United and Orbitz are unlikely allies. Nevertheless, the two companies are jointly suing Skiplagged.com, a website that facilitates hidden-city ticketing.
For those not in the know, hidden-city ticketing is the money-saving technique in which a traveler purchases a ticket to one destination with the intention of getting off the plane at an intermediary point.
For example, because competition on the transcon routes is particularly fierce, it might well be the case that a ticket between Los Angeles and New York with a stop in Chicago is cheaper than a ticket between Los Angeles and Chicago. A Chicago-bound hidden-city ticketer might then purchase the Los Angeles – New York ticket, but deplane in Chicago instead of his ticketed final destination.
Naturally, airlines take a dim view of the practice. Every dollar a traveler saves is a dollar the airlines lose. And it’s not without potential glitches for travelers themselves. An airline might, for instance, reroute the flight via a different connecting city. Our hypothetical Chicago-bound flyer will look a lot less crafty if United reroutes his New York flight via Denver instead of Chicago.
There are no reliable estimates available as to the number of travelers taking advantage of hidden-city ticketing. Although it’s a widely known technique among savvy travelers, most of the flyers I know stop short of actually using it. Operating in defiance of the airlines’ rules, fair or not, is simply outside their comfort zones.
Still, as the legal proceedings suggest, the practice persists. And Skiplagged.com has automated it, making the process of finding and booking hidden-city trips especially easy and convenient.
According to Bloomberg’s coverage of the case, Orbitz and United’s request for a cease-and-desist order against Skiplagged.com is based on the argument that the site “is unfairly competing against them and creating false associations by linking customers to their websites.”
Whether that line of reasoning is legally compelling or not remains to be seen.
Reader Reality Check
Have you used hidden-city ticketing to save on airfare?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.