Airlines Do Not Like Your Sneaky Cost-Saving Trick

Some fliers engage in 'skiplagging,' buying cheap nondirect flights but not boarding all of the legs
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2023 3:40 PM CST
Airlines Do Not Like Your Sneaky Cost-Saving Trick
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/kurmyshov)

It often costs more for the convenience of a direct flight over one with connecting flights, but some fliers have figured out a way to game the system, much to the chagrin of airlines. It's a process called "skiplagging," which is when a customer books a nondirect flight for less than the direct one would've cost, but then makes the connecting city their final destination—meaning they never board the next leg of the flight. One woman tells CNN Travel she's saved between $3,000 and $4,000 using "hidden city ticketing" about 10 times over the past few years, usually on international flights. "I pay much less, and I'm doing it constantly," she says.

Kathleen Bangs, an aviation expert and former pilot, gives CNN Travel an example of this "modern-day equivalent of ghosting an airline flight" as follows: "Suppose I want to fly from Minneapolis to Miami, and the fare is $500. Then I discovered that if I book the flight from Minneapolis to Jacksonville, Florida, with a stop or a connection in Miami, the fare is only $350. In that case, I could book a one-way flight only, take just carry-on bags, and simply never board the Miami-Jacksonville leg of the itinerary and voila—I'm in Miami ... where I wanted to be in the first place, and saved $150 in the process."

There's technically nothing illegal about the decadeslong practice, which even travel agents have used to their advantage; there are even websites dedicated to helping customers find skiplagging flights, the New York Times reported over the summer—and American Airlines sued one such site. But many airlines consider it a breach of their terms, and some will nix frequent-flier miles, make customers pay the difference in fare, or even bar people from flying on the airline again if they're caught. Airlines hate when people skiplag because there are empty seats they could've sold to someone else; plus, the practice can lead to wasted fuel if the passenger count is off, as well as delay flights as airline staff holds planes for passengers that never show.

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In an op-ed, the Dallas Morning News advises airlines that they shouldn't penalize customers who are caught skiplagging, noting that, "with the price of air travel high, inflation rising, junk fees in dispute, and travelers fed up, we can't blame enterprising consumers for responding to price incentives that airlines themselves create." And the airlines themselves are hesitant to make too much out of the issue, for fear of the publicity. "It actually could backfire and cause more people to become aware of this way that some people are saving money on flights," Scott Keyes, founder of the travel site Going, tells CNN. (More airlines stories.)

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