Everyone is always on the hunt for clever travel tips that can help them save money when they fly. The problem is the difference between a “travel hack” and “outright fraud that makes this already horrible experience worse for everyone,” isn’t always abundantly clear. Stealing Wi-Fi from the first class lounge might be a relatively victimless crime, but if you’ve been telling yourself that calling in a bomb threat to avoid missing your flight when you’re running late is just harmless travel hacking, you’re wrong. Just ask the FBI.
You can do a number of things to save time and money while traveling. But just because you can do something to secure a hacker fare for your flight doesn’t mean you should. After all, exploiting loopholes can mean rising prices for everyone else, meaning the money you save from your “hack” is really just a tax you’re imposing on everyone else. So here are a few “hacks” that you should probably permanently retire as they might get you in hot water with fellow travelers — or the authorities.
The Travel Hack: Use Hidden-City Ticketing
This is one of the biggies — and one that airlines are especially motivated to crack down on. Essentially, you can frequently find examples of cases where a flight connecting through a certain city is hundreds of dollars cheaper than getting a direct flight to that city. So, you simply book the cheaper option, and don’t board your connecting flight. Voilá: hidden-city ticketing.
Although this hack does score you some savings, it’s also making travel a lot harder for everyone else by booking seats that might otherwise go to someone else. And, if it becomes too common a problem, it might even force airlines to begin pricing and booking tickets to prevent this practice. This will make it harder and more expensive for everyone else to book travel.
What to Do Instead of Using Hidden-City Ticketing
Although so-called “hidden city” ticketing is more than a little shady, there are plenty of other ways you can score cheaper tickets just by watching the market and jumping on lower fares when they’re available legitimately. Try booking travel during the offseason or simply watching fares carefully to see when they’re at their lowest.
CheapAir.com recently analyzed nearly 1 billion fares to determine the amount of time before the flight most likely to give you the lowest possible price on your ticket. The ideal day will vary by season, but the analysis did produce a window of 21 to 121 days ahead of the flight as the “prime booking window.”
The Travel Hack: Use Airport Gift Bags to Get an Extra Carry-on
Rules limiting your carry-on bags can be annoying, especially when you’re very close to having to check any bags if you can just find a way to carry on those last few items that won’t fit in them. But, stop at the airport gift shop and get a bag there. You can stash the remainder of your stuff in the bag, and the airline will most likely let your carry it on because it looks like you just did some last-minute shopping.
Who gets hurt by this scheme? All of your fellow passengers who you just squeezed out of their fair share of the overhead bin because you think you’re special. There’s only so much carry on space in a given airplane, so your little hack could force someone boarding after you to get stuck gate-checking their bag, even though they were careful to diligently follow the rules you didn’t think applied to you.
What to Do Instead of Using Airport Gift Bags to Get an Extra Carry-on
You can avoid having to pay fees for overweight bags or checking luggage by shipping them to your destination ahead of time. It might not always be cheaper, but swing by the local post office or UPS/FedEx to explore your options before you squeeze out your fellow travelers for the limited carry-on space. There’s the additional bonus of not having to deal with baggage claim or having to haul heavy carry-on bags through the airport while you’re rushing to catch your connecting flight.
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The Travel Hack: Get a New Ticket Right Before You Leave the Parking Lot
Parking your car at the long-term lot at the airport can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re gone for long enough. However, there’s a clever way to avoid those big charges: Just get a new ticket before you leave, and pay for a single day. You could try pulling your car up to the ground sensor near the entrance, or just try to convince someone driving on to let you grab a ticket before they get theirs.
It’s a great way to save some money, sure, but it’s also pretty clearly fraud. You might not shed any tears over the owners of those lots not making the money they’re owed, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re basically stealing.
What to Do Instead of Getting a New Ticket Right Before You Leave the Parking Lot
In most cases, using ride-sharing apps or even calling a cab is probably going to cost significantly less than stashing your car in the long-term lot and paying $10 a day or more. Or, better yet, check with friends, family and neighbors about getting rides to and from the airport. You might wind up owing them a favor in return, but you can also avoid shelling out big money to park without having to break the law in the process.
The Travel Hack: Lie About the Hotel Minibar
If your hotel tries to charge you for an item gone from your minibar and you challenge them, the odds are pretty good they’ll back down even if you’re lying to them. Ultimately, the value of your future business likely exceeds even the inflated prices they charge for their minibar items. Even if it didn’t, most hotels aren’t going to have an especially reliable system of tracking the inventory of the minibar.
As such, if you insist that the item must have been gone when you checked in, they will probably back down (unless you have a history of trying this at the same hotel). Unethical? Definitely. More unethical than charging $25 for a bottle of Bud Light and a package of macadamia nuts? Debatable. But still, at the end of the day, this is theft.
What to Do Instead of Lying About the Hotel Minibar
In most cases, your hotel is probably not terribly far from a store where $25 will get you an abundance of Bud Light and macadamia nuts and still leave you with change. But even if you’re headed somewhere especially remote, you can bring snacks along in your carry on. And if you check a bag, you could even bring your own booze. Bottom line, the minibar prices are outrageous because they’re counting on you to prioritize convenience over purchasing sanely priced snacks and drinks at one of the many, many different places selling sanely priced snacks and drinks.
The Travel Hack: Lie About a Stolen Credit Card to Score a Free Vacation
Want to know how to travel for free? Find a friend with a credit card they don’t use very often, and borrow it for your vacation. You charge up a storm while you’re in a different town, and then throw the card away before you head back. Then, your friend calls up their credit card company to report that their card is missing, and they have a bunch of fraudulent charges that obviously aren’t from them because they weren’t even in that city. Your friend has an easy time getting their money back because they were clearly still in town for the whole week, and you basically get a free trip!
This is, of course, some pretty textbook credit card fraud. Yes, there’s a good chance you’ll save a lot of money, but it’s also not exactly the most masterful of deceptions. If the company decides to investigate this one, it might not be that hard to trace it back to you and your friend.
What to Do Instead of Lying About a Stolen Credit Card to Score a Free Vacation
There just isn’t an alternative to this “hack” that is going to be nearly as lucrative, but that’s the thing about stealing: It’s the single most effective way to save money when you don’t get caught. That said, there are also a lot of perfectly legal ways to squeeze extra value out of your credit cards. Getting rewards credit cards and being smart about the rotating categories can mean netting a ton of rewards points or cash back just by putting your normal spending onto your credit card. It might take much, much longer, but you can still score that free trip by way of airline miles and rewards points — and not break any laws in the process.
The Travel Hack: Get Priority Boarding by Faking a Peanut Allergy
Peanut allergies can be severe and a major issue for travelers who suffer from them. So severe, in fact, that if you don’t have an issue with cynically exploiting other people’s very real medical problems just so you don’t have to wait in line, you can get priority boarding by telling the gate attendants you have a peanut allergy. Tell them you want a chance to wipe down your seat and tray table to be safe, and you’ll likely get to jump the line on the whole boarding process.
What to Do Instead of Faking a Peanut Allergy to Get Priority Boarding
Again, there aren’t any ways to completely replicate the effectiveness of just lying and cheating to get your way, but there are ways to get into earlier boarding groups and maybe shave some time off your wait. Every airline has a different approach to how it prioritizes, so look up their system before you fly and figure out what could help. Take advantage of online check-in to check in as early as possible, and look out for any rewards cards or membership programs that will help you get into earlier groups.
The Travel Hack: Use an Empty or Expired Card to Score Free Drinks
Most airlines don’t do live processing of credit cards while they’re in the air. So, if you use a prepaid card or gift card that’s empty or mostly empty, they won’t be able to discover your deceit until after they’ve landed and started batch-processing transactions. So, you essentially wind up with a free drink as long as you’re not flying on an airline that does process them in real time or gets a chance to grab you before you exit. This is stealing, though, in case you weren’t sure.
What to Do Instead of Fraudulently Using an Empty or Expired Card to Score Free Drinks
As long as you use the mini-bottles — or even transfer your booze to smaller containers — there’s nothing stopping you from putting drinks in your carry-on provided it’s in containers that are under 3.4 ounces apiece. While not entirely free, you can get your liquor at retail prices and avoid the markup the airlines charge.
The Travel Hack: Lie About Your Pet Being an Emotional-Support Animal
Want an easy way to bring your pet with you to your destination without it having to travel in the hold? Just lie and say it’s your emotional-support animal. It’s a great chance to have Rover fly for free as long as the airlines don’t decide to challenge you.
Just be aware that they might very well challenge you as more airlines are getting less lax on enforcing this rule. Notably, United instituted a change to their policy after a woman in Newark tried to board a plane with an emotional-support peacock in 2018.
What to Do Instead of Lying About Your Pet Being an Emotional-Support Animal
Just pay to fly with your pet like everyone else. Or, consider an alternate mode of travel, like taking a train. Either way, forcing the other passengers to deal with your suckling pig squealing the whole way to Albuquerque just because you don’t want to pay to send it in the hold like you’re supposed to is just a jerk move.
For tricks that you can legitimately use, check out these 34 life hacks that will save you thousands.
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