What if flight hacking goes mainstream?

There will always be people who are able to find idiosyncrasies in airlines’ pricing models in order to lower their flight costs.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Jonathan Breeze, CEO of AardvarkCompare.

Ancillary revenues, yield management and personalisation are some of the reasons why airline pricing models are becoming more sophisticated. But large numbers of potentially aggrieved customers are beginning to fight back. They even have a name – flight hackers.

Helped as never before by information-sharing platforms such as Quora, flight hackers have the potential to disrupt the current pricing model.

As a result, airlines may wish to reconsider the perceived unfairness of their current approach, which, from the passengers’ perspective, is based on income maximization for the airline.

Here are some flight hacks consumers are using.

1) Insuring non-refundable risk

At the extremes, refundable flight options can be up to 400% more expensive than non-refundable.  Travel insurance incorporating robust cancellation benefits such as “cancel for work reason” or “cancel for any reason” can mitigate almost all cancellation risk for customers, with a typical cost of coverage of 10% of ticket price.

If this non-refundable flight hack goes mainstream, there is significant disruption risk to the current refundable pricing model.

2) Anonymous search

There is a growing fear among consumers that their search activity is impacting their flight prices, such is the lack of trust in current airline pricing models.  Flight hackers have taken to searching in anonymous mode within their browsers.

3) VPN from another country

As airlines offer differentiated pricing for the same flight for customers shopping in different countries, then flight hackers can use VPN tools to modify their apparent location to a less expensive country for ticket purchase.

4) Single seat purchase for groups

Flight hackers buying for a group fear that a group price will be more expensive per seat than a single search, so look to purchase group tickets individually.

5) Hidden city ticketing

Rather than booking a high cost hub-to-hub ticket, flight hackers will book a flight that continues to a more remote destination.  These multi-city sectors are often significantly less expensive than flying point to point.  The flight hacker simply does not take the final flight sector.

Example: New York – Chicago direct is expensive, but New York – Kentucky, with a change in Chicago is less expensive.  The flight hacker books the New York – Kentucky flight, but gets off in Chicago; the ‘Hidden City’ on the route.

6) Cross-fares

For business travelers who frequently fly between cities for work, mixing and matching outbound and return dates can help reduce costs on short duration trips.

7) Baggage fees

Passengers aim to avoid checked baggage fees by maximising their carry-on allowance. This has an operational impact on the airlines, with longer boarding times putting pressure on departure times.

Added together, these flight hacks – and there are more –  offer a mainstream customer base the opportunity to get a deal at the expense of the airline’s bottom line, something airlines can ill afford.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Jonathan Breeze, CEO of AardvarkCompare.

NB2: Image by Stmool/BigStock.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Lee Ann

    I question the legal aspect of the non-refundable tickets. What other industry could get away with such things? They could put a limit on the number of days out, but there is no reason they cannot refund a ticket that is more than a month out.

  2. gary hance

    I tried to resist, really tried. But I couldn’t. For ‘flight hacking’ read ‘using a sensible travel agent’ and understand that these techniques are not new, not cutting edge and the article merely puts into the online context what many agencies have been doing for years. Murray’s instant dismissal would indicate a connection with the IATA police, and tossing around the ‘cross bordering’ line as if it was an offence punishable by a long jail sentence gives the wrong message. Anyone can cross border – if the agency has offices in multiple countries or access to an international fare sourcing business (and there are a few of them around) then overseas inventory and pricing is easily available. Agencies by definition search anonymously, the GDS is the intermediary and all the airline knows is the agent X has sent the query, could be on behalf of any of it’s customers. Cross fares are hardly big news, just change the origin point so you get the weekend included in the ticket and you get the cheaper fare. Or buy one round trip from the agent, the other direct from the airline, but of course you have to expect a lower mileage allocation now that most carriers link the awards to the fare paid. Hidden city ticketing only works if you have no checked bag… And while there may be insurance companies prepared to the the risk, it’s an absolute fact in the insurance market that more use of the refund element in such policies will result in higher premiums and perhaps more conditions. Nonetheless an interesting article with few surprises for someone used to dealing with a travel agent who practices creativity and innovation. Perhaps a broker rather than agent? p.s. Murray feel free to send the IATA resolution that prohibits cross bordering?

  3. Glenn Wallace

    No one is doing anything with split ticketing for multi-passenger itineraries – people flying as couples or families. Big opportunities here. By default on most sites everyone pays the cheapest booking class that has availability for all of the passengers, leaving cheaper inventory buckets untapped. Lots of other great optimizations still waiting out there. The list above is not as compelling though (sorry).

  4. Jonathan Breeze

    Thanks Murray,

    Tosh? No, that is how Travel Insurance works.

    The link above explains in greater detail.
    The insurance company does not go bust, because most people who buy Travel Insurance do not get sick, or cancel their trip because of work reasons, or simply change their minds.
    They travel.
    They go on vacation, or go to the work conference, or whatever it is that they planned to do.

    In the same way that people who buy Auto Insurance don’t all crash their cars.
    Nationwide and State Farm are doing just fine.

    Refundable flights at 4x the cost of Non-Refundable looks and smells like daylight robbery.
    Insurance is a simple way of moderating the risk of cancellation without paying ridiculous mark-ups to airlines.

  5. Murray harrold

    Oh! Come on. What tosh. Any insurance firm that allows you to effectively cancel at a whim would go bust overnight. Cancellation may be recovered for very specific bona ride reasons only. Anonymous search. Do me a favour. VPN is cross bordering. If you get caught, under certain conditions, you can get thrown off. Groups. Group fares have very little to do with price. They are about holding 10 or more seats at a fixed price, names, etc to be given later, for heavens sake. Hidden city. Not new; only works under certain conditions and you need to know what you are doing. Cross fares (as you call it) is back to back apexing. Airlines can (and do) cancel bookings if they catch you.
    (Oh! And any agent on or off line will get a thumping great agency debit memo as well) baggage fees – “hacking” Yeah. Right. Try “common sense”. We don’t know who you are, but your understanding of travel has but a tenuous grasp of reality.


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