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Airline Sues Booking Site That Finds ‘Unfairly’ Cheap Flights

A new airfare booking site takes advantage of a ticketing loophole to unearth extremely affordable fares. And it works so well that a legacy airline and a major online travel agency are taking it to court.

We covered this story when it first broke about a month ago. In mid-November, United and Orbitz joined forces to sue Skiplagged, a hidden-city ticketing site. They filed a lawsuit in Illinois claiming that 22-year-old Skiplagged founder Aktarer Zaman is creating “unfair competition” and “intentionally and maliciously promoting prohibited forms of travel.”

The allegedly prohibited (though not illegal) form of travel is called hidden-city ticketing, or throwaway ticketing. It’s a strategy in which a flyer buys a ticket to a destination, but intentionally ends his journey at the connecting hub. For example, let’s say a flight from New York to Miami with a connection in Atlanta is cheaper than a direct flight from New York to Atlanta. Using the hidden-city tactic, a flyer would buy the cheaper itinerary and disembark during the connecting stop. It’s a tricky yet effective way to get a more affordable plane ticekt. Since flights with stops are often more expensive than connecting flights, opportunities to exploit this loophole abound.

Skiplagged provides travelers with hidden-city fares that are often quite lower than the prices you’d find on the standard major booking engines. But the strategy isn’t without its problems. Throwaway ticketing is in direct violation of the rules stipulated in major airlines’ contracts of carriage. According to United’s contract of carriage, “The purchase and use of round-trip tickets for the purpose of one-way travel only, known as ‘throwaway ticketing,’ is prohibited by UA.”

You can’t check a bag on a hidden-city itinerary. Your airline could reroute your flight through a different connecting city. And carriers, according to rumor, might charge you more if they catch you breaking the rules; however, I’ve seen no confirmed reports of this happening.

Flaws and all, hidden-city ticketing fulfills its chief purpose: It gets you to your destination for less money. A few minutes hunting for tickets on Skiplagged didn’t disappoint. A search on Kayak showed the cheapest flight from Philadelphia to Denver with one stop came to $318 roundtrip on Delta, for travel in February. For the same dates, Skiplagged gave me flights from $297 roundtrip.

Skiplagged’s results vary greatly by route. I tried a lot of routes that turned up nada. If there aren’t any hidden-city fares available, you won’t get any results. But when you do get results, they’re competitive.

You can take advantage of hidden-city ticketing without Skiplagged. Just go to Kayak or a booking engine or an airline website and play around on your own. Skiplagged, which is the first booking site we’ve seen that automates the process, might save you a bit of time. But it doesn’t have a corner on the throwaway thing.

Skiplagged is asking for donations to help fight Orbitz and United via a page on GoFundMe. So far, the site has collected tens of thousands of dollars in donations, which speaks to the general public’s deep exasperation with the airline industry.

Would you use Skiplagged?

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