Like the ABC’s, except you stop off at B and save money…

Before Skiplagged, a technique existed within travel circles that was so effective, it was hardly ever discussed publicly. It was like Fight Club, but more like flight club. The magic trick known as “skiplagging” still totally exists, still saves incredible amounts of money and it’s now reached MTV pop culture status. With all that attention, it’s gotten more people than ever trying it and that’s causing chaos in the airline world. One airline is even threatening people.

But for most of you, that’s all irrelevant because you have nothing to fear…

What Is Skiplagging?

Skiplagging is a travel technique where you save on airfare by booking a ticket through the place you actually want to go and get off there. Sometimes it makes business class cheaper than economy.

You do this because it’s cheaper to fly through the place you want to go, than to the place you want to go. Let’s say the Super Bowl is in Dallas, and flights to Dallas are impossibly expensive, but flights to San Diego via Dallas are super cheap. You’d just book a ticket to San Diego via Dallas, and get off in Dallas and walk out of the airport. Easy!

Here’s a casual example from Los Angeles to New York in business class. Click this one, then this one (same flight, half price). Like Fight Club, there are rules…

Skiplagging Rules

There are rules to skiplagging, which simply cannot be broken. If you do, you’ll ruin your trip, and perhaps your entire week. It’s like a secret club for people who love to travel and love to save money, so basically everyone on earth. The unbreakable rules of skiplagging are…

  • Never tell someone you’re skipping a flight, especially airlines.
  • It only works one way, you cant do it round trip. 
  • Once you miss a flight, the rest of your reservation is canceled. No exceptions.
  • You can’t check luggage, because it will carry on without you. 
  • You must be careful not to abuse it every time.

United, Of Course

United Airlines has threatened to go after people who “skip lag” their flights, and now Lufthansa has done the same. This is virtually impossible to enforce in real life, and really just a big, giant “loudest person in the room” tactic, but it raises important points.

You never tell someone you’re skiplagging, and ideally, you don’t do it every time. Airlines in their T&C’s have the right to shut down your frequent flyer account if you do, and United says they want to go after you personally, even your credit. For reference, the person who was threatened by United had done this 38 times already. Cool United, more good press, fewer travelers to deal with. Enjoy.

The Truth For 98% Of Travelers

If you have a frequent flyer account with lots of miles and elite status, you take a risk “skip lagging” while hoping to earn points from the flights. In the history of the universe, like 5 people have had issues and had their accounts closed. If you, like most people, don’t have a big hefty frequent flyer account – you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the Biscoff crackers.

For 98% of travelers, there’s nothing to worry about. Most people (including this guy) have skiplagged their way around the world for years, earning points, elite status and all sorts of perks without issue.

Blue Moon Scenario

If you’re doing it once every blue moon, and especially if you’re also taking completely normal flights in between – it’s impossible for someone to prove you’ve intentionally done wrong. Your meeting changed, you had a surprise, you fell ill, the possibilities are endless.

Like all great movie scenes, just don’t crack or flip under pressure. You stay strong! But really, they’ll never ask, you’ll never hear a word and the truth is that this is a great way to save, and you probably really should use it. Probably just best not to tell them you bought your ticket from Skiplagged.com.

Have you Skiplagged? What do you think of United’s take?

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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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26 Comments

  1. “Cool United, more good press, fewer travelers to deal with. Enjoy”

    So true. But we will have to bail them out again if something happens because they are too important. ha.

  2. As someone who has done this several times before, it is a very dangerous thing to tell regular people that “there’s nothing to worry about” and they “really should use it” who won’t think about some of the more nuanced aspects of it. Things you didn’t even mention:

    * Don’t board towards the end if you have a large carry-on as it may get gate-checked to the ticket’s final destination.

    *Irrops can screw this entire thing up. Someone who booked BOS-DFW-DEN to get off in DFW for the Super Bowl can be royally screwed when a cancellation of BOS-DFW has their ticket changed to route via PHL. They now risk missing the game unless forking out even more for a vey-last-minute ticket to DFW.

    *Booking far in advance can prove disastrous with a schedule change, especially with a tight “connection” where a slight tweak drops it below MCT and causes an automatic rebooking via a different hub. The person may not realize it until it is too late.

    Hidden City Ticketing (what it is actually called) is probably more for the 2% of fliers who don’t have a horde of miles and also know a decent amount about the ins and outs of travel. The average traveler who worries that their ticket says MCO when they are going to Orlando has zero business participating in it and could end up costing them more than they saved.

    1. Ben, to your first point about the carry on, you just tell the gate that you need your bag in city “B” (they don’t ask questions, could be medications, change of clothes etc, only have a courtesy ask if you’ll have time to pick it up before the next flight) they can usually hand tag it and will come out with the rest of checked bags. This happened on my first skiplagged experience, was not a problem

    2. Ben knows what he is writing about.

      “Skiplagging” is not for inexperienced nor casual traveler. Myriad changes can occur. The airlines owe you transportation for “A” to “B,”, not via an assured route. That is why when you are late due to the airlines’ fault, they still get you to your destination, albeit on different flights and different hubs.

      You risk is being rerouted to a “better” schedule. Delta almost won with this, but I insisted I was picking up documents in the DTW Delta Sky Club during my layover. DL then insisted on knowing who I was meeting so they could look up their layover. I responded I would not divulge their name, “for security purposes,” which shut them up.

      You risk a delay on your original flight. If WX or MX delays you, any responsible airline will reroute you to your intended destination. You will have to know your stuff, the airline’s schedules, and maybe some airline lingo to get to your intended (Skiplagged) destination.

  3. I just booked one from LHR(A)to destination C and will hop off in destination B. The one way flight was $1800 to B. My flight to C was $400. Wost case scenario if I end up in C due to a reroute, I will just buy a cheap Spirit flight home.

  4. I did this once. I was a little scared, but it worked out. Truthfully, I felt resentful that the airline couldn’t just give me a reasonable price to my destination, vs. my needing to use this technique to get to where I was going. The cost difference was significant. How about if the airlines give us decent pricing to start with so this isn’t necessary for the average traveler?

  5. I’ve never done this, so forgive my naivete. I read about Lufthansa suing a passenger in the news this morning. Why are the airlines upset if the passenger who skipped out mid-way has already paid for the entire trip? Other than waiting for a no-show passenger, I suppose, but flights leave as scheduled anyway. What’s all the fuss about?

  6. I’m with Sometime Traveller. I don’t get it. The airline is getting the full fare from you – why should they care if you get off early. Buslines don’t care if you get off half way frm NY to LA. Train services don’t care. Why do airlines care?

    I also don’t understand why the airlines don’t offer the flight to the hidden city at a more reasonable price in the first place. They’re already flying there. In Brian’s example, WHY wasn’t there a flight from LHR(A) to destination B for like $300 available instead of for $1800? Clearly the airlines could do it for less than $400 as the flight he actually booked to C was even longer than just going to B and they offered that for $400. Their pricing and policies make no sense.

  7. I gotta agree with the skiplaggers here. I’ve just learned about this, but it’s pretty weird.

    The ethical issue seems to be: Why can an airline charge a higher fare for a shorter, more direct flight? That is unethical. It’s deception.

    Secondly, how can they possibly justify punishing someone who does this? If I use less of your service than I agreed to pay you for I have some right to ask for a partial refund for the service not rendered. I get it that if you do something secretly it’s your fault and so you void that right. But really they are getting the advantage – the airline gets an empty seat they could fill or even if they don’t fill it it makes the airplane lighter and saves fuel.

    I get that they are upset because this is sneaking around various price deals that are setup. But the problem is those price deals are unethical to begin with. It is unethical to charge more for less service (the short direct flight) so this is entirely fallout for the bad decision an airline takes to price things deceptively like this.

    Is there something I’m missing here? Maybe they are offering these cheaper flights to less direct destinations and that is a subsidy for less popular destinations and they can claim that is the public good. OK, but that makes no sense if it’s so big a discount it is cheaper to go to the obscure city than the direct one. Also, they save money on fuel, so why the complaint?

    Last, I get that there is a problem of people not saying they are leaving and the flight having to wait for the missing people. But they could easily rectify that by asking people to be honest if they plan to skiplag – or, better yet, make the prices ethical so that people don’t have to do these insane tricks to get a cheaper fare.

    If airlines want to fight the public of this they are going to find very little sympathy for their cause. Honest, transparent pricing is what is required. Blaming people for getting tricky when you make tricky pricing is hypocritical.

  8. There is nothing wrong with skiplagging. Good for travellers who beat the money grabbing airlines at their own game. They created the fare for the route and travelers took up the offer. So where is the crime? United and Lufthansa should shut up and stop crying over their own creation which was caught out by travelers.

  9. I did this one time and it was the worst day ever. To be honest, it was mostly my fault, but there are significant risks if you don’t know what you’re doing. I was flying back from DFW, with the final destination being Portland. I was planning on getting off in SFO during our layover, which was my actual destination. However, I was one of the later groups to board and with 10 people left, they ran out of overhead cargo room, and offered to check all bags to Portland! I had a suitcase and the line was moving along.

    It was right there and then that I realized and had to accept that if I got on that plane, I would end up in SFO with my bag in Portland. So I got out of the line last minute (the attendant was very weirded out), and started scanning all same day flights from DFW to SFO. Found one departing in 1 hour, had to SPRINT to a different terminal and buy a ticket at the desk. So had to give up my ticket $$ on the flight 1, and had to fork out $350 for a new ticket.

    Unrelated: American ended up delaying my new flight to SFO till 2AM and then canceled it. Did not offer vouchers for hotel rooms and gave me a flight at 3PM the next day….worst day.

    TLDR: Don’t engage unless you’re a light traveler and have explored all the options of things going wrong.

    1. Couldn’t you have made up any reason to need your bag in SFO, the layover city? Like you needed to change clothes, take a shower in the VIP lounge, etc.,?
      The flight rep/on-the-ground reps would have to accomodate getting your bag to you at layover city on the tarmac, esp if you were in one of the last groups to board the flight.

  10. i’m about to fly back to europe in a couple of weeks, the RTN leg of my flight, getting off at Distination ‘C’ rather than ‘D’.

    I did this a few years ago on the same routing, it prompted me to checkin at the airport and have my baggage only checked throu to ‘C’. The staff at checkin where from a codeshare partner. They didn’t batter an eye at the time. No dramas and no comeback at the time.

    However, this year the Checkin will be handled by my ticketing airline. I have prepared myself for them to say No or this will cost.

    However having opeing SF and GSP today to this news i’m now thinking to just be content and book flights back to C from D.

    Probably over reacting and it has been only the 2nd time ive ‘Middled City’.

  11. I have used Skiplagged often with success. I had one very close call that fliers should be aware of. My seat was in the back of the plane. They were checking tickets carefully, so I could not board early. By the time my section was called, they announced that all carry-on bags had to be checked. When boarding, I said that I needed to keep the bag with me because I was meeting someone at the first stop that I had to give something to from the suitcase (3 hours between the 2 flights). The attendant told me to take it out before boarding. I said that wasn’t possible. He finally said that I could board last if the flight attendant said there was room for my bag overhead. Luckily, there was room. Beware – The only way to avoid this is to travel with an ultra-compact bag that fits under the seat.

  12. I have found skiplagged is best used sporadically and never with tight connections. When flights are delayed/cancelled, airline computer systems automatically rebook flights in the interest of delivering passengers to their final destination with the least amount of disruption. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for connecting airports to change in those situations.

    Recently, American Airlines didn’t credit my flight miles for a ticket they suspected as Skiplag, even though I never admitted as such. Due to a weather delay, my tickets were automatically rebooked (not favorably) so my objections caused much confusion/suspicion for the gate agents. Honestly, it was a stressful situation all around as the agent was loud and making a bit of a scene. They eventually relented and made the flight changes but I’m assuming I now have a ding on my FF number in their system. Who knows.

    I’m a ff and typically only use skiplag on occasion when I have to book last minute or if prices are abnormally absurd. From an ethical perspective, I’m of the opinion that booking flights with a fare set and deemed fair by the airline is perfectly acceptable. Why should it matter how they are used??

    After all, would a movie theater complain, whine and threaten legal action if you didn’t finish the giant tub of popcorn they offered at a discounted price.

  13. If you have a carry on bag ( I also have a personal backpack) and they won’t let you on with it. What is the beat/cheapest way to get my bag there? I’m flying skip lag from Cancun and getting off in Charlotte NC. So I am afraid that my luggage will end up in FLA (final destination). Any suggestions?

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