American Airlines is the latest airline to sue Skiplagged, the travel website that sells travelers flights with a connection they never intend to take in order to save some money.
The Dallas-based airline filed its lawsuit against Skiplagged in Texas federal court late last week, alleging the website is deceiving customers and doesn't even have the authority to sell American tickets to passengers through its booking platform. American has also threatened to cancel any tickets booked with the airline through Skiplagged.
Skiplagging – also known as hidden-city or throwaway ticketing – has been around for a while, but Skiplagged helped popularize it. While not illegal, this potentially money-saving method violates airlines' own policies. Even Skiplagged itself warns against using this method often.
Let's say you want to fly from Minneapolis (MSP) to Charlotte (CLT) but the prices are high.
However, there's a cheaper flight from Minneapolis to Wilmington (ILM) with a stop in Charlotte for much less. By using hidden-city ticketing, you'd book this cheaper ticket with no intention of flying through to the final destination in Wilmington. Instead, you'd just get off in Charlotte and skip that second segment altogether.
Skiplagged automates the process of finding these potentially money-saving workarounds and even lets them book the ticket through their site.
Read our full guide on Skiplagged – and why it may not always save you money…
It may not be illegal, but that hasn't stopped airlines from trying to crack down. American Airlines is just the latest to head to the courts.
United and online travel agency Orbitz sued the website in 2014 for interfering with their operations and promoting “prohibited forms of travel,” the Associated Press reported. Skiplagged settled with Orbitz and the United lawsuit was tossed out due to lack of standing. Individual travelers have been sued, too, including a passenger sued by Lufthansa a few years ago for skipping the final leg of a flight.
More recently, American banned a teen from flying the airline for three years for these kinds of tickets. Airlines can also suspend your frequent flyer account and seize your miles – like United has threatened – or worse.
But now American itself is taking the website to court, too. In the lawsuit, American accuses Skiplagged of tricking customers into believing they are exploiting “some kind of secret ‘loophole'” by using the website. The airline says Skiplagged doesn't have – and has never had – the authority to sell American flights on its platform.
“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,” the lawsuit reads. “It cannot. Every ‘ticket' issued by Skiplagged is at risk of being invalidated.”
American also alleged Skiplagged will show customers a higher price than what they would find on American's own site or another third-party booking platform authorized to sell American flights, calling it a “classic bait and switch.” American accused Skiplagged of hiding its activity from the airline – and encouraging customers to do the same.
Skiplagged did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It touts its legal victory over United Airlines on its homepage, saying: “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us… but we won.”
It's not the first airline to sue the website that popularized “skiplagging” – and it probably won't be the last.
American argues in its recent lawsuit that Skiplagged is deceiving customers, wrongly using its trademarks, and has no authority to sell its flights. Whether American is more successful than United and other websites that have sued in the past is up to the court.
It's just the latest reminder that while Skiplagged may have become a household name for employing a little-known method for saving on flights, there are plenty of complications to consider.