What is skiplagging? The cheap travel hack that has airlines cracking down

The post-pandemic travel boom has people everywhere looking to jet-set to some far-away destinations, but it’s not always easy or cheap. It seems there are always new travel hacks popping up online, like how to secure an entire row of airplane seats to yourself or how to get extra legroom on a cramped flight. But no cost-effective travel hack has airlines up in arms more than the strategy known as “skiplagging”.

Skiplagging, also referred to as “hidden-city” or “throwaway” ticketing, is the practice of booking a less-expensive flight option with a layover city without planning to fly the entire route. Instead, the stopover is the traveller’s intended destination.

The reason so many people use this controversial hack is because it’s cheaper to book a layover flight than a direct flight.

For example, a flight from New York to Orlando might be $250 nonstop, but a similar flight from New York to Dallas with a layover in Orlando might be $130. If a passenger wanted to fly to Orlando using the “skiplagging” strategy, they would get off the plane at the layover destination in Orlando rather than flying all the way 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 loopholes in airfare pricing to save you money.”

Skiplagged works by giving travellers 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 these options are available, they will appear in the flight search results with the final legs of the journey crossed off and the price marked as “skiplagged rate”.

However, airlines are not happy with this cost-saving strategy.

In 2014, United Airlines teamed up with travel website Orbitz to sue Skiplagged CEO Aktarer Zaman. The airline claimed the practice of hidden-city ticketing was “unfair” and “strictly prohibited,” saying that the New Yorker’s website cost the companies $75,000 in lost revenue. However, the case was thrown out because it was filed in Illinois where the court did not have jurisdiction, as Zaman worked and resided in New York City. Zaman also maintained that the practice was “perfectly legal”.

Today, Skiplagged touts their legal success over the airline company on their website, which reads: "We’re so good, United Airlines actually sued us for it."

Five years later, Lufthansa sued a passenger who did not take the last leg of their ticketed journey. Using throwaway ticketing, the traveller bought a business-class return ticket from Oslo via Frankfurt to Seattle for around £600. He flew Oslo-Frankfurt-Seattle-Frankfurt but failed to board the final leg back to the Norwegian capital.

The German airline claimed the trip should have cost the customer £2,769, and asked him to pay the difference between that price and his paid fare. However, an initial court case ruled in the passenger’s favour.

American Airlines then sent a memo to travel agents in January 2021 warning of the practice. The airline reportedly said it planned to begin monitoring skiplagging and that identification of such behaviors could result in “an unfavorable outcome”.

While skiplagging seems like a cost-effective way to travel, it comes with many risks as airlines have cracked down on the practice in recent years. NerdWallet reported that skiplagged travellers could be faced with consequences from airlines, such as having loyalty miles taken away or being billed for the final leg of their journey.

Plus, skiplagging only works when passengers don’t check their bags – as checked bags will end up at the ticketed final destination rather than the layover city.

Booking a hidden-city ticket using the “skiplagging” strategy is a popular way to save money on expensive flights. But there are some risks involved with throwaway tickets, and passengers who break an airline’s rules may end up paying far more than they intended.