Skiplagging, or How to Save Money and Tick Off An Airline
Who doesn't love beating the system? Sure, there are rules, and many of them exist for a reason, but there are few things humans enjoy more than finding and slipping through big old loopholes. It makes you feel smart, lets you scratch that rebellious itch many of us still carry from our teen years – and often saves you a little money in the process. There's just one jumbo jet-sized problem: Sometimes the system fights back.
All The Kids Are Doing It
Some people call it "skiplagging." Others call it "hidden-city ticketing." Major airlines call it "a huge pain in the butt." You may know it by its true name: "buying a ticket with a layover and getting off in the layover city instead of your stated destination because it's cheaper than buying a direct ticket."
We'll just call it skiplagging.
The idea is pretty simple. Airlines typically give you a break on fares when you pick a route with a layover instead of opting for a direct flight. Nothing's holding you at the airport when you land for your layover. Knowing that, why not book flights with layovers that just happen to be in exactly the city you want to visit? It's legal, it's cheaper than a direct flight, and it's a nice way to give the airline the proverbial bird for all the less-than-pleasant aspects of flying.
What could go wrong?
A Lot, Actually
You know how we said that skiplagging is legal? It is. But it doesn't need to be illegal to seriously tick off the airlines. They hate skiplagging almost as much as they hate comfortable seats and legroom.
Why do airlines hate skiplagging so much? Good question. You've already bought the ticket, right? So why do airlines care if you get off before your official destination?
Airlines' reasoning behind their anti-skiplagging positions is neither consistent nor convincing. They don't like skiplagging because it leaves an empty seat on the second leg of the journey. They don't like it because it makes gate agents call for people who got off at point B and didn't get back on to the flight to point C. Or, a personal favorite: Airlines don't like skiplagging because it's against their company policy.
Anyone with a working brain and a basic understanding of corporate practices can tell you the real reason why airlines don't like the practice: They wanted you to buy the more expensive direct flight. That's it. That's the whole reason.
(Not) Crime and Punishment
The nice thing about the whole situation (from the airlines' perspective) is that airlines can take preventative measures even though the practice is not illegal. Take the case of Skiplagged.com, a site that helped popularize and enable the practice by finding and selling tickets for flights that are ripe for skiplagging.
American Airlines filed suit against Skiplagged.com in federal court in late August, complaining that "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."
This isn't the first time Skiplagged.com has been sued by one of the major airlines, and it's probably fair to assume that it won't be the last. Both United and Southwest Airlines have sued Skiplagged.com in the past, with one lawsuit being dismissed and another settled out of court.
Though they usually don't sue individual skiplaggers, airlines have employed several different tactics to dissuade and punish skiplagging. The consequences for passengers caught or suspected of skiplagging include basically everything an airline can do to punish you within their power. The airlines can cancel return tickets, delete loyalty accounts (and all the miles you've accumulated), ban you from the airline altogether, and may even choose to sue you directly to recoup the money they believe you cost them.
Skiplagging is neither illegal nor immoral, but that won't stop airlines from going after you if you try it out. Private companies have a good deal of leeway when it comes to making and enforcing rules on their premises. So think twice before you try to beat their system…unless you don't mind being banned from flying for the foreseeable future.
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