A new lawsuit brought by American Airlines against travel Website Skiplagged.com is bringing a lot of attention to “skiplagging,” or “hidden city ticketing” — a technique used by some passengers to get lower fares, by exploiting inconsistent, and seemingly illogical fare pricing.
It works like this: Say a passenger wants to travel from New York to Charlotte, N.C., but the nonstop route is pricey. So instead, they book a cheaper flight that takes them from New York to Denver, with a layover in Charlotte. Rather than fly all the way to Denver, they simply get off in North Carolina and ditch the rest of the ticket.
The practice isn’t exactly new. “Travel agents have known about hidden city fares for decades, and in some cases travel agents would knowingly tell their customers,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.
But as airline prices started to surge in late 2021, skiplagging started getting a lot more attention.
One site that’s helped popularize hidden city ticketing is Skiplagged.com. The website allows users to type in their desired destination, locating flights where that destination is actually a stopover en route to another city (with a less expensive fare). The customer simply exits the airport at the connecting city and never completes the second leg of the journey.
Last week, American Airlines filed suit against Skiplagged in federal court. In its complaint, American alleges that Skiplagged’s practices are “deceptive and abusive.”
According to American, Skiplagged “employs unauthorized and deceptive ticketing practices, entices consumers to participate in those deceptive practices by promising savings, and then doesn’t deliver”.
“Instead, Skiplagged often charges consumers more than if they had booked a ticket directly with American or through an authorized agent of American,” the lawsuit said.
“Skiplagged deceives the public into believing that, even though it has no authority to form and issue a contract on American’s behalf, somehow it can still issue a completely valid ticket. It cannot. Every ‘ticket’ issued by Skiplagged is at risk of being invalidated,” the airline said.
Officials for the site could not be reached for comment. But Skiplagged, which has been around for a decade, has survived past lawsuits from the likes of United Airlines and Orbitz. It even brags about these victories on its site, boasting, “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us … but we won.”
If an airline finds out what you are doing, it could simply cancel your ticket or even ban you from flying with it. That’s what reportedly happened recently to a North Carolina teen who booked an American Airlines flight from Florida to New York but disembarked at his Charlotte connection. The boy’s father told Insider that American banned him from flying the airline for three years.
There are other drawbacks as well. Even if your attempt at skiplagging is initially successful, it’s only likely to work for one-way travel. Once the airline realizes you didn’t fly to your ticketed destination, it is almost certain to cancel your return.
Moreover, there are certain restrictions that passengers may face when they skiplag. For instance, the process will not work if the traveler chooses to check in luggage, as the luggage is typically tagged to the passenger’s final destination.
The whole process is confusing for the general flying public and vacationers. For example on Norse Atlantic airlines a flight from Orlando, Florida to London Gatwick costs about $1000, and yet if the passenger adds on a connecting flight to Greece, the price could come down to about $700, a considerable theoretical savings for a family of 4 who only want to go to London.
Source: NPR. American Airlines.