6 years ago

Kayak pairs one-way flights into Hacker Fares

In search of flight savings and more choice, Kayak’s search results will now sometimes include Hacker Fares — pairs of one-way flights from different airlines to create a discounted roundtrip.

Although these flights will be presented as a roundtrip, these Hacker Fares aren’t interline fares — each leg must be booked separately on the airline or online travel agency website.

Hacker Fares were rolled out today on Kayak.com only for domestic and international fares.

Robert Birge, Kayak’s chief marketing officer, declined to address any plans to introduce the new feature on any of Kayak’s international or partner sites.

Birge says Kayak will show Hacker Fares when:

  • They are substantially the lowest-price itinerary;
  • They are the lowest fares in a time slot;
  • The Hacker Fares save time; or
  • They add an airline.

Kayak will not display Hacker Fares as two one-way fares on the same airline, and it also won’t show Hacker Fares as connecting flights, Birge says.

On a Chicago O’Hare to New York JFK roundtrip search, departing Sept. 1 and returning Sept. 6, Kayak displays a Hacker Fare of $217 for a 6:05 p.m. Delta Air Lines departure Sept. 1 and a 7:38 a.m. return Sept. 6.  on JetBlue. (As Kayak notes, the Delta leg actually is from Delta Connection and operated by Mesaba Airlines.)


When you click “Select,” Kayak explains that you would have to book the $126 Delta Connection flight on Delta.com and then the $91 JetBlue flight on JetBlue.com.


Kayak provides the links to both airline websites for bookings.

The Hacker Fares also may include one-way fares with a stop.

The Hacker Fares appear to provide more choice for travelers and some savings, which can be seen if you do the same search on Bing Travel.

Kayak powers flight search on Bing Travel, but hasn’t introduced Hacker Fares on Bing Travel.

Both sites showed the lowest roundtrip as $210 on Delta. But, while Kayak.com displays Delta-JetBlue Hacker Fare for $217, Bing Travel’s next lowest fare was a $229 JetBlue roundtrip.

So, on Kayak.com the savings on the base fare was $12 and it added a time slot not shown on Bing Travel.

Kayak explains the new feature in a blog post:

A few savvy travelers know a little trick for finding deals. Sometimes buying two one-way fares on separate airlines can turn out to be cheaper than the best roundtrip price. But finding these ‘holes in the matrix’ isn’t so easy. Basically you have to search travel sites over and over to find these deals.

The blog post says Hacker Fares — and Kayak has applied for a trademark — are the “brainchild” of the company’s chief scientist, Giorgos Zacharia, and his team.

“I’ve saved hundreds of dollars for my family with this approach over the years, so we thought we’d make this type of searching available to non-hackers, as well,” the blog post quotes Zacharia as saying.

Many sites and airlines sell one-way fares.

Birge says Kayak thus accesses one-way fares from multiple data sources and puts them together into two one-way fares for a roundtrip.

Kayak does this by “running the additional query approach simultaneously and presenting those fares that add cheaper or different options and doing it quickly and accurately.”

So Kayak is merely consolidating one-way fares that are widely available into roundtrip options that normally would take a lot of manual searching and skill to find.

It remains to be seen how airlines will react to Kayak’s Hacker Fares.

Delta, for example, has barred metasearch sites from displaying interline flights under the Delta brand, and also has prohibited online travel agencies from selling Delta’s flights on metasearch websites.

“These are not interline fares,” Birge points out. “An interline fare is one roundtrip booking on separate airlines, but one booking whether fulfilled by an OTA or airline. Hacker Fares are separate, one-way fares so if someone books this with a Delta one-way fare, they would have to book at Delta.com and the other one-way fare from another provider.”

Birge adds: “We would be showing Delta one-way fares that they are selling here if they showed up.”

Delta was looking into the new feature and didn’t have an immediate comment.

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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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  1. CSJ

    What happens if you need to cancel your hacker flight? Is it possible?

  2. anne

    Does the luggage have to be claimed after the first flight and re checked in for the second flight?

    • Chris

      Uh, you’re booking two one-way tickets–one to your destination and one back home. Won’t you be collecting your luggage at your destination?

      • Sean O'Neill

        Sean O'Neill

        Have to travel light to make this work.

      • Becky

        if i am booking a hacker fare that included a round-trip ticket from say jacksonville to boston and then catching another flight from boston to somewhere else on the same day and then returning (so in fact 2 one way tickets) you would need to get luggage after landing in boston and then check back in to the airline for your next flight . This is what the original poster is referring to I believe.

  3. Chris Bird

    This is a purely theoretical posting. I don’t know if it will work, nor do I condone the behavior mentioned in this post.

    The next interesting place to look is around “hidden tickets”. As a refresher a hidden ticket is where you purchase a trip with a stop, but don’t take one of the legs (the last leg). The airlines will cancel the whole itinerary if they catch you doing this, so its usually a bad idea. However there are some places where the system could get gamed. But the risks are high.

    By way of illustration, imagine you intend to fly Chicago to Dallas. The round trip airfare is (say) $500. However you discover that there is a Chicago/Austin round trip for $300. And it stops in Dallas. So buy the Chicago/Austin and get out in Dallas. Bad move. The airline will cancel your return for you and you may not discover until you attempt to check in. Also with checked baggage – forget it.

    However with one way tickets, this is less of a problem. So, I would not be surprised if some enterprising person were to attempt to game the system by looking for one-way hidden cities.

    Then there is a further refinement, but one I have not seen in the wild. Now let’s take the same hypothetical trip – Chicago/Dallas. I discover that there is a Milwaukee/Dallas trip that can be booked (with interline ticketing) going through Chicago. Say the Milwaukee leg is on United and the Chicago/Dallas leg on American. Given that these are on 2 different reservation systems, it might be possible to not take the Milwaukee/Chicago leg and not have the itinerary cancelled. It depends on the sophistication of the systems – and I can’t know that.

    There’s lots of creativity available as knowledge of prices through electronic discovery improves. Perhaps this will bring some symmetry into the power relationship between the airlines and the passengers. Worst case though – we all suffer.

  4. Ophir

    I’ve been in the travel industry for 2.5 decades and, as Murray said, agents have been doing this “forever”. I’m pretty sure ITA has been doing the same thing with ATPCO fares since “Day 1”. I also just ran a search on Sabre just for fun on the dates Dennis mentioned earlier and found the same results there as I found on Kayak, combining Jet Blue with Spirit, etc.

    Yet, although good ol’-fashioned human agents are way beyond technology in finding good solutions from multiple sources – especially for complicated itineraries – Technology IS catching up. The day will eventually come when technology “knows” plus or minus the same tricks agents know. Nothing can stop evolution.

  5. Daniele Beccari

    Good move, finally. This feature is much more important in Europe thanks to the flurry of low cost carriers, that’s why European metasearchers have been working in this space for years (Skyscanner, Travelfusion, Dohop, Liligo…). But making it work right and fast, with big live data, is not easy.

    With one-way fares and unbundling models expanding into traditional airlines this will gain importance everywhere. Next to fill are going to be fare families & optional merchandising – and UIs will start becoming very full.

  6. Charlotte Davies

    Like Murray, who always gets his point across with much conviction, I don’t see anything earth shatteringly new here. Am I missing something? Maybe because like any clever consumer (or travel agent), I shop around and happily book one way tickets to get best possible deals on airfares.

  7. Murray Harrold

    …. and agents have been doing (and a lot more than what is a very, very simple and basic concept explained here) … for about – Ooooh! What? 30 years an upwards? If this is all their “Scientist” comes up with, why don’t they try getting one who is a bit more up to date than, say … 1980?

  8. Tina

    “Brainchild” of the company’s chief scientist, Giorgos Zacharia, and his team?????????

    What a load of rubbish! These fares have been sold in Europe for YEARS! The fact they are taking credit for inventing something websites in Europe have been selling for at least 6 years or more is a bit of a joke!

  9. Jackson

    Now kayak just needs to be the metasearch of group deal buying and they will distinguish themselves even further. Search living social, groupon, travelzoo deals, and the thousands of clones in one place. Now there’s a value add.

  10. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Deepesh: Run some searches if you can access Kayak.com.

    I just did a Boston to Chicago search, 9/19 to 9/22, and came up with six Hacker Fares on the first page of results.

    So, I guess there are more than you would think.

  11. Deepesh Nellutla

    Not sure how many Hacker Fares will be in the search results for a given city pair . As One way Fare is typically more than 50 percent of Two way fare.

    • Tony A.

      Deepesh: Even *if* the base fares of airlines are usually the same (and even for the reverse direction), seat availability on the lowest priced booking classes may differ. So the outbound carrier may not have available seats on cheap fare buckets for the return leg while others do. This *may* make split ticketing end up with a cheaper total fare.

  12. Oz Har Adir

    This is exactly the type of moves Kayak should be doing: short search cycles and build multi-links to the airlines sites if needed. Customers take this practice anyway, and there is no reason to block one way fares from them if they improve search results.

    I can’t imagine Delta (or any other airline) to fight this – they led the market in this direction with their strategy (one way pricing, own site booking) and they should embrace this change, as would consumers.


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