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Some airlines have a unique knack for shooting themselves in the foot. Just when you think United is the poster child, American tends to come in and quickly make their own case. Like when one of their executives flew to London, broke 14 day quarantine, and then went on Linkedin to tell others how they can as well, and now, during a pandemic, when the airline is using some much needed downtime to harass frequent flyers.

Skiplagging In The News Again

Skiplagging is the “art” of booking a cheaper ticket, by booking a journey which you won’t fully complete, by hopping off at the connection. This is because airlines employ a very strange pricing system, where it can be cheaper to take 6 flights, than just one.

Read our deep dive into Skiplagging here

The reasons for skiplagging are simple. Adding a flight beyond your final destination can drop the price tremendously, and people like to save. Some might say, don’t hate the player, hate the game, and yes – airlines created this game.

an airplane on the runway

A simple example would be a flight from Los Angeles to New York, which is a premium route. If you find a flight from LA to Puerto Rico, via a connection in New York, chances are it’ll be cheaper. Without bags, you could hop off in New York. Airlines specifically say this isn’t allowed, but it’s borderline impossible to prove, which creates interesting showdowns.

Now, American Airlines is the latest to take on the issue, after largely unsuccessful attempts from United, and Lufthansa. Fun story: Lufthansa lost their lawsuit against a passenger for “skiplagging”.

People miss things all the time for legitimate reasons, such as being unwell or changing business meetings, and short of saying that you planned to skip a flight, an airline would find it difficult to prove intent. Without it, there’s nothing they can really do.

Making matters further complicated, airlines like American don’t go after their most profitable customers, no matter how many times plans change and they miss or skip a flight. They typically stick to the ones they think they’re not earning enough margin off of, who they arbitrarily decide miss more flights than others.

Of course, if you simply buy a ticket and no show for the entire thing, they have no issue with that, whatsoever.

American Airlines Takes On Customer

a close-up of a plane

Flyertalk, a popular forum for frequent flyers, is rife with consternation, after a loyal American Airlines flyer received a letter from American Airlines Corporate Security, stating that the flyers account had been frozen, pending outcome of an investigation, and the only way to reinstate the account would likely be to make financial restitution for the price of what flights would’ve been, without skipping segments.

The flyer has over 400,000 miles and is an Executive Platinum (semi top tier) member of the program, so there are meaningful perks and potential future trips at play.

This, aside from the other factors to know before skiplagging, is one of the primary risks. If an airline wants to shut you down, it’s a very unilateral conversation, though it’s really only happened over a handful of times in decades, across all airlines. Still, these sort of cases are enough to give *some* travellers pause.

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Now Is The Time To Alienate People

The airline industry has arguably never faced a greater challenge than the present. Even with bailout funds, demand is down, confidence is shaken and it may be many years before it returns in a way meaningful to airlines. Naturally, American Airlines sees this as the perfect time to harass people who’ve spent large sums of money for years.

American Airlines is once again in the news, and once again it’s not for world class new seats, safety measures or maintaining connectivity between cities. It’s for attacking a passenger who may plausibly have rapidly changing travel plans, who they think owes them money.

The theatre production may keep a few people from using hidden city ticketing, better known as skiplagging, but it also may just push customers away from bothering with the airline at all.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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    1. Admitting intent is the only way an airline can actually prove you wrong. This is airline greed. Don’t fly, they don’t care. Fly some, they care. As someone said, it’s like offering a discount on buying 2 burgers instead of 1, and the owner standing over a person to make sure they finish both.

      1. Wouldn’t the better example be that this is like one of those eating challenges. You finish you get it free, you don’t and you have to pay.

      2. And don’t forget, that when a “skiplagger” misses the last segment, American airlines or any airline can RESELL that seat at the last minute at 3 times the price, so it’s baloney that they lose any money on this

    2. Agree… They aren’t going after the casual skiplagger…52 times….and oh ,btw, he doesn’t have to pay if he doesn’t want to.
      But given his status…I’ll bet he will, and be a good ExecPlat from now on, lol. No sympathy from me.

  1. So it is OK to break the rules stated by the airline in their contract of carriage and cost them money? I realize you are based in the U.K. and European courts don’t allow airlines, as a rule, to enforce hidden city ticketing but in the US it can be enforced. You can’t go to jail but can have accounts closed and miles lost.

    To me this isn’t something AA should allow just to not “alienate” customers. The vast majority of their customers don’t do this and they typically only go after frequent offenders. You can tho k why you want about whether hidden city ticketing is right or not but it is clearly documented as against the AA rules (along with almost all US airlines).

    BTW if you do intend to do it just don’t list a frequent flyer number, only do it on one way tickets (any return would be canceled if you didn’t take the 2nd leg) and obviously don’t check a bag. No moral judgement on my part and people can do what they want. Just understand the airline likely can determine what you plan and could take action. That is the trade off

  2. It seems like AA is resorting to extortion. It’s one thing to give them a warning to not do it anymore, but to demand money in exchange for not forfeiting your miles, that seems like mafia tactics. It certainly won’t encourage loyalty. If I were that flyer, if I submitted to their extortion, I would use up the miles and move all of my business elsewhere.

    1. It was written by someone who believes airlines pick and choose the game, and change it as it suits them. If they don’t like how people play, they have only the game they created to blame.

      1. I don’t think you appreciate both sides of “the game”. Skiplagging is incredibly disruptive for airlines. When an airline sees that a passenger has made the first leg, but did not show up for the second leg, they will make their best efforts – sometimes incredible efforts – to find that passenger. Yup, many agents actually care about customers and want them to have a good journey on their airline.

        This means the airline will send staff around the gate to find passengers that may have fallen asleep and missed the flight announcement. If the flight had a gate change, then they will send staff to the prior gate to make sure that the passenger isn’t sitting at the wrong gate. The search is even more intensive if the passenger has status. They’ll have staff in the lounge (often lounges) make the rounds and see if the passenger is there or asleep. If the stopover is short, they may consider holding the gate for a few minutes just in case the passenger is still on their way from the prior flight.
        Keep in mind, this is all happening just a few minutes before the gate is about to close. After this, the airline will need to go through the process of finding someone to take the now-vacant seat.
        All of this increases the likelihood that a flight will be delayed, particularly since gate agents have a ton of other things to do in the minutes before a gate closes. And the delay could be significant since busy airports precisely schedule departures and a flight that is just a few minutes delayed could be stuck at the end of a long queue of other flights.
        So yeah, airlines write the rules and they have reasons for those rules. Banning skiplaggers is not simply a punitive action.

        1. With many flights cancelled by airlines due to COVID, many airlines aren’t following their own terms and conditions that were in place when people purchased their tickets and are refusing to refund tickets. This is abhorrent and illegal. Why do airlines get to pick and choose when the rules need to be followed? Travellers need to stick it to the airlines whenever they can.

        2. The airlines you know are wildly different from the ones I know. Though I believe some were like that a few decades ago.

          1. Yes. Stick it to the airlines! Dance in their grave when they are all bankrupt! Then cry in your beer when you can’t fly anywhere.

  3. The people are in control. Stop allowing these companies to push you around. Boycott business with them. They will understand.

    1. Because they are politically powerful, and politically powerful people depend on them to get around.

  4. Excuse me, Gilbert, you are saying that you have the right to game the system to your benefit and then squeal like a stuck pig when the airlines actually take some action in terms of the contract of carriage to which you are agreeing when you buy the ticket?

    Hmmm, so if I go into a casino and I have a secret card counting app on my that gives me an edge at Blackjack, and get caught, I should also insist that I am doing no harm and that they cannot eject me and blacklist me? Or that I have the right, because I have managed to score an upgrade, to take all items that I can from the first or business class linens or any other items…?

    I understand that sometimes it is attractive to score a cheap flight. Possibly the airlines are pricing the specific route to compete with other airlines and by gaming the system you are scoring. Doing it once or twice would almost certainly not even raise an eyebrow in the airline. An ongoing process of defrauding the airline is THEFT. I seriously query the morals and ethics of anyone who can claim otherwise.

  5. If they don’t care when you completely don’t show up for a flight than why is this any different? The airline received its payment!

  6. I’m sorry but the only people alienated are the skiplaggers… Who cost the company money and take seats away from others.

      1. Come on Gilbert, instead of jumping on little comments why not attempt to answer RichP’s original question regarding people intentionally defrauding the airlines and then crying like little pigs when they get caught.

  7. This actually recently happened to me on AA…I’ve been platinum pro for the past 5yrs consistently and at least Gold every year since 2000 got my account froze for 30 flights out of 180 over the last two years. Let’s not mention that as a troubleshooter consultant I usually buy tickets 1-2 days in advance and regularly shift travel plans.

    As much as I hate United I’ve shifted all my travel to them as AA is just stupid now. But that’s what happens when you let exec leadership from a discount brand like America West run a major airline. Penny wise and pound foolish.

  8. I do think the post left by Musen Sugoi is insightful in what the airlines do to find the missing passengers. I suspect Musen has worked for an airline in the past. These are good points, however the airlines overall treatment of passengers (I am an Exec Gold with BA) is very one sided. If you legitimately miss a flight (stuck in traffic etc) the airlines are generally unforgiving and you pay through the nose to fix the problem.If the airline misses a connection, they treat you like cattle. As mentioned they often overbook flights (120%) due to no shows of passengers that have paid – so they are receiving more money per actual seat. They have created this monster of lowering air fares to compete with hometown airlines. Recently BA offered business class for £1050 flight CDG to the West Coast which flys via LHR. The same flight from LHR is over £2,000. I can buy a round trip ticket from LHR to CDG for £200 so I would still save £800 if I decide to fly this way. They are simply trying to take market share from AF. I’m sure AF will offer something in return. Skiplaggers, I wonder how big a problem this really is? The airlines really need to up their game and focus on their customers. In the long run this will pay off. Customer service in general is quite poor with the constant cutting corners to save money. This shows in the quality of the product. I often feel it’s a race to the bottom. When you look at Southwest airlines, whilst they are not perfect, they tend to be one of the best customer service airlines in the business. They really don’t nickle and dime you and flights are easy to change, frequent flyer seats are readily available and they include checked luggage. On the international front, it’s no wonder that most of the European and US airlines have lost market share to Asian and Middle Eastern airlines. These airlines (SQ/CX/QR/Emirates) tend to focus more on customer service. Again they are not perfect but you at least get more of what you pay for. During these difficult times the airlines need passengers, they should focus on improving the customer experience and focusing their energy on the loyal customers they truly need. Don’t spend effort on chasing a few who abuse the system.

  9. Though I see the airline’s side in this, I have to agree that this is an incredibly stupid time to be enforcing this particular rule.

  10. This is a new tactic AA uses. The 24hr period before the flight they will not allow you to check in online. Instead a message that you have to check in at the counter will appear. Once you are with an agent at the desk they will lean in real close like they are on your side regarding hidden cities and ask very genuinely if you are getting off at the first stop. Even though I said I was going through to the final ticketed destination they REFUSED to issue 6 tickets that were PAID for. Gave some crap excuse that it was “flagged” by security and they couldn’t issue the tickets. I wonder how many AA employees offer to pay a couple of hundred dollars more for any purchase searched for at the lowest price??? Yet anyone who flies AA is supposed to happily pay more than necessary because of their jacked pricing scheme??? They created the monster! AA is the new Spirit.

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