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How to book a skiplag flight to save money — and why you shouldn't

Airline cabin
Skiplagging is a risky decision as airlines become more hyper aware of the strategy and actively punish customers for doing it.iStock/Getty Images
  • "Skiplagging" is the practice of booking an airline ticket with the layover city intended as the destination.

  • The strategy can save travelers hundreds, but airlines hate the practice and can punish customers for doing it.

  • Lufthansa took one traveler to court, while American Airlines billed a customer $2,500 to recoup revenue.

Cheap airfares are hard to come by these days as inflation and fuel prices stay on the rise — but that doesn't mean they're impossible to find.

Over the years, savvy flyers have popularized a practice known as "skiplagging" to skirt high ticket prices on nonstop flights.

The strategy involves booking a flight with a layover intended as the destination city and then skipping the second leg. In other words, buying an itinerary that is point A to B via C, and getting off in C. This can be done by:

  • Booking two separate one-way tickets with either the outbound or return layover city as the intended destination. This is typically more expensive than booking a roundtrip on international flights, but can be a strategy for domestic flying.

  • Manipulating a multi-city booking by setting the "fake destination" on the outbound, and then selecting the intended destination as the starting point for the return, or vice versa. Travelers can then compare that to the cost of a regular nonstop roundtrip, and adjust the fake city as needed to find a lower airfare.

For example, flying on Dutch flag carrier KLM from New York to Amsterdam nonstop each way is about $2,850 in late June — but the same roundtrip flights manipulated to have an onward leg to London on the outbound journey brings the ticket cost down to about $2,150.

A screenshot of Google Flights price comparison between a flight from New York to Amsterdam, costing upwards of $2,857, and a multi-city flight to the same destination, costing upwards of $2,140.
Google Flights

In this case, the fake city — London — is not the traveler's actual destination, but the skiplagged fare was cheaper than booking nonstop to Amsterdam.

It is important to note that this works best the other way around because airlines will typically cancel the return flight if you skipleg on the outbound.

While customers could scour Google Flights looking for these loophole fares, booking website Skiplagged.com can actually do the work for you.

Founded by computer scientist Aktarer Zaman in 2013, the website helps customers find "hidden city" fares based on their preferred airports and destination.

However, the company warns travelers to only bring a backpack because checked luggage is tagged to the final city — and it's unlikely the airline will unload it during the layover, even if you ask nicely.

Screenshot of Skiplagged.com hidden city ticket.
Screenshot of Skiplagged.com hidden city ticket with the second leg slashed out, sent to Insider by company COO Dan Gellert who noted the "backpack only" warning on the itinerary.Dan Gellert/Skiplagged.com

Also, asking might actually work against you as it raises an immediate red flag to airlines as many have worked to curb this practice.

In 2014, United Airlines and the travel company Orbitz filed a lawsuit against Zaman over "unfair competition" and "deceptive behavior," claiming he caused $75,000 in lost revenue. The case was eventually dismissed due to the Illinois court not having jurisdiction in New York where Zaman lives and works.

With Skiplagged.com still up and running, carriers have taken an aggressive stance against these "throwaway" fares — even going as far as to punish offenders by taking away loyalty miles and elite status, canceling the return leg of the hidden city fare, or even banning them from flying the airline again.

Because of this, the benefit of saving a few hundred dollars may not be worth the risk of going toe-to-toe with air carriers, even if the practice is legal.

In 2018, German carrier Lufthansa filed a lawsuit against a passenger who booked a roundtrip business class ticket from Oslo, Norway, to Seattle with a layover in Frankfurt both ways.

However, the company accused the customer of intentionally ditching the second leg of the return flight — Frankfurt to Oslo — and buying a separate one-way ticket on Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Berlin instead.

This did not bode well with Lufthansa, which identified the itinerary as hidden city ticketing and then requested about $2,400 from the customer as additional payment, according to court documents.

But, the case was eventually thrown out because the judge determined Lufthansa's contract of carriage was not transparent enough to warrant an airfare recalculation, NPR reported.

While the court sided with the passenger, airlines are becoming extremely vigilant when it comes to skiplaggers.

American Airlines, for example, added new tools in 2021 to help agents recognize a hidden city ticket. And, the carrier has billed customers when caught, with one getting a $2,500 invoice in August 2020 for skiplagging 52 times.

Another was banned from American's AAdvantage program in spring 2020 for 95 counts of skiplagging, The Points Guy reported.

American has language in its contract of carriage to prohibit customers from "purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares." Delta Air Lines and United also have similar protections written in.

Despite airlines actively fighting against throwaway tickets, Atmosphere Research Group and travel analyst Henry Harteveldt told the BBC in 2019 that skiplagging was actually created by the carriers themselves, saying high fares into hub airports "invite hidden-city booking."

But, that doesn't mean airlines don't have the freedom to stop doing business with customers who they believe are cheating the system — and they won't hesitate to take action — so skiplag at your own risk.

Read the original article on Business Insider