When can you skip a flight? And why would you ever want to? Well, there are a variety of reasons, and most of them have to do with saving money.
- You’re flying from LAX to Europe with a stopover in Oakland. You bought the ticket from LAX because it’s cheap, but you actually live in Seattle. Do you really have to fly from SEA to LAX when you could just go straight to Oakland?
- Your cheap flight from Vancouver, B.C., to Japan has a stopover in Seattle. But you live in Seattle. It’s silly to drive 3.5 hours across the border to catch a plane, only to end up in Seattle again. Can’t you skip Vancouver and just catch the Seattle leg?
- Tickets to Portland are expensive right now, but tickets to San Francisco with a stopover in Portland? So cheap! Can’t you just get off the plane in Portland and then “miss” your flight to San Fran?
- You’re looking at one-way tickets but then randomly check round-trip ticket prices. Wait, what? Round-trip tickets are half the price! Once you get over your shock, you wonder: Can’t you just pretend it’s a one-way flight and skip the return?
The answer to all of these questions is yes – sometimes you can!
Airlines have incredibly complicated pricing, so they don’t want you to know this – and you have to be careful about it – but, as counter-intuitive as it seems, sometimes you can get way better flight deals by actually skipping a flight or two.
The above examples can be summarized as follows. You either want to…
- Skip an earlier flight, but you need to take a later one
- Take an earlier flight but skip the later ones
- Take your outbound round-trip flight, but skip your return
Before we dive into those different scenarios, though, it’s important to understand this crucial point:
When can you ever skip a flight?
Skipping a flight is possible if the airline managing your later flights:
- Isn’t the same airline as the earlier flights*
- Isn’t a partner or subsidiary (for example, Virgin was recently acquired by Alaska)
- Doesn’t “codeshare” with the earlier airline. (You can read more about codesharing here: like much to do with airline pricing and rules, it’s surprisingly complicated and bizarre.)
* Exception: if you buy two separate one-way tickets, it doesn’t matter if the airline is the same or not. It’s only if you buy bundled tickets from the same airline that skipping flights gets you in trouble.
How can you tell if airlines are partners or codesharing?
Well, here’s a flight itinerary I recently had:
- Leg 1: Spirit Airlines
- Leg 2: Norwegian Airlines
- Leg 3: Norwegian Airlines
Spirit Airlines and Norwegian aren’t partners and they aren’t codesharing. How can I tell? A few ways. When I check in with Spirit, they can’t…
- Print out my Norwegian boarding passes: I have to either get those on my phone or at the airport during my layover.
- Check my bag through to its destination: If I check a bag, I have to visit the baggage claim after Leg 1, pick it up, and re-check with Norwegian before Leg 2. Super annoying.
- Help me out with any details of my Norwegian flight: They can’t communicate with Norwegian, make flight changes, adjust seating, etc. They have no authority there.
So if I want to save myself some time and an unnecessary layover, I can safely skip Leg 1 of my trip. However, you can absolutely bet I can’t skip Leg 2 – Norwegian would know and Leg 3 would be canceled!
I’m still not sure if my airlines are related!
If you’re unsure whether you’re in the clear to skip a flight…
- Check online: See who your flight provider codeshares with (airlines list their code-sharing partners: to name a few, here’s Alaska, Delta, and Virgin.) Is the flight you’re skipping codesharing with any of the later flights you actually need to take?
- Call the ticket company: If you bought your tickets from a third-party travel agency (Kiwi.com, JustFly, etc.), they’ll usually do your dirty work for you and call the airlines to check, though you may have to be a bit pushy to get them to do it. They would rather you update your itinerary with a flight change and give them more money!
- Call the airlines yourself.
- If you call the first/earlier airline in your itinerary:
- Ask if they can print all your boarding passes at once or if you’ll have to collect them at each step.
- Same thing for your bags – can they check them all the way through to your destination?
- Lastly, ask what will happen if you miss your first flight(s) – will your next flight(s) be canceled?
- If you have to pick up your boarding passes at each step, if they can’t check your bags all the way through, or if they tell you your later flight(s) won’t be canceled, you’re likely in the clear.
- If you call the second/later airline in your itinerary: ask what will happen if you “accidentally” miss your earlier flight(s) and if your later flight(s) will be canceled or not.
- If you call the first/earlier airline in your itinerary:
That’s how you can tell if it’s safe to skip a flight. Now let’s get into some of the specific scenarios I mentioned above.
Scenario 1: Skipping earlier flights
Safely skipping an earlier flight is possible if the airline managing your later flights meets the above criteria. In other words, they can’t be the same airline, be a partner/subsidiary, and they can’t codeshare with the earlier airline.
So, you’re basically looking for an itinerary where, in spite of purchasing the tickets together, it’s as if you purchased two separate one-way tickets.
What do I mean by this? Well, if you purchased two one-way tickets to get to a particular location, the second airline would never know if you skipped a flight because you purchased both tickets separately, right?
Some third-party travel sites and agencies bundle together tickets from airlines without partnerships or codesharing. In effect, this is like buying two (or more) one-way tickets in a package deal. This is the kind of ticket bundle you want because you can skip that first flight without consequences.
Why would you want to do this? The example I gave in the first section is a good reason. You might find a nearby city like Los Angeles or Vancouver has a cheaper airfare than your home city, but the ticket package you buy has an unnecessary domestic layover. Ideally, you’d like to skip the extra layover and fly directly from your home city to the next stop. Being able to skip that first flight lets you do that.
Skipping earlier flights is one of the highest-risk scenarios, so I definitely recommend calling the airlines and doing a little sleuthing to make sure you’ll be in the clear.
Scenario 2: Skipping later flights
Why skip later flights? One of the most common reasons is what’s known as hidden-city ticketing,where you decide to hop off early because your real destination is earlier in the trip. Many bargain hunters do this because it’s a great way to get deals. As Megan Willett describes, flying directly to Chicago or New York might be exorbitantly expensive, but flying somewhere else with a connection through O’Hare or JFK might be far cheaper.
If you can skip the last leg of the flight, it can save you mega bucks. But whether not you can skip later flights depends on the kind of ticket you have. Did you buy a round-trip ticket? Two one-way tickets? Are the departure and return airlines partners or not?
Let’s assume the most common scenario: you bought a round-trip ticket. However, many sites like Kayak bundle together tickets from different airlines.
Let’s say your itinerary looks like this:
- Departure: Airlines A and B
- Return: Airlines B and C
In this situation, skipping your departure flight with Airline B may result in a cancellation of your return flight with Airline B. Depending on airline partnerships and codesharing, Airline C may or may not cancel your trip (see Scenario 1).
You’ll also have to figure out which, if any, of your return flights you want to use. Perhaps you don’t want or need any of them and you can just fly open-jaw out of a nearby airport.
It’s also possible your itinerary looks something like this:
- Departure: Airlines A and B
- Return: Airlines C and D
You’re much more likely in the clear here to skip Airline B’s flight here. As long as Airline B isn’t codesharing/partnered with Airlines C and D, you should be okay.
Lastly, if you’re in this situation…
- Departure: Airline A and A
- Return: Airline A and A
Yeah, don’t skip any of your departure flights if you intend to use your return flights in this situation. If you booked these as a package deal, it’s almost guaranteed that one of those later flights will get canceled due to your no-show.
Scenario 3: Taking an outbound round-trip flight and skipping the return
As mentioned in the Business Insider post above, there’s not too much airlines can do in this situation. Internationally – and sometimes domestically – round-trip tickets are cheaper than one-way tickets, so there’s a very good reason why you might use the outbound flight and ditch on the return.
In fact, there’s even a term for this – throwaway ticketing. This is a common trick for international flights especially where roundtrip fares are often cheaper than one-way. As Gary Leff writes:
“European flag carriers often price one-ways automatically as full fare, so a London – Frankfurt one-way might be over $700 but a London – Frankfurt roundtrip taking the exact same outbound flight could be $250.”
(So next time you’re shopping for international flights, check those round-trip prices!)
The only risk here is that if you do it enough times, airlines may notice and cancel your frequent flier program or somehow blacklist you. However, it’s incredibly unlikely that this will happen – after all, how many times per year do you fly? Unless you’re doing it every week, they’re not going to know you simply didn’t miss your flight.
The virtues of round-trip vs. one-way
One common thread you may have noticed is that one-way tickets can really make your life easier. If you buy a separate departure and return flight instead of a bundle, the airline will never know if you cancel a flight from your departure, right?
So, is this a reason to buy one-way tickets all the time instead of round-trip? Well… maybe. The problem is that one-way tickets are often more expensive than round-trip tickets, as explained in this Business Insider post:
“[Airlines] can charge more for a one-way ticket than a round-trip ticket. They don’t want you throwing away the first part of ticket and using the second part to fly back because that would allow people to game the system.”
Yeesh! Thanks for nothing, airlines!
However, this isn’t always true for domestic flights in the US. It’s always worth checking the price of a one-way versus a round-trip to see if you can swing it. If it’s a reasonable price and you’re planning to skip a flight, a one-way ticket can definitely save you some trouble.
(But remember: don’t use a multi-city search tool to do it!)
There you have it!
These are some of the best tricks for safely skipping flights. With a little advance planning and careful consideration, you can definitely skip a flight and – yes, seriously – save a ton of money while doing it. Now go buy some plane tickets and travel somewhere awesome!