American Airlines is taking a website to court which has been selling cheap travel tickets by exploiting the quirks of airfare pricing.
The carrier filed a suit against Skiplagged Inc. last week accusing the website of ‘deceptive conduct’ and threatened to cancel every American Airlines fare sold via the website.
Skiplagged.com promises ultra-cheap airfares to travellers. All they have to do is miss their plane.
The practice, called ‘hidden city ticketing’, exploits the fact that some longer fares with layovers are cheaper than direct tickets. Passengers can save money by buying a ticket that transfers via their intended destination, disembarking during layover and never using their onward flight. While not illegal, this hack causes problems for airlines, with no-show passengers taking up seats.
Last month American Airlines booted a 17-year-old traveller from a service and banned him for three years, after learning that the passenger intended to disembark in North Carolina, using a cheaper transfer fare to New York City. Groundagents grew suspicious after the ID he presented at check in showed he had a layover in the same city as his home address.
Some airlines claim ‘Skiplagging’ is against their terms of carriage. However, it is very difficult to prove a passenger has missed a flight intentionally.
Therefore websites such as Skiplagged.com are in the crosshairs for helping passengers to exploit the pricing loophole.
American accuses the website that they are deceiving passengers by claiming they offer cheap flights via a “secret loophole.”
Skiplag buys tickets on behalf of travellers, but has never been authorised to resell airfares.
The carrier claims this is deceptive practice, as its legal filings say:
“Skiplagged deceives the public into believing that, even though it has no authority to form and issue a contract on American’s behalf, somehow it can still issue a completely valid ticket. It cannot. Every ‘ticket’ issued by Skiplagged is at risk of being invalidated.”
The ‘loophole’ exists because of the way airlines compete on pricing. Busier routes to larger airports are often cheaper, and longer more circuitous routes are often discounted. By the same token, direct flights to smaller regional terminuses may be more expensive, due to less competition.
One flaw with the skiplagging hack, beyond the potential that airlines may refuse travel, is that passengers cannot take checked luggage. Passengers cannot collect bags checked through to the final ticketed destination.
Also airlines are likely to cancel itineraries of passengers who were no-shows, so the ‘hack’ only works on one-way fares or the return leg of travel.
Skiplag has been sued before, unsuccessfully.
United Airlines and OTA Orbitz accused the website’s founder Aktarer Zaman, of dealing in “prohibited forms of travel.”
Zaman settled with Orbitz, and the lawsuit was dismissed using funds raised by an online GoFundMe page.