'Skiplagging' may get you a cheaper flight, but be aware of the risks
What you should know about the practice and why it's risky.
Say you're looking to fly from Las Vegas to Charlotte, North Carolina. The flight costs $500. But a flight from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., with a layover in Charlotte costs only $300.
Hypothetically, a traveler could use their layover as their final destination, skipping the last leg of their trip and saving themselves some money along the way.
This practice is called "skiplagging" or "hidden city ticketing" and it's been around for years. The company Skiplagged was even founded in 2013 to help show travelers such "hidden city" flights.
Now, with steep summer airfare and travel bouncing back to pre-pandemic rates, some people may once again be considering this option, despite any risks it could entail.
"The reality is, the way airlines price their tickets, mostly with their hub and spoke model, creates really challenging pricing for travelers that want to go to a specific hub city," said Dan Gellert, COO of Skiplagged.com.
But the cheap price tag could come with consequences. While skiplagging isn't illegal, many airlines prohibit and penalize the practice.
In 2014, United Airlines and Orbitz sued Skiplagged, claiming the company's CEO, Aktarer Zaman, "used his website to intentionally and maliciously interfere with Plaintiffs' contracts and business relations in the airline industry."
The case was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2015 when a judge in Chicago ruled the court didn't have jurisdiction. But Skiplagged now puts explicit warnings on its site that this type of ticketing is risky, adding this disclaimer: "Airlines don't like when you miss flights to save money, so don't do this often."
"The more a traveler does it, the higher likelihood an airline is going to say, 'Hey, you've missed your end destination three, four, five times,'" said Gellert. "That is going to raise some flags internally."
Gellert added that many travelers skiplag without any issues.
Some airlines have developed software to detect skiplaggers, according to airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt. If the airlines do catch travelers engaged in the practice, Harteveldt said, they could delete frequent flier accounts, cancel return reservations or charge them more money.
Even if the airline doesn't catch you, there are still logistical concerns that could throw your trip for a serious loop. If your flight is canceled and you're rerouted through another city, it'll be a headache, and likely an additional expense, to get to your destination. And you'll need to travel light -- you can't check luggage, and if the plane is full and your bag needs to be gate-checked, you won't be able to retrieve it when you get out on your layover.
"Skiplagging is a very risky bet," Harteveldt said. "If you or a member of your family gets caught, you could end up in a lot of trouble with the airline… I'm just not sure that the savings are worth the risk, even with the high airfares we're seeing right now."