How to Save Money on Flights Using the Throwaway Ticketing Strategy
After a relatively mild winter, it’s starting to snow and become quite chilly here in NYC. As a result, my wife and I thought we would try to get away to the Caribbean, specifically Aruba, in the new year. The only problem is flights are REALLY expensive. Apparently, everyone else in NYC thought it would be a great time to flock to the Caribbean too and who can blame them. Round-trip flights were $600+ but in the end, we were able to pay just around $380 per person by using the throwaway ticketing strategy. In addition, we also paid for one of the $380 tickets using my wife’s Barclays Arrival credit card and redeemed part of the 44,000 miles signup bonus to get the flight for free.
Q. What is throwaway ticketing?
A. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Throwing away part of your airplane ticket by not traveling part of the itinerary.
Q. Why in the world would you want to do that?
A. Airlines have very complicated pricing strategies. Sometimes that results in certain airports being very expensive to fly into and certain airports being relatively cheaper to fly into. As a result, you may want to buy an airplane ticket where your final destination is one of these cheaper airports even if you don’t plan to go there.
Q. Now you’re really making no sense! Why would I buy an airplane ticket to fly to a city I don’t want to go to?
A. Well you’re not actually going to fly to this cheaper airport. Before you arrive at the final destination, you may have connections at other airports. Your goal is for one of these connections to be the real airport you want to fly into. If you are able to find such a ticket, you can save a lot of money by booking a ticket to the cheaper airport and getting off at the connection airport, which is what you wanted in the first place. If you had booked a direct flight to this expensive airport, you would probably be paying a lot of money.
Montego Bay Example
Throwaway ticketing can be a difficult concept initially, but an example with step-by-step instructions should help you understand this better. That way, you will be able to use the throwaway ticketing strategy for your honeymoon and future travels.
Let’s say you are New York City based and are trying to book a New Year’s trip down to Montego Bay, Jamaica. You want to fly out on 1/1/14 and return home on 1/6/14. Your time off is limited, and you want to make the most of your trip so let’s assume you only want to fly non-stop.
Step 1: Go to ITA Matrix, an airfare search engine powered by Google. Under the round trip tab, put in the airport code for all NYC surrounding airports, “NYC”, in the departing from field. Then put in the airport code for the Montego Bay airport, “MBJ”, in the destination field. Under stops, select “Nonstop only”.
Step 2: You’ll see that the cheapest ticket is $789. Pretty steep if you ask me!
Step 3: Let’s apply the throwaway ticketing strategy instead. What if you fly back from Montego Back into an airport that is not near New York City? Would that reduce the cost of the ticket? Switch from the round trip tab to the multi-city tab then make sure “Advanced routing codes” is clicked. If it is, you should get a couple new fields like the picture below. Where the arrow is pointed, it should now also say “Remove advanced routing codes”.
For flight 1, put “NYC” in the departing from field and “MBJ” in the destination field. That’s the first leg of the trip. For flight 2, which is the flight back home, put “MBJ” in the departing from field and “NYC” in the box right below that. For the destination field, copy and paste everything in bold here: LAX, ORD, ATL, DEN, BOS, SFO, SEA, DFW, LGA, JFK, PHX, BWI, PHL, EWR, MCO, MSP, DTW, SAN, FLL, LAS, IAH, HOU, DCA, TPA, MDW, PDX, STL, OAK, MCI, SMF, IAD, CLT, SLC, RDU, SJC, PIT, MKE, AUS, SNA, IND, BNA, SAT, CMH, MIA, CLE, MSY, BUF, DAL, BDL, ONT, BUR, JAX, PBI, ABQ, PVD, OMA, CVG, RIC, TUS, OKC, ORF, MHT, SDF, MEM, GEG, ELP, LGB, BHM, DAY, RNO, TUL, ALB, ROC, BOI, HPN, SYR, LIT, ISP, GRR, CAK, PWM, DSM, GSO, COS, CHS, ICT, TYS, ACY, MSN, MDT, PNS, BTV, HSV, FNT, PHF, FAT, BLI, GSP, ERI
That list is the top 100 airports in the United States (thanks to Dan’s Deal for compiling the list). What you are telling ITA Matrix is I want to fly from Montego Bay to any of those 100 airports. By putting “NYC” in the advanced routing field, however, you are adding the stipulation that the flight must also connect through New York City.
Step 4: Select the first leg of the flight from New York City to Montego Bay. You only want to fly non-stop so filter by stops to only see the non-stop flights. The United Airlines flight at 10:55am looks good.
Step 5: Now you’ll select the second leg of the flight, which is the throwaway ticketing portion. First filter by advisory and take out any that say “long layovers” or “overnight flights” as those generally won’t be valid bookings. That means you might see the flight show up in ITA Matrix’s search results, but you won’t actually be able to book it in real life. From the remaining choices, let’s select the 3:51pm United Airlines flight for $656.
Step 6: Look at the final itinerary. On the flight returning home, you are flying from Montego Bay to Washington DC, but you need to get back to NYC. That’s ok, because the flight from Montego Bay to Washington DC connects through Newark. When you are supposed to change planes at Newark, just leave the airport instead and go home! By doing so, you’re throwing away the Newark to Washington DC portion of your ticket hence the term throwaway ticketing. And did you look at the final price? It’s $655.29, much cheaper than the cheapest round-trip of $789 we saw in step 2. You may have also noticed in step 2 that the round-trip ticket on United Airlines with the same flight times as our $655.29 ticket would cost $1,333 if you were to book it round-trip from Newark to Montego Bay. That’s almost double the cost of what we are paying by using the throwaway ticketing strategy!
Step 7: ITA Matrix is merely a flight search engine, so you can’t book any flights. Instead, go book the ticket at any of the following: Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, the airline’s direct website (in this case United Airlines). You’ll need to book a multiple destinations trip and input the details from the final itinerary you discovered in step 6. In this example, leg 1 would be EWR-MBJ on 1/1/14, and leg 2 would be MBJ-DCA on 1/6/14. Remember that you are going to Washington DC in leg 2 and NOT Newark. But make sure when you select the final flights that the leg 2 flight connects in Newark.
Narrow the search down by selecting United Airlines in the “Preferred airline” field. The cost should be around $656, similar to what we uncovered in step 6. Use the Barclays Arrival credit card to pay for your flight, and you can redeem the bonus miles against the flight purchase. I’ll mention that searching the airline’s direct website instead of Expedia/Orbitz/Priceline/Travelocity will generally lead to a higher success rate of replicating the throwaway ticketing, but I still prefer to use the online travel agencies anyways since I can go through a cash back portal.
The Main Point
Q. Is throwaway ticketing legal?
A. Yes, you are not breaking any laws. As far as you’re concerned, you purchased an airplane ticket, and you can choose what you want to do with it. Lots of you may have already utilized the throwaway ticketing strategy without even realizing it when you only needed a one-way ticket but bought a round-trip ticket since it was cheaper than the one-way ticket. Be aware, however, that airlines don’t look favorably at throwaway ticketing since you are costing them profit they otherwise may have gained. As a result, you may not receive the miles you expected from flying. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even include my frequent flyer number when booking the throwaway ticket since it makes it easier for the airline to track you. You could also be banned from that airline or their frequent flyer program if you do a lot of throwaway ticketing, although that is rare I hear. If you do throwaway ticketing once a year, I don’t think the airlines will care all that much.
Q. Are there any risks?
A. Yes! If you check a bag, it will make its way to your final destination. In our example, the checked bag would end up in Washington DC, but you’ll have left at Newark. As you can see, that means you should almost never check a bag if you plan to utilize the throwaway ticketing strategy. Instead, you should carry it on board. In fact, you may want to pay for priority boarding or open credit cards, which will give you priority boarding to make sure you have overheard space when you board. If for some reason, you can’t carry your bag on board, ask the agent to short check your bag to the connecting airport.
Q. Are there any other risks?
A. Yes! If the flight changes due to weather, mechanical problem, etc. you may see that they changed the routing of your flight. Due to bad weather in Newark, for example, the plane may still fly from Montego Bay to Washington DC, but it will no longer connect in Newark. That would ruin the whole throwaway ticketing strategy but this scenario isn’t common and in most cases, you can usually tell a customer representative that you need to preserve the original routing for whatever reason, and they will solve the issue.
Q. Is it worth it to use the throwaway ticketing strategy?
A. That depends on your own situation. Using the throwaway ticketing strategy, we were able to save over $200 a person. In the Montego Bay example, you’ll save $133 a person compared to the cheapest flight on Jetblue. Compared to the exact United Airlines flight, you’ll save $677 a person! Sometimes the savings will be quite large, but sometimes the savings will be minimal or non-existent. You’ll have to follow the instructions here to see how much you can save on your particular flight and route.
Q. Any last advice?
A. Once you miss a portion of your flight itinerary, the rest of the itinerary is generally cancelled. As a result, you can only throw away the last part of the return flight home on a round-trip ticket. I showed you a round-trip example using the throwaway ticketing strategy, but you can apply the strategy to one-way flights as well. For example, if going from New York City to Chicago one-way is expensive, maybe you can fly New York City to any of the 100 airports listed in step 3 but connect in Chicago. When you get to Chicago, simply throw away the rest of your one-way ticket.
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