Hidden city pricing in India- should you try?

I noticed that Indigo’s Mangalore (Mangaluru) to Belgaum (Belagavi) flight which is one stop via Bengaluru (Blr) is cheaper than a flight to Bengaluru which is half the distance on same day, same route.

Above: Mangalore-Bengaluru is 4467 INR
Below: Mangalore -Bengaluru on same flight as above+ Bengaluru-Beagavi is 3011 INR. Double the distance but cheaper.

IXE-BLR +  BLR-IXG costs 3011 on Indigo website for a random date in July while a flight from Mangaluru (IXE) to Bangalore (Blr) on same day, same flight is priced at 4467 INR. Because Blr flight is half the distance of Belgaum flight we would expect it to be cheaper than the longer Belagavi flight. But aviation pricing doesn’t work like that. Airline pricing is largely a demand supply game and what airline pricing managers think they can extract from passengers.

Effectively, if I want to go to Blr but book a ticket to Belagavi and get off at Bengaluru, I save more money compared to booking a flight only till Bengaluru.

This process is called hidden city pricing or skip lagging. It was popular in USA where some smart individuals started using this information to their advantage and then airlines started coming down heavily on such customers.

Part 1: Why do airlines price some destinations cheaper?

There are many reasons. Airline pricing is not a direct function of distance/cost.

  • When a new destination is launched, airlines keep price to this destination cheaper to attract more customers
  • When a flight is empty, airlines may sell a few seats for loss to ensure there is some revenue coming in for that flight
  • If a destination is not that popular, no one is flying, airlines keep the price low. If demand is high, price is kept higher
  • Competition: Destination where there is good competition fares might be lower compared to destinations where airline has monopoly
  • Direct flights cost more- Many people value their time. A direct flight to a destination is charged a premium compared to a one stop flight which takes more time

Risks of hidden city pricing

  • Your checked baggage will be tagged for final destination. So you won’t get it automatically at Bengaluru if you don’t board Blr-Belgaum leg. Of course airlines need to take off your bag from the hold once you don’t board, that way you may get your bag, but you could be caught trying to game the system.
  • Airline may reroute you. If Indigo’s IXE-BLR flight is canceled, they may reroute you via Mumbai to Belgaum. Then your purpose of going to Bengaluru gets compromised
  • Airline may blacklist you or take away your miles. Not well known in India but abroad airlines penalize individuals who game their pricing models.

Is it worth trying to exploit hidden city pricing?

It is for every individual to decide. Hidden city pricing are hard to find. You have to keep checking several combinations manually and should be lucky to find a hidden city pricing that suits your travel needs and saves you money.

You can assess if the risk vs reward is worth. Is the savings just a few hundred rupees or runs into thousands of rupees? What are your plans if airline routes you through another city?

If the savings are worth, you don’t have a checked bag and would love to save some bucks with the risks involved, then go ahead. A tweet I put on this topic recently attracted lots of traction. Do check the tweet and reply by various people..

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