American Airlines Boeing 737

Hello, sir, we hope you’ve enjoyed your years of flying with us and building up to Platinum elite status. Here’s a bill for $1000 USD, to account for how you got there. ‘Skiplagging’ isn’t new, nor is it illegal, but it is against the terms and conditions found airline loyalty programs, which means doing so risks any ‘assets’ you have with the airline in question – like your frequent flyer miles, or status perks.

One American Airlines regular just returned from a trip where they were greeted with an opportunity to pay $1000 to let the past be the past, or see their Platinum benefits rescinded, along with a healthy AAdvantage points balance. It’s the latest instance of airlines beefing up fear factors to beat back the skiplagging game.

‘Hidden City’ Skipagging: TL;DR Refresher

Skiplagging is the art of buying a ticket through the place you truly want to go, and getting off at the connection point, rather than continuing to the place you are ticketed to go. It exists because from time to time, airlines flights are cheaper via a place than just booking directly to the place of interest.

This is particularly common with hubs, like someone wanting to fly to the American Airlines fortress known as Dallas Fort Worth, where a ticket via Dallas elsewhere may be cheaper than just flying to Dallas. To do this, you’d simply book two one way tickets to make a round trip, because once a flight is missed, the rest are cancelled.

Typically you can’t check bags, and you run a risk by attaching your preferred loyalty program to the reservation, in case someone cares or notices. In reality, this hardly ever happens, but in recent years there’s been a crackdown on the most egregious abusers.

If this is wildly fascinating to you, here’s a deeper guide to skiplagging.

Best advice, if you plan to use this, is to not ALWAYS do this. It’s best to mix in quite a few reservations where you do not use hidden city ticketing, or to credit your points to an airline partner, rather than the program of the same airline you’re deceiving.

Skiplagger Caught And Fined $1000

Skiplagging, the slang phrase for ‘hidden city ticketing’ is not illegal. And in fact, it’s actually won court cases which effectively say hate the game, not the player.

Airlines choose to sell tickets this way, rather than on a segment by segment basis, and trying to say that a passenger must take all the flights in a booking is like a restaurant fining diners for not finishing every last mouthful.

But airline loyalty programs are the wild west, and though United Airlines threats to report a flyer to credit agencies over the practice was a bogus and veiled threat, an airlines ability to cull your miles and any perks you’ve earned via elite status are not. Again, it’s very rarely happened – I’ll admit, I’ve done it a few times – but it’s possible.

Confronted At Check In

View From The Wing reports a regular reader walked up to the check in desk for a recent American Airlines flight only to be met by someone who stated they must fly their complete and total itinerary as booked, or risk their account being frozen.

The passenger, perhaps foolishly did not heed the advice, and got off at their intended destination, rather than the one on their ticket. It might’ve been a better idea to fly to the other destination, and grab a separate ticket back to where they really wished to go.

Nonetheless, it happened, and American Airlines followed through. The person received a communication from an American Airlines team demanding payment of $1000 to right previous perceived wrongs via frequent ‘hidden city ticketing’.

It’s basically a fine for bad behavior, and if the person does not pay, they risk losing their American Airlines Platinum status, and all their miles. Having elite status with complimentary domestic upgrades and a hefty miles balance is probably worth the money.

American Airlines recently received a large portion of the $35 billion plus – in bailouts from the US Government, which you’d think would cover some old fare differences, for old times’ sake.

Moral Implications Of Skiplagging

Skiplagging has very few losers, other than airline revenue management departments. In the case of international business class tickets, booking a ticket from a nearby city which flies through your city can save $1000’s on a singular flight alone.

Take Paris, which is often $1000’s cheaper than London for business class flights to the USA. It’s easy to book flights from Paris to the USA via London, and on the way back, simply hop off in London, rather than continue onto Paris. You do so with $1000’s more in your pocket, all for a bit of inconvenience on departure (getting to Paris).

When you ‘skip’ this last flight, it typically allows someone on standby to hop on the flight in your place. In many cases, you not showing up probably makes someone’s day. For airline staff, who must come on the loud speaker and call your name and ask you to come forward or risk missing the flight they think you’ll be on – to be fair, it’s an unnecessary hassle.

Airlines aren’t technically able to sell the seat twice, but when someone else is able to claim it, or the plane burns less fuel in the air as a result, they do benefit. Of course, not as much as if you just payed full freight for the direct itinerary, but then again you didn’t create the airline pricing matrix – they did.

As a younger flyer trying to stretch the budget, I engaged in hidden city ticketing many times to move my budget from premium economy to business class, or economy to premium. As an aging adult with an infant, my days of catching flights to catch cheaper flights are over, and it’s pretty much direct – or bust.

This is a problem airlines created, which travelers perpetuate. If airlines moved pricing to be based on number of flights taken, which has some merit, rather than charging a premium for direct flights, this could all change. But if it did, people in regional airports might find themselves unhappy with the more expensive tickets they now face. It’s a complicated issue, without a clear answer.

Airlines typically offer lower pricing from competitors key hubs, attempting to lure away flyers who might fly direct, with a much cheaper one stop itinerary via their base. It’s hard to know which answer would benefit customers most, but that’s not the primary concern for any of these airlines.

If you hold your miles or elite frequent flyer perks sacred, frequent ‘skiplagging’ might be one to steer clear of, or limit dipping into too frequently. Taking those miles or perks away is the one thing airlines can do to you, and seem to be ‘flexing’ on.

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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8 Comments

  1. I frequently (apart from the last year) book a flight to the States originating from DUB, taking a cheap flight from LGW to DUB, this saves hundreds in Tax and APD etc. The BA flight goes via LHR and on my return on check-in I specify I have business in London and need to pick up my bags there. I have never had a problem with doing this, always a first time I guess.

    1. “ I frequently (apart from the last year) book a flight to the States originating from DUB, taking a cheap flight from LGW to DUB, this saves hundreds in Tax and APD etc. The BA flight goes via LHR and on my return on check-in I specify I have business in London and need to pick up my bags there. I have never had a problem with doing this, always a first time I guess.”

      That’s an easy one to do without the risk of refusal at check-in; simply make your U.K. connection on the way home an LHR//LCY one.

  2. Wasn’t this tried in Germany in court and thrown out ?

    For me, it is the airlines wanting to have their cake and eat it.

    For little money, I wouldn’t bother but I’ve seen some UK to Asia routes in business class at 40% of the cost going via Scandinavia from London. So we do it.

  3. Obviously airlines are gaming the system. Train tickets fir sxample are based on dustance travelled, not the popularity of the destination. The first airline that offers one-way tickets to intermediate destinations will win out.

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