Flyers are 'skiplagging' to try and save money on flight tickets. Airlines hate it.
- Sky-high airfare has travelers considering travel hacks like "skiplagging" to find cheaper tickets.
- This means booking a flight with a layover at the intended destination and skipping the second leg.
The post-pandemic travel bug has people flocking to destinations far and wide — but getting where you want to go isn't cheap, and some flyers are considering a cost-saving strategy known as "skiplagging."
Skiplagging — also referred to as "hidden city" or "throwaway" ticketing — involves booking a flight with a layover in the intended destination city and then bailing on the second leg of the journey.
Travelers can save hundreds on tickets, which is particularly enticing as expensive fares fuelled by inflation, rising fuel costs, and strong post-pandemic demand continue to plague the industry.
For example, Google Flights said a roundtrip flight from New York to Amsterdam in late June on the Dutch flag carrier KLM cost from $2,850.
However, readjusting the booking by setting the outbound destination as London, instead of Amsterdam, brought Google Flight's roundtrip price down to about $2,150
The return flight is still nonstop out of Amsterdam, so hypothetically, one could skip the second leg of the journey to London and stay in the Netherlands instead.
Some people may want to book the return leg separately if it's cheaper — or travelers can eventually make their way to the original itinerary's destination and try to catch the scheduled return from there.
The flight-booking website Skiplagged.com has built a business around the concept by providing a platform that alerts travelers to these deals based on their preferred airport and destination.
The company only allows one-way tickets — which can be many times more expensive than booking a roundtrip skiplagged itinerary directly through the airlines.
While this strategy may seem like a saving grace post-pandemic, it is not as innocent as it may seem, and Airlines hate it.
American Airlines announced in a January 2021 memo to employees that it was cracking down on the practice and introducing new tools to flag potential skiplag bookings to agents.
"We've always prohibited these types of booking practices," the carrier told TravelPulse at the time.
United Airlines and the travel website Orbitz sued Skiplagged CEO Aktarer Zaman in 2014. The lawsuit accused Zaman of "unfair competition" and "deceptive behavior," saying that his website cost the two companies $75,000 in lost revenue.
The case was filed in Illinois but was thrown out because the court did not have jurisdiction as Zaman worked and resided in New York City — not Chicago. Skiplagged.com's website said that the practice was "perfectly legal."
"We remain troubled that Mr. Zaman continues to openly encourage customers to violate our contract of carriage by purchasing hidden-city tickets," United told CNN Money in 2015.
Because of the clear disapproval from airlines, the practice is a risk for passengers — especially as carriers have since added written protections against skiplagging in their contracts of carriage.
NerdWallet reported that airlines could punish travelers by canceling the return leg of their journey, taking away loyalty miles and elite status, or even banning them from booking with the airline again.
Skiplagged.com also said that this strategy wouldn't work with checked bags because airlines tagged them to the final destination — and it's unlikely a passenger could convince an agent to unload the bag in the layover city.
"Booking unusual itineraries could raise red flags, and someone could flag and monitor you while you fly," Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and the cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told the BBC in 2019. "At some point, you may get a letter or corporate security meeting you at the gate. The airlines' intention is to intimidate and recover what they perceive to be lost revenue."
However, he said this was a self-imposed problem created by airlines.
"I fully understand, as an airline analyst and business person, why airlines extract as much as they can where they have leverage. That is what business is all about," Harteveldt told the BBC. "But when an airline puts out stupid airline pricing," he said of the high price of fares into hub airports, "it is almost like airlines invite hidden-city booking."
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