Banned for hidden-city ticketing — reader mistake story

Apr 17, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Daniel, who got banned from the American Airlines AAdvantage program for repeatedly booking “hidden city” tickets:

Last week American Airlines sent me the “nasty” email informing me that I am being kicked out of their AAdvantage frequent flyer program for taking hidden-city flights. In fact their audit department included a list of 95 flights where I had not completed the final leg of a trip. In my case they confiscated approximately 50,000 points, though quite frankly I expected this to happen at some point.
They did offer to reinstate my points and my Platinum Pro status if I paid the difference, for all 95 flights. That’s probably going to cost me more than $10k, so it looks like I’ll be coming up with some other options. All in all there may be an inconvenience or two, but American is losing a loyal customer who has flown over 90 segments a year, the past three years.

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It’s tough to really call this a “mistake” because Daniel knew he was violating the rules of the AAdvantage program, and it seems that he was prepared for the eventual consequences in the form of a complete ban. For those who aren’t familiar with hidden-city ticketing, the practice (which is discouraged if not outright banned by every major airline) involves booking a ticket from point A to point C, with a connection in point B which is where you’re really trying to go.

As an example, let’s say I plan to fly from Washington, D.C. (DCA) to Chicago (ORD). Those are both AA hubs, so flights between them might be more expensive. Maybe I can find a cheaper routing, say from D.C. to Milwaukee (MKE) with a connection in Chicago. Booking this flight and simply getting off the plane in Chicago without taking the connection would be considered hidden-city ticketing.

In addition to the risk of getting banned from a frequent flyer program and losing all your miles, there are a lot of risks to this strategy. For starters, you can’t check a bag and reclaim it midway through the trip, and if your flight gets canceled due to weather or mechanical issues, you may find yourself getting rerouted through another hub (like Charlotte, New York or Dallas) en route to Milwaukee, when you really need to go to Chicago.

At the end of the day the big lesson here is that when something sounds too good to be true, it often is. A deal doesn’t need to be illegal in order to get you in a lot of trouble (and risk forfeiting your hard-earned miles). While you might be able to get away with something like this once or twice, airlines are actively auditing their members for behavior like this and you can be sure that they will catch up to you sooner or later. Daniel was a Platinum Pro elite with American Airlines, meaning he spent at least $9,000 a year with the airline (or earned $9,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars from partner flights or credit card activity), and that wasn’t enough to stop him from getting banned.

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Daniel a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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