The post-pandemic travel boom has people around the world looking to fly to far-flung destinations, but it’s not always easy or cheap. It seems there are always new travel hacks popping up online, like learning how to save an entire row of airplane seats for yourself or getting more legroom on a tight flight. But no profitable travel hack has airlines more incensed than the strategy known as “skiplagging”.
Skiplagging (or “skip flights” in Spanish) is the practice of booking a less expensive flight option with a layover without planning to fly the entire route. Instead, the layover is the traveler’s intended destination.
The reason so many people use this controversial trick is because it is cheaper to book a flight with a stopover than a direct flight.
For example, a flight from New York to Orlando might cost $250 nonstop, but a similar flight from New York to Dallas with a stopover in Orlando might cost $130. If a passenger wanted to fly to Orlando using the strategy of skiplaggingthey would get off the plane at the layover destination in Orlando instead of traveling to Dallas.
In fact, there’s an entire travel service dedicated to this practice called Skiplagged.com, which alerts customers to hidden city deals and exposes “airfare price loopholes to save you money.”
Skiplagged works by giving travelers the option to search for a route with a hidden city destination, but the website notes that hidden city flights are only available on certain routes. If the options are available, they will appear in the flight search results with the final legs of the trip crossed out and the price marked as “Skiplagged fee”.
However, airlines are not happy with this cost-saving strategy.
In 2014, United Airlines partnered with the travel website Orbitz to sue Skiplagged CEO Aktarer Zaman. The airline claimed the practice of buying tickets to hidden cities was “unfair” and “strictly prohibited,” and alleged that the New York-based website cost companies $75,000 in lost revenue. However, the suit was dismissed because it was filed in Illinois, where the court had no jurisdiction, as Zaman worked and resided in New York City. Zaman also maintained that the practice was “perfectly legal.”
Today, Skiplagged promotes its legal war with the airline on its website, which says: “Our flights are so cheap United sued us…but we won.”
Five years later, Lufthansa sued a passenger who missed the last leg of the journey indicated on the ticket. The traveler bought a roundtrip business class ticket from Oslo via Frankfurt to Seattle for around £600. He made the Oslo-Frankfurt-Seattle-Frankfurt trip, but did not tackle the final leg back to the Norwegian capital.
The German airline claimed that the trip should have cost the customer £2,769 and asked him to pay the difference between that price and the fare paid. However, the initial court case ruled in favor of the passenger.
American Airlines then sent a memo to travel agents in January 2021 warning of the practice. The airline reportedly said it planned to start monitoring the skiplagging and that the identification of such behaviors could lead to “an unfavorable result.”
Although the skiplagging seems like a cost-effective way to travel, it comes with a lot of risks, as airlines have cracked down on this practice in recent years. NerdWallet reported that travelers who skip trips could face consequences from the airlines, such as the removal of loyalty miles or being charged for the final leg of the trip.
Also, the skiplagging It only works when passengers do not check their bags, as checked bags will end up at the final destination indicated on the ticket and not at the layover location.
Booking a ticket to a hidden city using the strategy of skiplagging it’s a popular way to save money on expensive flights. But there are some risks involved, and passengers who break an airline’s rules may end up paying much more than they bargained for.
Translation of Michelle Padilla