Sick of skyrocketing holiday costs, travelers are increasingly resorting to a clever money-saving hack known as ‘skiplagging’.
In practice, vacationers book a flight with a layover—which is actually their intended destination—and then skip the connecting journey. Some advocates swear it has helped them save hundreds of dollars on travel.
So it’s little wonder that the aviation industry is struggling again. American Airlines recently detained a teenage boy at the airport after he tried to ‘skiplag’ his flight.
And in 2018 German airline Lufthansa tried to sue a passenger who tried to implement the hack. Meanwhile Southwest Airlines also launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against ‘SkipLagged’, a site that advertises the best deals.
The backlash is so dire that Skiplagged’s site now has a warning not to use the hack too often — because airlines can punish them by canceling their return flights or wiping out their loyalty miles.
But why exactly are firms so desperate to prevent hacks? The practice is perfectly legal and experts insist there is no security risk.
Skiplagged.com offers ‘skiplagged’ rates on destinations and calculates how much you can save by implementing travel hacks
MIT Sloan professor aviation security expert Arnold Barnett told DailyMail.com: ‘Skiplogging does not violate any laws and I don’t see how skipplagging can create a security problem.
‘If a passenger checks a bag at the final destination and then fails to board the connecting flight, this could pose a risk. But no rational person boarding in Florida for Charlotte would check a “skiplagged” bag for New York.’
Here Dailymail.com explains everything you need to know about the controversial travel hack.
How does skiplagging work?
To skip, a passenger books a flight from point A to point B with a stopover at their actual required destination.
The traveler then abandons the last leg of their journey and remains in the city where they were supposed to layover.
For example, instead of flying directly from Newark to Los Angeles, a traveler can book a ticket from Newark to Salt Lake City, Utah, with a layover in LA.
How much can it save – and why are total flights cheaper?
Some customers claim to have saved hundreds on trips by implementing the hack.
On Skiplagged, a flight from San Francisco to London, United Kingdom, to Lisbon, Portugal, with a layover next April, costs $265.
By comparison, a direct flight from San Francisco to London would cost $375, saving customers $110. Surprisingly it works fast.
Skiplagged flights are available with airline TAP Portugal and take a total of 11 hours and five minutes to fly from San Francisco to Lisbon.
But if you want to search and book a trip from San Francisco to Lisbon, the cheapest option would be with Vueling – $375 – and takes 16 hours and 25 minutes with a stop in Barcelona.
Skiploggers stand to save $110 on trips from San Francisco to Lisbon in April 2024, SkipLagged claims
Skippagged flights are available from airline TAP Portugal and take a total of 11 hours and five minutes to fly from San Francisco to Lisbon.
But if you want to search and book a trip from San Francisco to Lisbon, the cheapest option is with Vueling – $575 – and takes 16 hours 25 minutes with a stop in Barcelona.
Another example is Newark to Seoul, South Korea, a trip in October that typically costs $770.
Travelers can save up to $173 by booking a flight from Newark to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam with a layover in Seoul.
The skippagged trip is with Delta Airlines and takes 21 hours 21 minutes to Seoul.
By comparison, a direct flight from Newark to Seoul with Air Prema takes just 14 hours and 55 minutes – but costs $896.
The exercise highlights the outrage of flight pricing algorithms.
The cost of a journey is often based on the popularity of the destination rather than the length of the journey – hence why a trip requiring two flights can actually be cheaper.
What’s more, major airports – major destinations such as New York’s JFK and Chicago’s O’Hare – act as ‘hubs’ for longer journeys, meaning they are common layover stops.
For example, in the Newark-Los Angeles-Utah example, Los Angeles is a more popular destination than Utah because Utah is less expensive to travel to – despite being farther away.
But customers should be aware that if they implement the hack they won’t be able to check a bag – as it will continue to the final destination. And since airlines hate it so much, chances are you’ll be met by security at your gate if they suspect you’re guilty of hacking.
Meanwhile, travelers can save $173 by booking a flight from Newark, Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City with a layover in Seoul instead of going directly to Japan.
Why do airlines hate it? Is it a security risk or just for financial reasons?
In a 2021 memo, American Airlines executives said the practice was “prohibited” and urged employees to monitor it closely.
Much of the frustration with the practice is that it causes companies to lose revenue. In 2014, United Airlines and travel website Orbitz tried to sue Skyplagged CEO Akatre Zaman for ‘unfair competition’ and ‘deceptive behaviour’.
The company argued that the website cost them $75,000 in lost revenue from the date Skiplagged was set up in 2013 until the lawsuit was filed in 2015.
Kyle Kroeger of Via Travellers, told DailyMail.com: ‘One of the big reasons airlines hate skiplagging is because it can disrupt their operations.
‘For example, if multiple customers purchase connecting flights and only use their first leg, this could leave an airline with empty seats on the second leg of that flight.
‘Not only does the airline lose potential revenue, it could cause delays for other customers.’
U.S. airlines collectively lost more than $200 billion during the pandemic when overnight travel was halted.
These losses – coupled with rising fuel costs – have left the airline industry scrambling to recoup their losses.
What are the risks of booking tickets this way?
Although skiplagging is perfectly legal, many airlines say it’s a violation of their own terms and conditions.
In response to a case of a teenager being detained for skiplagging, American Airlines explained: ‘Purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights (hidden city tickets) in order to gain a lower fare is a violation of American Airlines’ terms and conditions and is stated in our airline. Online Driving Conditions.’
According to NerdWallet, some customers have had their tickets canceled if they used the hack before boarding — or their return tickets were canceled.
On top of that, flyers report being stripped of their loyalty miles and elite status. Some have even been barred from booking with airlines.
What’s more, it offers limited flexibility to passengers. There’s always a risk that an airline might change your itinerary at the last minute and change layovers – thereby sabotaging your entire trip.