Don’t get me wrong with the article’s title. I have nothing against Skiplagged or the service they provide. Our reasons for not using it are solely based on our travel preferences. Your Mileage May Vary.
For those of you not familiar with Skiplagged, they started as a website that helped you find cheaper airfares by taking advantage of a system referred to as hidden city ticketing.
Instead of trying to explain it, here’s the snippet from their website:
A hidden-city flight is a flight where you get off at the layover rather than the final destination. For example, a flight from New York to Orlando might be $250, but a similar flight from New York to Dallas with a layover in Orlando might be $130. If you’re going to Orlando, we’ll show you both flights. If you choose the cheaper one, you get off the plane at the layover (Orlando) rather than going to the final ticketed destination (Dallas).
Here’s a graphic representation where you can save on a flight from Atlanta to Orlando by actually booking a flight to Dallas with a connection in Orlando.
The FAQ on their page explaining hidden city ticketing should be required reading before considering booking one of these fares. The practice of booking this kind of ticket hit the mainstream in 2019 when Lufthansa sued a passenger for booking a round trip flight from Oslo to Seattle with a layover in Frankfurt. He flew to Seattle and back to Frankfurt but never boarded the final flight to Oslo; he booked a separate ticket on Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Berlin instead. Doing so apparently saved over $2000 and the airline wants that money.
You might wonder how a change of the final leg of a flight from Oslo to Frankfurt or Berlin costs $2000 more. Welcome to the strange world of airline ticket pricing, something that has caused me many headaches over the years.
As you can imagine, exploiting hidden-city ticketing isn’t very popular with airlines. A website that makes finding these fares as easy as entering your origin and destination was sure to draw their attention. In fact, United Airlines and Orbitz both sued Skiplagged in 2015.
United and Orbitz sued Zaman for “unfair competition” and “deceptive behavior,” alleging that the site promoted “strictly prohibited” travel. They wanted to recoup $75,000 in lost revenue from Zaman.
While Orbitz settled out court, United pressed on with the lawsuit. And lost.
Airlines like to say that booking hidden city tickets violates their “Contract Of Carriage.” I’m not a lawyer but I’m told that’s all the fine print that used to be on a ticket jacket (remember those?). Now it can be found at a link on a website when you purchase a ticket, which no one bothers to read. Not flying all of the flights supposedly means a passenger didn’t fulfill their part of the contract. But what if you have an emergency and find out you need to return home or fly somewhere else, during your layover? If you don’t fly that second flight, will you get a refund? Of course not, because your ticket is probably non-refundable. So can an airline punish you for not taking a flight you paid for? The answer is a qualified maybe.
Why we don’t use Skiplagged
When I’ve come across days where all I can find is expensive airfare, I’ve checked out Skiplagged to see if they could do any better. I’ve never found anything that suited us, which is probably because we are flying to/from Orlando and there are not many connecting flights from here.
Not saying there aren’t any opportunities to use Skiplagged for flights to other cities. For example, there are many hidden-city flights from Orlando to New York-JFK pricing from $112 to $203. The cheapest direct flight starts at $204.
Skiplagged clearly notes on their website when you’re booking a Skiplagged fare. That’s because there are certain things you need to know before taking one of these flights.
- Backpack only — We recommend only bringing a backpack that can fit under the seat in front of you. Anything larger risks getting checked at the gate, and all checked bags will end up in Dallas (final ticketed destination)
- Bring your passport for international flights (even if you’re not going all the way to the final destination). Some carriers require a passport to board the plane.
- You may need a visa for international flights. This depends on the country that’s the final destination. In some cases, all you need is a passport, but you may also need a visa for some countries.
- Don’t associate a frequent flyer account — If you do, the airline might invalidate any miles you’ve accrued with them.
- Some airlines may require proof of a return ticket during check-in. If this happens to you, just buy a refundable return ticket directly from the airline and cancel it ASAP after boarding.
- Do not overuse hidden-city itineraries. Do not fly hidden-city on the same route with the same airline dozens of times within a short time frame.
- In rare times of irregular operations such as bad weather, your itinerary may change at the discretion of the airline (2% chance).
- You might upset the airline, so don’t do this often.
The biggest problem for me is that we still check a bag over 50% of the time when we travel. We’re just not good at the “pack light” thing. Two nights is our limit of being able to bring only carry-on so for any trip longer than that; we’re not going to be able to book a Skiplagged fare.
My other fear about booking these fares is that I know deep down that I will be part of the 2% who gets rebooked due to irregular operations.
They don’t explain why that’s a problem above, so I’ll fill you in. Say you have a flight booked from Atlanta-Orlando-Dallas, like in the graphic above. Maybe due to bad weather or a mechanical problem, the Atlanta-Orlando flight gets canceled. The airline tries to fulfill their ticket and rebooks you on a flight from Atlanta-Houston-Dallas. You can’t just tell them “But I was planning on getting off the plane in Orlando.” Their job is to get you to the destination on your ticket and it doesn’t have to be by the route you originally planned. You might be able to cancel the whole ticket but that doesn’t get you to your destination and you’ll have to buy an even more expensive last-minute ticket if there’s even one available.
Another thing not mentioned is you shouldn’t book a round trip with a Skiplagged fare, or if you do the Skiplagged flights needs to be on the return part of the trip. That’s because once you miss a flight on your itinerary, the rest of the trip is automatically canceled. Your missed flight HAS to be the last flight on the ticket.
I can see how using Skiplagged to find fares can be great for some travelers. If you’re only going to be away for a day or two, only have a carry-on bag and fly to airports with expensive fares, you can save hundreds of dollars on a single ticket. You just need to be willing to play by the rules of booking these tickets and hope that you don’t end up angering the airlines to the point where they sue you for their money back.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary