american airlines
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

American Airlines Files Lawsuit Against Skiplagged

Hidden city ticketing is not illegal — but it does have its consequences.

American Airlines files lawsuit against Skiplagged — which is a service that promotes “ridiculous travel deals you can’t find anywhere else” — at a federal court in Texas, claiming that the Internet web site is not an “authorized agent” of the airline to sell tickets; and that its business model results in costing the airline revenue and sustaining “injury, damage, and financial losses due to the interference which include lost profits and damages related to efforts used to mitigate the interference.”

American Airlines Files Lawsuit Against Skiplagged

The business model of Skiplagged encourages a practice that is known as hidden city ticketing or hidden-city flying, which is the booking of a ticket for a flight that involves at least one stopover or layover — but instead of the passenger catching the last segment of the trip, he or she instead leaves the airplane during the last stopover or layover before it departs for its final destination upon conclusion of that last flight segment.

Hidden city ticketing helps passengers save money by going against at least one of the policies of the airline. Skiplagged even devotes a part of its web site to warn of the dangers and disadvantages of hidden city ticketing.

The lawsuit of American Airlines versus Skiplagged was filed in the Fort Worth Division of The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas and is known as Civil Action No. 4:23-cv-00860-P, of which the complete official document can be accessed here.

In the document, allegations from American Airlines claims that:

Skiplagged’s conduct is deceptive and abusive. To be clear, Skiplagged (a) is not – and has never been – an agent of American; (b) breaches the Use Agreement and Conditions of Carriage by marketing and selling tickets for American flights; (c) coaches American passengers to assist in their breaches of the Conditions of Carriage agreement with American; (d) violates federal statutory and DOT regulations; and (e) infringes the American Marks.

United Airlines Tried Suing Skiplagged — and Failed

United Airlines
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

United Airlines filed a lawsuit against Aktarer Zaman — who is the founder of Skiplagged — with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Monday, November 17, 2014. Orbitz Worldwide LLC was involved as a plaintiff in the lawsuit as well. “In its simplest form, a passenger purchases a ticket from city A to city B to city C but does not travel beyond city B,” according to the companies’ complaint. “‘Hidden City’ ticketing is strictly prohibited by most commercial airlines because of logistical and public-safety concerns.”

The lawsuit against Skiplagged by United Airlines was ultimately dismissed in May of 2015 — supposedly due of lack of jurisdiction.

Southwest Airlines also sued Skiplagged in 2021, which was settled after lengthy legal battles.

Teenager Banned By American Airlines For Three Years

The aforementioned lawsuit of American Airlines versus Skiplagged was filed not long after Logan Parsons was reportedly banned from flying as a passenger with American Airlines for three years when he attempted to stay in Charlotte on a ticket from Gainesville to New York.

The teenager — who is 17 years old — never did board the airplane on what was to be his first flight traveling by himself back in July of 2023.

“Hunter Parsons felt his son would be OK, but once at the airport in Florida with his North Carolina Driver’s license the gate agent was skeptical of his final destination”, according to this article written by Will Lewis of WJZY-TV Queen City News in Charlotte. “‘Interrogated a little bit, ultimately taken to a security room,’ added Hunter Parsons. ‘They kind of got out of him that he was planning to disboard in Charlotte and not going to make the connecting flight.’”

The following statement was sent to Queen City News from American Airlines:

Purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares (hidden city ticketing) is a violation of American Airlines terms and conditions and is outlined in our Conditions of Carriage online. Our Customer Relations team has been in touch with the customer to learn more about their experience.

How Hidden City Ticketing Works

Using a real example of how hidden city ticketing works using Skiplagged, a one-way flight from Atlanta to Washington which departs at 6:59 in the morning on Friday, September 8, 2023 was chosen at random.

a screenshot of a flight
Source: American Airlines.

At the official Internet web site of American Airlines, the flight is offered for $173.00…

a screenshot of a computer

…but the same flight is offered at for only $94.00, which is a savings of $79.00 or slightly greater than 45 percent. How is that possible?

a white card with text and numbers

Hover the cursor over the pertinent flight and what appears is the segment from Washington to New York, which has been crossed out — effectively, skipping out on the last segment of the overall flight.

a screenshot of a flight schedule
Source: American Airlines.

Checking back at the official Internet web site of American Airlines, the flight from Atlanta to New York is indeed $94.00 — with a stop in Washington. Whether passengers book their tickets through Skiplagged or American Airlines, they can simply depart from the itinerary in Washington and not continue on to New York. Skiplagged simply facilitates the finding of hidden city ticketing to save passengers money; whereas American Airlines does not advertise this method at all.

To put it another way: suppose that a customer goes to a restaurant to eat. Many restaurants offer meals which include a main item, a side item, and a salad. Ordering each item separately usually costs more money. If a customer wants only two out of three of those items and still saves money ordering the meal versus ordering each of the two wanted items separately, the customer is usually not penalized for not eating the third — and unwanted — item.

Why, then, should the same policy not apply to passengers with airlines?

If one engages in hidden city ticketing once in a while, no one at the airlines will usually notice. If it is done enough times and someone at the airline catches on, the passenger could risk the following — including but not limited to:

  • Being forced to pay for a more expensive ticket without a refund of the original ticket
  • Having his or her frequent flier membership program being closed with all miles forfeited or immediately expired
  • Being placed on a no-fly list for a certain amount of time — or indefinitely
  • A combination thereof of any of the aforementioned risks

How Skiplagged Profits

Before a customer gets excited, Skiplagged does not really save him or her $79.00 on the aforementioned itinerary.

Once the customer is ready to book the ticket through Skiplagged…

a screenshot of a website

…a service fee of $35.00 is assessed. After all, Skiplagged is trying to profit from this service. The customer will even get $10.11 in “rewards earned”.

In fact, the document from the lawsuit from American Airlines contends that:

Every time Skiplagged books a ticket for a customer, it charges a Skiplagged fee in addition to the base fare. Usually, this fee is $10 per one way ticket booked on Skiplagged but at times this fee is 10% of the base fare of the advertised price.

In reality, the same flight is offered at for only $128.20, which is a savings of $44.00 or almost 26 percent — not counting the $10.11 in “rewards earned”. That is still a nice savings — but not nearly what was initially advertised to the customer.

If a customer wants to engage in hidden city ticketing and save as much money as possible, all the customer needs to do is book the ticket directly with the airline. In this case, the customer pays $94.00 to American Airlines — without having to pay a service fee of $35.00.

Times When the Airline Costs Less Than Skiplagged

Skiplagged is not always a bargain. In the aforementioned example of the airfare of $173.00, the lowest airfare for that day was actually $148.00 for a Basic Economy ticket.

a screenshot of a flight schedule
Source: American Airlines.

This time, a one-way flight from Atlanta to Washington — which departs at 7:45 in the evening on Friday, September 8, 2023 — is used as an example, as that was the only itinerary with that $148.00 airfare. Unfortunately, the itinerary is horrendous, as it includes an overnight stopover in Miami for ten hours and 39 minutes.

a close-up of a clock

Skiplagged offers the same itinerary at the same airfare of $148.00. Note that any fare that is displayed without the small Skiplagged Rate banner in the upper left corner is initially the same fare that one would pay when booking a ticket directly with the airline…

a screenshot of a flight registration

…except that with Skiplagged, the customer is charged a service fee of ten dollars — which means that in this case, Skiplagged is more expensive overall than booking a ticket directly with the airline.

In other words, Skiplagged is not quite a bargain after all; and certainly not all of the time.

Final Boarding Call

Like Kleenex, Frigidaire, Band Aid, and Google, Skiplagged is a brand name that has become a verb as part of the vernacular and is no longer an isolated term for frequent fliers or other knowledgable passengers on how to save money on airfares. That is a free marketing gold mine which is not easy to achieve and often attracts more customers…

…but in the case of Skiplagged, it also attracts unwanted attention — especially from airlines.

Hidden city ticketing is not illegal; but it is against the policies, terms, and conditions of most airlines — but airfares are rather complex. What I do not completely understand is why a flight from Atlanta to New York — with a stop in Washington — is significantly less expensive than a flight from Atlanta to Washington. I am sure a variety of reasons are integral to this otherwise strange form of pricing — such as competition, supply versus demand, costs to have gate slots at an airport, and operating with a hub airport involved as four of many reasons — but I do know one thing: if the airfare from Atlanta to New York was more expensive than the airfare from Atlanta to Washington, then hidden city ticketing would not occur in the first place. The customer is not at fault for how airlines price their airfares.

With hidden city ticketing, either the airline saves on a minimal amount of fuel from not having to carry the weight of the passenger on the last segment of the flight itinerary; or maybe the airline possibly missed out on selling a ticket to another passenger from Washington to New York instead of unexpectedly flying the airplane with an empty seat. Perhaps the violation of the terms and conditions of the airline is no more than a form of revenue protection as part of possible collusion among airlines within the United States.

My issue with Skiplagged is that the final price is not disclosed until the time in the reservation process comes to book the ticket, which I vehemently oppose. The service fee should be included in the total cost when the prices are first displayed, as I argued in this article pertaining to hidden fees overall.

Another issue with Skiplagged for some potential customers is that one cannot save money with hidden city ticketing on business class fares and first class fares — only with economy class fares.

If a customer wants to engage in hidden city ticketing, that customer should have a right to do so without penalty and not be forced to pay the sometimes inexplicably usurious fares that are charged by airlines. Doing so without the help of Skiplagged is actually not all that difficult. This is the main reason why I am not all that concerned if American Airlines succeeds in winning this legal action against Skiplagged.

The featured photograph is that of an airplane which is operated by American Airlines as it descends upon final approach to Washington.

All photographs ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Once a colleague was moving back to Japan. He booked a one way ticket from Chicago to Osaka. I said “no!”. Luckily, he got it refunded. I showed him about booking a ticket from Chicago to Manila with a stopover in Osaka. The flight to Manila was for a different day as it was a stopover, not a connection. I think he saved $400. He treated me to a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant the next evening!

  2. I do not understand why airlines should be upset about skip lagging. They sold a seat at the price they advertise- what the user does with that seat is no longer their concern. Furthermore, it seems it would even be profitable for the airline as they can place an overbooked passenger in the missing leg just as they do when someone misses their flight.

    The issue I do see with the company Skiplagged (as opposed to the practice of skip lagging) is that they seem to be using American Airlines’ brand, logo, and such to legitimize their endeavor. That should not be allowed.

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