If you think longer flights are always the most expensive route to take when flying, think again. Budget travelers discovered years ago that some trips are actually cheaper with a well-known but controversial travel hack called skiplagging. Also called hidden city ticketing, the travel tip can come in handy when flights to your intended destination are sold out. But airlines are fed up with travelers who take advantage of this tactic and are taking action in the form of fines, cancellations, and even lifetime bans.
Skiplagging is a clever yet hotly debated travel tip that involves booking a flight with multiple legs but intentionally skipping the last portion to reach a cheaper destination.
Here’s how it works: Imagine booking a round-trip flight from New York to Paris with a layover in London, but your actual intention is to stay in London. Once you arrive in London for the layover, you simply disembark your plane and forgo the final leg of the journey to Paris — you never planned to go there in the first place.
Skiplagging is a travel hack so popular that even former President Donald Trump’s team used the scheme to skip out on flight fare, according to documents disclosed in a report from the travel site View From The Wing. Travelers can use the loophole to skip out on higher fares or make it to their destination despite sold-out direct flights. Airlines are well aware of the practice and heavily discourage it. So before you rush to become a skiplagging expert, it’s crucial to understand that this approach has potential pitfalls.
Though not technically illegal, skiplagging raises ethical questions and concerns about cascading impacts on the airline industry. Critics argue that this travel tactic disrupts the revenue models airlines rely on to provide services, potentially leading to higher prices for other travelers. Hidden city ticketing can potentially create a ripple effect, affecting flight availability and pricing for future passengers.
In 2014, United Airlines and travel company Orbitz sued the founder of a website called Skiplagged, which compiles flight data to show travelers which hidden city fares they could book for their intended destination. The federal suit claimed that the website encouraged customers to violate their airline ticket’s contract of carriage clause, essentially ignoring the fine print of their ticket’s intended usage and violating airline policy.
In 2021, Southwest Airlines also filed suit against Skiplagged, citing issues such as flight delays caused by attempts to locate passengers for booked flights who had disembarked during a layover. Skiplagging’s impact on airline performance was detailed in a 2022 study by University of Utah business professor Jaelynn Oh and University of British Columbia professor Tim Huh, revealing that the scheme can lead to increased prices and flight delays.
Though cases involving Skiplagged were eventually thrown out or settled, according to CNN — Skiplagged is still in operation today — the uproar set a precedent for airlines looking to push back against travelers who attempt to use hidden city deals.
Though policies vary by airline, if you’re caught skiplagging, airlines may take action by emptying your frequent flier miles. Some airlines even explicitly forbid skiplagging in their terms and conditions, stating that missing a leg of your flight could result in penalties, including cancellation of return flights without refund or even the suspension of your frequent flyer account. Lifetime bans are also on the table for travelers who skiplag.
Another major drawback of the practice? Missing luggage. Since checked bags are often routed to your final destination and not moved from flight to flight with you, skiplagging can complicate baggage handling. If you decide to disembark at a layover, your bags could continue the journey without you.
If you’re going to try to pull one over on your carrier of choice to save a few bucks or snag the date/route you desire, only carry checked luggage and know what consequences are at stake. In short, skiplag at your own risk.
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