Sign up ×
Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

There are tricks such as "fuel dumping" or "hidden city ticketing" which involve booking a ticket composed of several connecting flights, then leaving the airport at a stop, possibly even "hopping off" a plane (intermediate landing). Rationale: Sometimes these tickets are cheaper than a ticket to one of the stops. So one adds an additional leg and discards it.

Some people say that when using such tricks, one enters a legal gray area. But I wonder:

Could leaving the airport at a stop really be illegal, i.e. violating an airline's or a travel agency's terms?

Also there are suggestions that one should not request an upgrade, because then the trick may be discovered by the airline. Here I wonder:

How can they know that one will throw away the last leg?

share|improve this question
there's a difference between illegal and violating the contract of carriage. The first is a criminal offense, the second a civil case. Many airlines indeed do have clauses that make it a contract violation to not use the entire ticket, and you can end up having the return trip disallowed unless starting at the final destination of the outbound ticket, but I'm not aware of any country where such would be a crime. – jwenting Jun 10 '13 at 7:15
@feklee Generally yes. Question is what will airline do about this? The worst they can do is put you on a no fly list. – Karlson Jun 10 '13 at 18:29
@feklee "illegal" is generally used to indicate criminal violations. Breach of contract would be a civil offense, not criminal. You would not end up arrested and thrown in prison for example for doing it (in most countries). – jwenting Jun 11 '13 at 5:16
Quite similar question was asked some time ago, btw… – Rabbit Jun 13 '13 at 0:34
Just to add - fascinating question as we don't really see any of this in the UK or Northern Europe. Really great question. – Venture2099 Jan 3 at 10:37

6 Answers 6

up vote 17 down vote accepted

This very likely violates the airline's terms. ("Illegal" might be putting it too strongly.) For example, here is the relevant passage from United Airlines' Contract of Carriage.

J) Prohibited Practices:

  1. Fares apply for travel only between the points for which they are published. Tickets may not be purchased and used at fare(s) from an initial departure point on the Ticket which is before the Passenger’s actual point of origin of travel, or to a more distant point(s) than the Passenger’s actual destination being traveled even when the purchase and use of such Tickets would produce a lower fare. This practice is known as “Hidden Cities Ticketing” or “Point Beyond Ticketing” and is prohibited by UA.
  2. The purchase and use of round-trip Tickets for the purpose of one-way travel only, known as “Throwaway Ticketing” is prohibited by UA.
  3. The use of Flight Coupons from two or more different Tickets issued at round trip fares for the purpose of circumventing applicable tariff rules (such as advance purchase/minimum stay requirements) commonly referred to as “Back-to-Back Ticketing” is prohibited by UA.

K) UA’s Remedies for Violation(s) of Rules - Where a Ticket is purchased and used in violation of these rules or any fare rule (including Hidden Cities Ticketing, Point Beyond Ticketing, Throwaway Ticketing, or Back-to-Back Ticketing), UA has the right in its sole discretion to take all actions permitted by law, including but not limited to, the following:

  1. Invalidate the Ticket(s);
  2. Cancel any remaining portion of the Passenger’s itinerary;
  3. Confiscate any unused Flight Coupons;
  4. Refuse to board the Passenger and to carry the Passenger’s baggage, unless the difference between the fare paid and the fare for transportation used is collected prior to boarding;
  5. Assess the Passenger for the actual value of the Ticket which shall be the difference between the lowest fare applicable to the Passenger’s actual itinerary and the fare actually paid;
  6. Delete miles in the Passenger’s frequent flyer account (UA’s MileagePlus program), revoke the Passenger’s Elite status, if any, in the MileagePlus Program, terminate the Passenger’s participation in the MileagePlus Program, or take any other action permitted by the MileagePlus Program Rules in UA’s “MileagePlus Rules;” and
  7. Take legal action with respect to the Passenger.
share|improve this answer
Thanks! What if I need to hop off honestly unplanned? How do I avoid punishment? – feklee Jun 9 '13 at 22:28
@feklee: That should probably be a new question. But my advice would be to call the airline as soon as possible and explain the situation. – Nate Eldredge Jun 9 '13 at 22:32
@feklee: in the second link you shared there are many comments of people who did hop off without any consequences so I doubt the airlines take action every time this happens. I can imagine though that if someone misses the last leg frequently, then some pattern may be easily detected in their purchase/flight history. – Rabbit Jun 9 '13 at 22:58
@feklee the main purpose is to prevent people buying a ticket say JFK-ATL-SFO because it is cheaper than ATL-SFO and only getting on at ATL (just an example, the pricing structure on that specific route may not give you an advantage in price this way), then on the return deplaning at ATL. – jwenting Jun 10 '13 at 7:18

From an airline staff member, as long as you do not have checked-in luggage to be delivered at the final destination and the sectors are within the same country then it is hard for the airlines to figure that out (they don't care actually).

How will the airlines find out? Sometimes, at some airlines, in some sectors there will be an airline representative at the plane's door to check the boarding pass during deplaning to make sure only people who should leave at this airport will leave, this happens rarely and usually happens in international flights with more than one sector. Also head counting could reveal this. Again, for domestic flights usually no one checks. Just grab your bags and leave if you want to. In case a representative stopped you at the door and asked you to show your boarding, this is one of the good times to play dumb and say you thought you reached your destination! one more thing, as long as they assigned a representative to check boarding passes this means they don't want to make problems, they just want people who should leave to leave and people who shouldn't leave to stay :)

Is this legal or not? This depends on the country (or state) and airlines rules (I think it is not allowed everywhere). In my country (and I can confirm this in some other countries as well) if you want to leave the plane before you should leave it, it is a problem! you will be questioned and held at the airport until the plane reaches its final destination. Again, this usually happens for people who come to a flight attendant and ask to be deplaned, such as people with aviophobia who decide to cancel flying at the last moment or people who got a call or something before the departure and ask to leave the airplane.

What to worry about? If you left the plane a sector or two earlier and the plane took off and never landed (crashed)! and you show up alive, you will be the first suspect! Even though this is really unlikely but you have to bear this in mind.

I personally have done this many times and left a sector earlier, but I wouldn't tell you to do it or not, you have to decide this yourself. Off the record, it is really unlikely (rare actually) to be caught. I suggest that you talk to the ground agent who will board the aircraft at the stop, ask him nicely and most likely he/she will help.

share|improve this answer
Note this advice is only relevant when both your flights are on the same plane (a so-called "direct flight") and you are literally "hopping off". More often, the two flights are on different planes; then the airline will certainly know if you don't board the second one. – Nate Eldredge Jun 10 '13 at 0:29
Exactly @NateEldredge. I did not talk about the trips with different planes. – Nean Der Thal Jun 10 '13 at 0:46
Thanks for your thoughts, and sorry that my wording caused confusion! I now changed it from "hopping off" to "leaving the airport". As you say that hopping off is a problem in your country and that normally people who do that are held at the airport, I wonder: Will airline staff go at length to search for you, possibly even delaying the connecting flight? I would feel bad about that, and also I would worry about having to pay for that if they ever catch me. – feklee Jun 10 '13 at 9:39
ok, I am keeping the answer anyway :) – Nean Der Thal Jun 10 '13 at 11:57

You have legal and you have ethics. As already mentioned in earlier answer. It is more a civil case. So then the question is, is it ethical.

I remember reading about these tricks in 2011 in an article in the NY-times while being in the air. The question was not so much whether it was illegal or not, but more on the ethical side of the tricks. It boiled down to the fact that it is as ethical as airlines exploiting monopoly positions on certain routes. In fact by using these tricks you are playing their game more or less.

Did some googling and found both the article and blog I read back then. I would suggest reading both, since the wording is much better then mine in this answer.

share|improve this answer
I now read both - very interesting. Quote from the article: "But those rules don’t carry the force of law, and most travel lawyers say that their recourse is limited." – feklee Jun 10 '13 at 21:04


I believe your question arises from not understanding the distinction between breaching the terms of a contract and violating a national or state law.

A contract is an agreement between any two parties, such as you and the airline. If you violate some term of that contract, then you are in breach of contract. However, in western common law breach of contract is not illegal. It is a state of dispute between two parties which may be resolved in court, but does not have to be.

Laws are quite different in that they are unilaterally proclaimed by the government of a given territory over which that government exercises jurisdiction. Laws are enforced by police and potentially other security apparatus of the state, and in most countries a court is almost always involved in determining whether you have breached and law and what sanction (punishment) to apply.

Therefore, there are two very distinct branches of the law: civil, which deals with disagreements between civil parties, and criminal, which deals with violations of statute law.

Violating the terms of your ticket may lead to a disagreement between and the airline. However, I'm not aware of any country or state which makes it a crime not to complete a ticketed journey.

I would add that there is probably very little your airline can do if you chose not to complete your flight. In common law, the claimant must prove not only existence and breach of contract, but that they have suffered a quantifiable loss as a direct result of that breach. What loss has the airline suffered by you not completing your journey?

Assuming your actions did not cause the airline to suffer a loss, there may be no legal remedy available to them. Of course, that does not stop them from taking other measures, such as cancelling your return journey.

share|improve this answer

It happened to me--or I did once not take the second leg of a two leg trip. I left country A with a transfer in country B for final arrival at country C. My visa for country C was not issued, while I did have a visa for country B. So I just got off the flight in country B. As it turned out, and unbeknown to me, the airline then canceled my return booking since I had failed to arrive in country C. I fussed and argued at the airline office in country B until they finally relented and gave me my return booking.

On another occasion, again involving three countries but a different airline, I again skipped the final leg of the trip, but faced no problems because it was the return portion of the journey.

share|improve this answer
Arguably you were obligated to stop at country B. In any case the airline could not have carried you to country C without the visa. It's different to choosing not to. – smci Aug 24 at 10:00

An interesting wrinkle here to consider is if this illegal of the airlines in the first place.

In essence it's the following deal: "I sell you one pound of beef for $10 or I sell you two pounds for $7. However you must eat the beef, you can't just throw it away or give to your neighbor". The key here is that the larger quantity is cheaper than the smaller one, not just in unit price but in absolute dollars.

This really doesn't any business sense at all. It only works because the airlines have quasi monopolies on certain routes and can hence price gauge and operate on a significantly higher margin. The higher margins make this an attractive route for other carriers as well and so there is a clear incentive to get into this market as well.

However, the other carriers don't do this and the question is why? One potential explanation is some sort of agreement: "we stay out of your high margin routes, if you stay out of ours". Such an agreement would likely be illegal.

It's hard to imagine that such a bizarre pricing practice would survive if there were true and open competition and an actual free market.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.