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United Looks to Crack Down on ‘Skiplagging’ Flyers

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In this crazy world of travel, there’s perhaps nothing more controversial than hidden-city ticketing. 

Popularized by websites like Skiplagged, it works like this: You need to get from Newark (EWR) to San Francisco (SFO), but tickets are expensive. Yet flights from EWR to Los Angeles (LAX) are much cheaper if you take a layover in SFO. But rather than boarding that second plane to LAX, you just leave the airport at SFO and skip the second segment altogether.

 

United Skiplagged

 

After trying (and failing) to sue Skiplagged years ago, United is taking its battle against no-show flyers to the front lines. The Chicago-based airline has asked its airport agents to watch for and cite suspected hidden-city flyers to its security department, according to an internal memo obtained by The Skift.

A United spokesman told the outlet that the airline sent the memo “to provide a reminder to our employees about how to address issues that arise when customers purchase hidden-city tickets and travel with checked baggage.”

“It is against our ticketing policies to purchase an additional segment with no intention to fly,” the spokesman said.

 

Our Analysis

Just what might happen to United passengers who get cited remains unclear, but it shows the airline’s patience is wearing thin with the throwaway ticketing ploy.

Airlines hate this practice, but they have typically reserved punishment for frequent and repeat offenders, resorting to imposing flying bans or freezing a frequent flyer account. Those cases are few and far between.

Earlier this year, Lufthansa sued a passenger for $2,385 after he skipped a segment on an itinerary to save money.

That’s an extreme example. Regardless, hidden city ticketing carries risks. Airlines have gotten wise to this maneuver and have employed ways to track repeat offenders. Simply put: There are better, safer ways to get a good flight deal than hidden city ticketing.

In almost every country, if you skip a segment of your flight, the rest of that itinerary is automatically canceled. And it should go without saying that you shouldn’t check a bag if you plan to take one of these flights.

Passenger rights organizations argue that the issue is not the violation of a contract, as the airlines claim. Rather, they say airlines’ confusing pricing is the heart of the problem.

“They have created this airfare mess and have to live with it,” Charlie Leocha, president of the consumer rights group  Travelers United, told the Skift. “The more that passengers get away with the hidden city bookings, the better, as far as I’m concerned.”

 

Bottom Line

Airlines have gotten wise to these tactics. And while the debate rages on about the legality of hidden-city ticketing, it’s clear United is taking things a step farther to stop passengers.

 

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

6 Responses

  1. Brittanie M says:

    This just doesn’t make sense. They’re not losing any money since I’m paying the same whether I get on that flight or not. Maybe they should make pricing more straightforward instead of punishing customers for being smarter than their metrics.

  2. mark johnson says:

    I wouldn’t really call it a crackdown if their primary task is to ask why someone doesn’t want to check their bag all of the way to the final destination. I haven’t checked a bag in years and never once gave a second thought to which legs I didn’t make as long as they were the last ones.

  3. Mark says:

    TT, why this isn’t a good idea if only occasionally, and not checking a bag? And if you’re booking close to departure and it’s the best fare you can find, why not? Just wondering why you advise against it — just too risky and not worth it usually?

    Rather than getting punitive about something they can’t really prevent, airlines should just give people a way of pruning legs off an existing itinerary. Then at least it won’t cause headaches for gate agents, and they could turn around and re-sell the seats on those legs.

    • Kyle Potter says:

      It can easily work out in your favor in the circumstances you describe, there’s no question about it. People just look at hidden-city ticketing as the holy grail of saving on travel, when the circumstances where it works out like that are typically quite limited. And not worth the risk of continually using.

      The underlying issue is the problem with pricing. If airlines priced things clearly/fairly/logically, we wouldn’t have this issue.

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