Apparently, the hidden city is a thing


Do you travel often?

If you do, you may have heard about the legendary hidden city trick.

Basically, the concept involves air travel and purchasing a ticket for a trip that the passenger does not intend to complete. For instance… a person needs to get from Atlanta to St. Louis. Just so happens that on the same travel date, an airline is offering a special where a flight exists from Atlanta to San Francisco with a stop in St. Louis. Turns out in our little situation that the ticket for the longer journey with one-stop costs significantly less than the direct Atlanta to St. Louis flight. So, the person buys the Atlanta to San Francisco ticket, takes their carry on and leaves the airport after arriving in St. Louis and never journeys on the second leg of the ticket.

In most cases, airlines have set this up as a violation of the service agreement between the company and a passenger (usually referred to as the carriage contract). But I’m not mentioning this to wade into the waters of ethics or the limitations of carry-on bags or any conversation about air travel and whether or not to do something. Instead, I just happen to be wondering about those moments when purchasing more than you need actually creates some type of savings.

A few years ago, Terry and I needed to repair some wainscoting in our house. Long story… love our dogs despite their chewing on occasion… you get the idea. The repair work involved a portion of molding being used to hold the panels in place. Perhaps three feet. After some careful research, I found two possibilities.

The first option was a store that carried the same molding style, priced for sale by the foot.

The second option was a two-piece kit, featuring two different six-foot strips of molding, one of which was the style I needed.

Here is where I point out that it cost far less to purchase the entire kit than it did to purchase the single three-foot piece of molding. In fact, A LOT less. As in, I would get twice the amount of the style I did need… providing some spare materials in case of another accident later, plus that other piece I didn’t need… and save about five dollars.

Yeah, I bought the kit.

Things like this happen all the time.

The grocery store where a gallon of milk is on sale for less than the cost of a half-gallon. The clothing store where the three-pack of socks costs less than purchasing two individual pairs of socks.

And for me, it always makes me wonder. Are things like this a result of supply and demand… a creation of scheduling or production needs… somehow a fix of a potential problem? Or, are they an indication of consumers not willing to do the work to save some money?

Chances are good that it’s a bit of both (and likely more).

None of us like spending more for the same thing. But, outline the extenuating circumstances for us…

Are we spending more to support a local business?

Are we spending more because we like the store better?

Are we spending more because the purchase location is more convenient?

And the list goes on. Often there’s more to the story than simply deciding between two stores, each located three-point-five miles and the same number of stoplights from your driveway, with a fifty-cent per item difference on your favorite cookies.

The tricky part though is when we don’t know about the hidden city. (So to speak.) When the opportunities are there, but we miss them for any of a number of reasons.

Over the years I’ve had all sorts of fun with businesses. Some favorites involve physical locations as opposed to online shopping, with items offered under the same store name though the pricing differences wouldn’t be honored. The fun part is that it always comes back to future needs for me. When today’s experiences mean that tomorrow I won’t heading through the doors where I encountered the frustrations.

Again, this isn’t about the ethics involved. There are reasons some offers are there, though not for us to abuse. Still, it’s good to know that the hidden cities may exist.


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