Skiplagging is the naughty experiment just about everyone desperately wants to try. It’s not illegal, but is against the terms and conditions set forth by airlines, and can, in theory, mean losing your miles or elite status perks with an airline.

It’s the art of paying less for an airline ticket, by finding a cheaper destination than the place you actually want to go, with a flight that goes via the place you really want to go. To do so, you hop off at the connection – ideally sans bags – and ideally on a one way.

For domestic travel it’s still naughty and can still be nice, but for international travel it may be a very long time before the risks and complications can makes any sense and outweigh even the greatest savings.

You might be denied boarding entirely and forced to stay home. Worse, you may find yourself stranded in another country, without a way home.

International Skiplagging Complications

If you don’t have eligibility to enter your final destination as it appears on the ticket you purchased, you can kiss any skiplagging trips goodbye. That’s the gist of the new risks posed by international skiplagging during covid-19 times.

This brave new era of travel has ushered in a myriad of global travel restrictions, making flying to one place to pick up a cheaper flight, or hopping off before taking a final flight, as you booked it, much more complicated than ever. Making matters even worse, restrictions can change without notice while you’re in the air.

You don’t just need to have eligibility to enter one place, you need eligibility for all, and as airlines cope, everything – truly everything – is subject to change.

Look no further than Europe’s ban on US visitors, or the US ban on most European visitors to see how getting from one place to another is nowhere near as simple as it once was, just over a year ago.

Denied Boarding

Airlines can be fined tremendous sums of money for boarding a passenger it shouldn’t have, based on the lack of an appropriate visa or entry eligibility for a destination. Yes, “destination” is a word to become ultra familiar with right now.

This matters because even if you don’t plan to make it to the ticketed “destination” as booked, you still need to be eligible to enter, otherwise you’ll be denied boarding at your point of origin.

Of course, if you say you’re not going to the “destination” as booked and really just want to hop off at the connection point, you’ve broken the only rule of Fight Club too.

Again, ff you’re eligible to enter the place where you planned to hop off during your skiplagging itinerary, but NOT eligible to enter the final destination as ticketed, you won’t be allowed to board either flight. In other words, you’re going nowhere and will need a new ticket if you want to change that.

The potential fines airlines face for incorrectly boarding passenger who are ineligible to enter a destination are a key reason airlines are all pushing for digital health passports and covid-19 testing apps to validate documents on their behalf. In the meantime, you will find strict observance of rules, and it’s completely within an airlines right to deny a passenger, if there’s any question.

This is something you’ll find in the contract of carriage for every airline, mainly because they’re on the hook to get you back. Here’s an excerpt from United Airlines, and just about all airlines have similar policies…

Each Passenger desiring transportation across any international boundary is responsible for obtaining prior to travel and presenting upon request at any time all necessary travel documents, which shall be in good condition, and for complying with the laws of each country flown from, through or into which he/she desires transportation.

Any Passenger who, by failing to comply with the laws of each country flown from, through or into which he/she desires transportation, causes UA any loss, damage or expense of any kind, consents and acknowledges that he or she shall reimburse UA for any such loss, damage or expense.

UA also reserves the right to deny boarding to any Passenger whose necessary travel documents are not in good condition according to UA’s reasonable belief, or which otherwise do not comply with laws of the specific country the Passenger is departing from, transiting through, or traveling to.

Covid-19 has pretty much killed many ‘hidden city ticketing’ more popularly known as ‘skiplagging’ opportunities for international travel.

Even if you’re not planning to truly ‘skiplag’, and just hoped to save money by departing from a nearby country, you may also be SOL. You can Google that one, if it’s not abundantly clear what that acronym means.

This is because an airline is responsible for taking you to where you’re ticketed, and it doesn’t need to play ball with your separate, ongoing plans.

if the one way ticket you book to catch a cheaper flight from another nearby country – particularly in Europe- is only open for transit passengers, the airline may not want to play ball as you tell them that you have a separate onward flight with another itinerary. They may simply deny you travel, based on the fact that on ‘their’ ticket, it looks like you’re trying to enter the other country where entry isn’t possible.

That’ll then force you to miss your other itinerary. Ugh!

Examples Of Risk

Let’s say you’re an American and want to visit London and are unsure when you’d return. We’ll ignore the current national UK lockdown and new testing requirements for now, because legally you can enter the UK as an American at the time of writing.

But for whatever reason, tickets to London are crazy expensive, so you find a super bargain via London, to another European city like Budapest as a final destination. That would’ve been easy enough pre covid-19, but it’s an instant no-no right now.

Americans aren’t presently welcome in Hungary, or really anywhere else in the EU except for strict exceptions, so you’d be denied boarding in the USA, before boarding your flight to London and hopping off.

The ticket would be eaten entirely, or at best become a future credit. You’d need to rebook a new reservation with London as the final destination.

Another example: getting stranded or re-routed.

Flights schedules are fluctuating more than GameStop stock at the moment, and that means many itineraries will be changed, and even direct flight routes cancelled entirely without notice.

If your master plan was to fly thru a city and hop off, the airline may change your itinerary to fly through another city entirely, without much notice and without choice as airlines shutter routes or countries close.

In other words, you’ll have no choice but to ditch the ticket, or end up somewhere you didn’t actually want to be for an extended period of time. Even if you weren’t going to skiplag, you could still get stuck.

If, for example you were a European in Peru and had a ticket home via somewhere via like Mexico, but Peru tightens travel restriction and all European airlines cancel direct flights, and the only remaining option becomes back via the USA, and you’re not at all eligible to enter or transit the USA, you’d be stranded in Peru.

International Skiplagging On Hold?

Basically, skiplagging may still work out alright for short simple, domestic trips, but if you’re crossing a border, it’s harder than usual to justify the risks. If you’re not willing to perhaps part ways with the entire trip, it’s probably best to book the entire trip as intended from the start, at least for now.

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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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3 Comments

  1. Great article, and timely for a purchase I’m looking at right now. One-way Puerto Vallarta to Charlotte on a day I need to travel in December is $500. On the exact same flights if I skiplag on from Charlotte to Toronto the fare drops down to $125 (crazy, because the taxes alone account for $75 of that fare). If it were you traveling, would you accept the risk/reward here for Mexico to Canada skiplagging in Charlotte – when travel is in December – for $375 savings? Thanks Gilbert 🙂

  2. What about multiple operating carriers, connections and long layovers before you hit your ‘destination’?
    Will your first operating airline really not carry you to a point you have legal right to enter?

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