals to ensure they are worth your hard-earned money.

The platform claims that it receives over 1,000 positive testimonials and that its members can save as much as $550 per ticket on average. Read our full Going.com Review to see if it fits you right.

Dollar Flight Club

Dollar Flight Club website

Dollar Flight Club is an email and app subscription service that alerts its more than 800,000 members about cheap flight deals from their home airports. The platform claims to use its big data and expert flight finders to help its members save up to 90% on their flights.

All you need to do is to pick up your departure airport and watch out for email and app alerts. Read our full Dollar Flight Club review for more information about the platform.

Skyscanner

Skyscanner website

One of the most popular travel search engines, Skyscanner searches hundreds of airlines, car rentals, hotels, and travel agency websites to offer you the most affordable options.

The platform functions like a comparison website without hidden fees, commissions, or re-ordering results. Skyscanner comes with many features to help you arrive at the best deals.

This includes a multi-city search, an ‘everywhere’ search, price alerts, car filters, user-generated hotel reviews, and the best time to book. 

Skiplagged

 Skiplagged website

Skiplagged is a travel search engine that claims to “show you flights the airlines don’t want you to see.” The platform aims to show flight and hotel rates they won’t see anywhere else.

Skiplagged also offers options for cheap hidden city flights and claims that these are perfectly legal. Its FAQ section, however, offers insights on what to be aware of when booking a hidden city flight. 

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Pros and Cons of Booking a Hacker Fare 

Book ticket button

Pros of Booking a Hacker Fare

More savings 

Exactly how much you save on hacker fares depends on when and where you’re flying, as well as how open you are to booking flights on different airlines.

Research has proven that you can save as much as 10% on domestic flights with hacker fares. For a traveling family, that could amount to massive savings.  

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Schedule flexibility

Purchasing one-way tickets instead of round-trip fares may offer added schedule flexibility, depending on your flight times. With a hacker fare, travelers can combine two individual flights to develop an itinerary that works better for them than your return ticket options.

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Cons of a Booking a Hacker Fare

They may be hard to find

In some cases, no matter how hard you try to look for more affordable one-way fares, they do not exist, and two one-way flights will be more expensive than round-trip tickets. This happens around 80 to 90% of the time, according to a report by NBC12.  

No refunds

One reason travelers may opt for round-trip tickets instead of hacker fares is better protection. When poor weather cancels your flight, round-trip passengers are often entitled to a refund.

They may also be entitled to refund their airfare in a variety of other situations, such as jury duty or illness. Travelers with return tickets can recoup the entire cost of the airfare.

Airlines often consider the return flight separate from the first flight when booking a hacker fare, making getting a refund on the unused flight difficult. 

Additional change fees

Travelers who encounter schedule changes may pay more fees with a hacker fare. They must also change each leg individually with their chosen carriers.  

See Related: Websites for Cheap Flights and Hotels

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a hacker fare? 

A hacker fare is a booking method made popular by the travel search engine Kayak. When booked the right way, hacker fares offer considerable savings for travelers. Strictly defined, a hacker fare includes two one-way tickets for a round-trip flight.

Since one-way tickets are generally cheaper than round-trip fares, this may accrue huge savings for the traveler. 

Why are hidden city fares cheaper? 

Airline pricing is often complex, but two general factors influence the affordability of airfare: the demand for a flight and the supply of flights.

Sometimes, booking connecting flights on more competitive routes could be more affordable than a direct flight on a less competitive route. 

For example, it may cost $400 to book a flight from London to Chicago and only $300 to book a flight from London to Milwaukee with a layover in Chicago.

A traveler looking for savings would book the latter and leave the airport once his plane lands in Chicago. 

Are hacker fares illegal? 

No law penalizes travelers for utilizing a hacker fare, but the method always comes with tradeoffs. Travelers who are caught breaking airline rules may be severely penalized. Before booking hacker fares, it is best to weigh the pros and cons. 

Are hacker fares safe? 

As long as you’re aware of your airline’s rules, hacker fares are safe. Travelers looking to book a hacker fare are often advised not to use their frequent flyer number while being careful only to book one-way tickets. Flying hidden cities on the same route using the same airline within a short time is also not advised. 

How do you hack flight prices? 

Hacking flight prices require a lot of research on available one-way flights. This can be done easily through travel search engines and aggregators like Kayak or Skiplagged.

Once you’ve arrived at a list of affordable one-way flights, compare them with round-trip flights to and from the same destination to see your savings. 

Can I get sued for hidden-city ticketing? 

There have been some high-profile lawsuits about hacker fares, but no one has been successfully sued. Skiplagged was sued for promoting hacker fares to no avail. The airline Lufthansa also tried to sue a Berlin passenger, but the case was dumped (though it is now being appealed). 

Any traveler’s likelihood of facing grave consequences (such as a lawsuit) for booking hidden city tickets is nearly zero. However, note that it’s more likely to happen to a traveler who does it frequently.

While getting sued is something to consider, the real risk of booking a hidden city ticket lies in route changes and the fact that you’ll have to check luggage. If these things don’t bother you, you can save considerably with a hidden city fare. 

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Joshua Lagandaon
WRITTEN BY

Joshua Lagandaon

Joshua Lagandaon is a writer from the Philippines. He has been writing professionally for more than a decade after taking a Creative Writing degree at the Philippines' prestigious Ateneo de Manila University. He writes for local travel, fashion, and lifestyle magazines while dabbling in theater and the arts.

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