What is skiplagging and is it illegal? What you should know

happy elegant female stewardess against blue background in blue uniform with flight tickets and piggy bank.

In the world of travel, finding ways to save money while booking flights is a pursuit in which many travelers engage. One term that has gained attention, both among budget-conscious flyers and within the airline industry at large, is ‘skiplagging’.  

This practice involves booking a journey with multiple segments but intentionally missing one or more of those segments to achieve a lower fare. While it might seem like a clever strategy, the question remains: is skiplagging legal?  

In this article, we’ll delve deep into the phenomenon of skiplagging, its implications and its legality.

What is skiplagging? 

Skiplagging, sometimes referred to as ‘hidden city ticketing‘, is a travel hack used by passengers in order to save money on flights. The idea behind it is to book a multi-segment flight ticket including a layover at the traveler’s intended destination, rather than booking a flight directly to it. The passenger then disembarks at the layover point, effectively skipping the remaining segments of the flight. 

For example, if someone wants to fly from City A to City B, they might find that booking a flight from City A to City C with a layover in City B is cheaper than a direct flight to City B. The passenger would then disembark at City B, saving money with a cheaper flight while essentially reaching their destination as intended.

How and why does skiplagging work? 

Skiplagging works because airlines often price flights based on demand and competition for specific routes. This can lead to situations where booking a longer flight with a layover is cheaper than booking a shorter direct flight to the layover city. Airlines may offer these lower fares to remain competitive on a particular route, even if the layover city is not the traveler’s final destination. 

Skiplagging typically requires careful planning. Travelers would need to research and book the right flight segments, ensuring that the layover city aligns with their intended destination. While it can lead to significant cost savings, there are several factors to consider before attempting skiplagging.  

For example:

Is skiplagging illegal? 

The legality of skiplagging is a contentious issue. Airlines argue that skiplagging violates their terms of service and disrupts the airline industry’s revenue model. When passengers skip segments of their booked flights, airlines miss out on potential revenue from those unoccupied seats. As a result, certain airlines, such as Delta and American Airlines, actively discourage skiplagging within their terms of carriage.  

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Skiplagging itself isn’t deemed illegal. However, many major airlines, such as American, Delta, Lufthansa, and United, have policies against its practice. Therefore, passengers who engage in skiplagging are not committing a criminal offense. Rather, they are taking advantage of pricing discrepancies within the airline industry to save money on airfare.

Ethical considerations 

While skiplagging might not be illegal, it does raise ethical questions. Critics argue that passengers who engage in skiplagging are exploiting airlines’ pricing structures, potentially contributing to higher fares for other travelers in the long run. Moreover, frequent skiplagging could lead to negative consequences for passengers, such as being banned from specific airlines or facing complications with loyalty programs

It’s important to note that skiplagging is not without risks. If passengers engage in skiplagging too frequently or in a way that violates an airline’s terms, they may face consequences such as losing frequent flyer miles, being banned from future flights, or having their return flights canceled. Therefore, travelers considering skiplagging should be sure to weigh up the potential benefits against the potential risks. 

Airlines’ response toward skiplagging

Airlines have taken measures to combat skiplagging and protect their revenue streams. Some airlines have sued individuals or websites that promote skiplagging, arguing that these actions breach their terms of service. In one notable case, in 2018, Lufthansa sued a passenger who had used skiplagging to book a cheaper ticket, claiming that the passenger had violated the airline’s terms and conditions. 

To counter skiplagging, airlines have also implemented sophisticated pricing algorithms and booking systems. These systems are designed to identify patterns of skiplagging and potentially penalize passengers who engage in the practice. As a result, it has become increasingly more challenging to execute skiplagging successfully. 

What do travelers need to understand before considering a skiplagged flight? 

Before travelers consider booking a skiplagged flight, there are several important factors they should be aware of in order to make an informed decision. Skiplagging, while potentially offering cost savings, comes with its own set of risks and considerations:

Airlines’ policies 

Research and understand the terms and conditions of the airlines involved. Some airlines, like Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, explicitly prohibit skiplagging within their terms of carriage. Violating these terms could result in consequences such as loss of loyalty points, being banned from future flights, or even legal action. 

Potential consequences 

Consider the potential risks of skiplagging, including the possibility of disruption to your travel plans. Airlines’ algorithms are becoming increasingly sophisticated at identifying skiplagging patterns, which could lead to complications, such as canceled return flights or other punitive actions.

Frequent flyer programs 

Be aware that engaging in skiplagging might impact your participation in frequent flyer programs. Airlines may choose to penalize passengers who frequently engage in this practice, for instance by excluding them from earning or using loyalty points.

Booking separate tickets 

Skiplagging often involves booking separate tickets for multiple segments of the journey. This means you’ll need to retrieve your checked baggage and recheck it for each segment, potentially leading to longer layovers and additional hassle.

Luggage considerations 

Understand that if you skiplag a segment, any checked luggage might continue to the final destination without you. This could complicate the retrieval of your belongings and potentially delay your travel plans.

Insurance coverage 

Check whether travel insurance covers disruptions that might arise from skiplagging, such as missed connections or canceled flights due to airlines’ responses to the practice. 

Time flexibility 

Skiplagging may require more time and flexibility in your schedule. Delays or changes to flight plans could impact your overall travel itinerary.

Alternative routes 

Explore alternative flight options and compare prices before deciding to skiplag. Sometimes, direct flights or other routes can offer competitive or even cheaper rates.

While skiplagging might not be illegal, it does raise ethical questions about taking advantage of pricing discrepancies. Consider the potential impact on the airline industry and your fellow passengers.

Rebooking and refunds 

Be prepared for the possibility that if you miss a segment intentionally, your return or subsequent flights could get canceled. Check the airline’s policies on rebooking or refunds in such cases.

Travel documentation 

Ensure you have all necessary travel documentation for any layover or destination where you might disembark. Immigration and customs regulations might apply.

Local laws 

Research any local laws or regulations at your layover or destination city, as you might have legal obligations even if you don’t leave the airport. 

Alternatively, you could explore another potential cost-saving option that is free of any consequences from airlines:  

To sum up skiplagging

In the realm of travel, skiplagging is a controversial strategy that allows passengers to take advantage of pricing disparities and save money on airfare. While not technically illegal, it nevertheless raises ethical questions about exploiting pricing models and potentially impacting the airline industry’s revenue.  

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how widespread the phenomenon of skiplagging is. Tellingly, though, there’s a popular website called skiplagged.com, designed to help the user find cheaper flights. In July 2023 alone, the site received about 3.6 million visitors. United Airlines attempted to take legal action against the website’s creator back in 2015, claiming it constituted unfair competition. However, the judge rejected the airline’s lawsuit. 

Travelers considering skiplagging should be aware of the potential risks, including the possibility of facing consequences from airlines such as loss of loyalty points or being banned from future flights. As airlines continue to adapt and respond to this practice, skiplagging may become increasingly difficult to execute successfully. 

Ultimately, the decision to engage in skiplagging rests with individual travelers, who must carefully weigh the benefits, risks and ethical considerations before deciding whether to utilize this strategy to save on their next trip. 

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