Hacker fares sound like shady business, but they’re a completely legal way of booking 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.
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Hacker fare meaning
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 together compared to 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 different airlines instead of seeking out a round-trip ticket.
He may also compare the numbers and discover that the same airline offers cheaper one-way flight options that cumulatively cost less than its round-trip ticket offerings.
The internet seems to agree that the term “hacker fare” was coined by travel agency and metasearch engine Kayak.
So what is hacker fare on Kayak?
To help travelers seek cheaper flights, Kayak plays airfare matchmaker by finding two one-way tickets to make a roundtrip flight.
The platform does this with hopes of offering 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 that offer hacker fares like Kayak, Dollar Flight Club, or Skyscanner, you may have heard of air ticket shopping methods travelers also refer to as a hacker fare.
Also called “hidden city fare” or “hidden city ticketing”, this hacker fare method involves booking a two-leg flight with the goal of taking only the first leg. The traveler then leaves their seat unfilled for the final leg of the journey.
A traveler does this by purchasing 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 in City 2 may be a lot more affordable than a ticket 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 take away 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.
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Steps to booking a hacker fare
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 a lot 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 then have to bookmark all your options and select the best combination.
The idea behind Kayak’s Hacker Fares was developed by the platform’s lead computer scientist 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 pretty acquainted 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 who are 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 then begin to search 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 own 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 so you can 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 own research.
Kayak airfares are some of the best available online, thanks to the website’s variety of tools that help travelers come up with 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 will then be able to edit this itinerary to build their perfect vacation.
Other features include Private Deals, which allow you to 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.
Scott’s Cheap Flights
Since 2015, Scott’s Cheap Flights has saved its member’s 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 can save you up to 90% off.
The website sends its members email notifications of available deals as soon as they pop up.
Scott’s Cheap Flights differentiates itself from automated fare alert services by rigorously evaluating all deals to make sure it’s 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.
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Dollar Flight Club
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 your departure airport and watch out for email and app alerts.
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The platform functions very much like a comparison website, without hidden fees, commission, or re-ordering results.
Skyscanner comes with a plethora of 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 best time to book.
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 that 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
Pros of Booking a Hacker Fare
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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Purchasing one-way tickets instead of round trip fares may offer you some added schedule flexibility, depending on your flight times.
With a hacker fare, travelers can put together two individual flights to develop an itinerary that works better for you 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 simply 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.
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 airfare’s entire cost.
Airlines often consider the return flight to be separate from the first flight when booking a hacker fare, which makes it difficult to get a refund on the unused flight.
Additional change fees
Travelers who encounter changes in schedules may end up paying more fees with a hacker fare. They must also change each leg individually with their chosen carriers.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a hacker fare?
A hacker fare refers to a booking method made popular by 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 that are used 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 there are two general factors that influence the affordability of airfare: the demand for a flight and the supply of flights.
Sometimes, it could be more affordable to book connecting flights on more competitive routes as opposed to 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?
There is no law that penalizes travelers for utilizing a hacker fare, but the method always comes with tradeoffs. Travelers that are caught breaking airline rules may be severely penalized. Before booking hacker fares, it’s 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 to only book one-way tickets.
Flying hidden-city on the same route using the same airline within a short time frame 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 with regards to hacker fares, but no as of this writing, no one has been successfully sued. Skiplagged was sued for promoting hacker fares to no avail. Airlines Lufthansa also tried to sue a Berlin passenger but the case was dumped (though it is now being appealed).
The likelihood for any traveler to face grave consequences (such as a lawsuit) for booking hidden city tickets is close to zero. Do note, however, 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 more on route changes and that you’ll have to check luggage.
If these things don’t bother you, then you can save considerably with a hidden city fare.
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