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Skiplagging: Don't Do It!

“Everybody’s got an angle.” That’s a line from my all-time favorite holiday movie White Christmas. Bing Crosby delivers it matter-of-factly…it’s the way of the world. That was true when the movie came out in 1954, and it is still true today. Except now we say “hacks” and “cheats” instead of angles. In the travel world, whether you call it a cheat, a hack, or an angle, when you make a habit of cheating the system it usually comes back to haunt you. I’ve written about the most popular travel hacks before, but one in particular bears repeating: skiplagging.

Skiplagging, also known as hidden city ticketing, is the practice of purchasing a ticket that requires a connection, with the intention of ending your travel in the connecting city rather than continuing on to the final destination printed on the ticket. On the surface it sounds silly…why overcomplicate your travel? People do it because skiplagging takes advantage of a common airline practice of making routes with one or more stops less expensive than direct flights.

The practice of skiplagging has been around for years, though it isn’t something you’ll find any reputable travel advisor doing. It used to be something savvy travelers would do on their own, using online booking services, or even booking directly with the airline. Now there are online booking services dedicated to the practice of skiplagging, promising great savings if you buy your tickets and follow their guidance. One I’ve recently discovered, though it has been around since 2013, has even put it in their name, They unabashedly guide you through the process of purchasing a skiplagging ticket, complete with graphics. Their tag line is “Ridiculous Travel Deals You Can’t Find Anywhere Else.” There’s a reason you can’t find those “deals” anywhere else…with most airlines it’s illegal. and sites like it have become popular with travelers eager to save a few bucks on the ever-rising cost of plane tickets. You can’t engage in skiplagging if you have to check luggage since your bags will continue on to the final destination, but as long as you can get by with just a carry-on bag, it can work for you. The only problem is…skiplagging is illegal with most airlines, which is why no reputable travel advisor will knowingly book you on a routing knowing you intend to skip the final destination. It violates the terms of carriage on your ticket, which is a legally binding contract.

Airlines have prohibited the practice of skiplagging for years, but they’ve recently gotten serious about enforcing the penalties they levy. If they suspect you are checking in for a flight with the intention of skipping the final destination, they have begun cancelling the entire ticket. That can be incredibly inconvenient, and expensive. They’ve also begun more punitive measures, levying fines and terminating travelers’ participation in their frequent flyer programs with no compensation for the accumulated miles or points you’ll lose in the process.

I read an article recently about a traveler intending to use skiplagging who was denied boarding. Once the airline agent suspected he intended to skip the final destination, they cancelled the entire ticket out. The traveler was a 17-year-old whose father booked the tickets on, having done so for his own travels…successfully…many times previously. You can read the article here. If you are a frequent flyer for a particular airline, the airline tracks your travel. If you engage in skiplagging the airline will eventually catch up to you, and when they do, the cost to you can be many times more than anything you’ve saved by skiplagging.

Another of these travel “hacks” that isn’t as popular as it used to be, is throw away ticketing. That’s the practice of purchasing a round trip ticket when you only intend to travel one way. The reason it has become a less popular angle to play is that airlines have begun pricing round trip tickets as the sum of the two one-way trips. Without the price incentive to spur them on, travelers no longer felt compelled to accept the risks that go with violating airline ticketing conditions.

It seems unfair that airlines can hold travelers to the precise terms of their ticketing agreement when they themselves take full advantage of the many loopholes their lawyers have built into the fine print. A contract is a contract, and a plane ticket is a contract. Yet airlines routinely fail to live up to their end of the contract by overscheduling and overbooking their planes and crews. The results are cancelled flights, delays, and passengers getting involuntarily bumped. That’s how people rationalize taking advantage of the airlines through skiplagging and throw away ticketing, but the airlines also face penalties when they fail to live up to their end of a ticketing agreement.

The FAA requires airlines to compensate passengers who are involuntarily bumped, or whose flights are cancelled or delayed beyond a reasonable amount of time (three hours as a general rule) when the circumstances are preventable. Airlines are also subject to steep FAA fines when their practice of overscheduling and overbooking gets out of hand, as they have in the past two years. But they don’t seem to care…they’ve built those expenses into their cost of doing business, and they pass the added costs back on to passengers in the form of higher ticket prices.

The Europeans have come up with their own unique approach to penalizing airlines. If a flight is cancelled or delayed more than three hours, each passenger is entitled to compensation, and it is usually cash rather than future air credits, hotel and meal vouchers. All you have to do is fill out an online claim form, which is not to say they make it easy on the traveler. When Janet and I flew to Luxembourg last summer the first leg of our flight was delayed by over three hours and we missed our connection. It resulted in an unplanned overnight stay in Frankfurt, and we ended up having to pay for that hotel as well as the hotel we had already booked and paid for in Luxembourg. We eventually got the compensation the EU said we were due…eight months later and then only after numerous e-mails to the airline, most of which went unanswered. But at least we got the check, which is more than I can say about most U.S. based carriers we've flown with.

Since everybody has an angle, here’s mine. Use a travel advisor. It won’t solve all of your travel problems, but we will be there to help you deal with those that crop up. You aren't likely to find anyone with the airlines advocating on your behalf, if you can reach someone. We can’t solve every problem, but we can solve many. And that’s my angle.

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