Have you ever tried skiplagging? skiplagging, also known as “hidden city ticketing,” is a travel hack where you book a flight with a layover at your real destination and then skip the last part of the trip to save money.
Now, the airlines don’t particularly like this practice for getting cheap airfare, as illustrated by the situation that’s in the news right now, when a teenager got into some hot water when he was caught skiplagging from Florida to his home in North Carolina — where he had a layover on his booked journey to New York.
When the teen — who was traveling alone — showed his North Carolina driver’s license at the ticketing counter in Florida, it raised some eyebrows. They questioned him and eventually figured out his plan. The teen’s family said he was then detained and questioned, while the airline said they only talked to him at the ticketing counter. Regardless, they canceled his ticket and forced him to buy a new one direct to North Carolina — for a LOT more money.
So what’s the deal with skiplagging? Is skiplagging legal? What is the official policy? How much money can you actually save? Is it worth the risk? We’ll tell you all about this controversial practice.
What is skiplagging?
You know how sometimes it costs less for a connecting flight than it does for a direct flight? Skiplagging takes advantage of that discrepancy. For example, I live in Boise, Idaho. If I want to fly nonstop to Atlanta two weeks from now, it’ll cost me $459, at BEST.
But I could book a 1-stop flight to Houston on the same date for just $219. Where does that flight connect? In Atlanta. So, for $240 off, I could just leave the airport in Atlanta and skip the Houston leg. Boom — I’ve got a direct flight to Atlanta for 52% off.
Why are direct flights more expensive than skiplagging?
It’s the same reason why you pay more to pick your seat, or to fly in first class: It’s better. Airlines would rather have you on multi-leg itineraries because it gives them more flexibility for routing. For example, there’s only a couple of flights from Boise to Atlanta direct every day, but there are potentially dozens of ways to get from Boise to Atlanta via multiple flights.
So yeah, you’re paying a premium for the convenience of a direct flight. Demand is high for these flights, especially to popular destinations.
A flight from Boise to Miami with a stop in Atlanta might be cheaper than a direct flight from Boise to Atlanta because the demand for tickets between Boise and Miami is lower, and the airline is trying to fill seats on that route.
Is skiplagging illegal?
Technically, no, skiplagging isn’t illegal. You’re not breaking any laws by doing it. You won’t get arrested or face legal action from authorities for using this strategy. But, most airlines ban the practice in their terms and conditions, which everyone agrees to when they purchase a ticket. And they have consequences for passengers who engage in skiplagging.
There have been lawsuits in the past where airlines have sued passengers for skiplagging, with the airlines arguing that it’s a breach of contract. However, the outcomes of such lawsuits can vary. United Airlines tried to sue a website that helps people purchase tickets with the intent of skiplagging, but they lost. That said, the risk of a lawsuit isn’t zero.
What happens if you don’t get on a leg of your flight?
Skiplagging involves missing at least one flight on your itinerary, and if you miss one of the flights, here’s what happens:
- The airline automatically cancels the remaining portion of your itinerary. So if you had a return flight or any other flights booked on the same ticket, those reservations would be canceled.
- Any checked luggage would continue on to the final destination. You would have to make arrangements to have your bags returned to you, which could be time-consuming and potentially expensive.
- You could face penalties from the airline (more on that later).
Skiplagging really only works for one-way travel — you could get stranded.
As soon as you miss a flight on your itinerary, the whole thing gets canceled. That theoretically works if you’re going on a one-way trip. But if you’re wanting to fly round-trip, you could get stuck, because your return flights would be canceled as well.
Don’t check your luggage when skiplagging — it will get lost.
If you check your luggage at the first airport and want to leave from your layover city, you won’t find your luggage at the baggage claim. It’s going to go all the way to the final destination. Then you have to deal with somehow recovering your luggage while having to fess up to the airline that you broke their rules.
Seasoned skiplaggers know to carry on their luggage.
Sometimes airlines reroute flights, which means your skiplagging plans could fall apart.
Airlines are always changing their schedules due to delays, cancellations, weather, and other variables. If the first leg of your trip is delayed or canceled, the airline may reroute you through a different city, which means you might not end up in the city you’d planned.
If you have enough notice, you could potentially cancel and rebook your flight to get to the right city, but if it’s a last-minute change, you could be out of luck.
You (probably) won’t be detained at the airport for skiplagging — but there are still consequences if you’re caught.
Could you be detained at the airport for skiplagging? The short answer? Probably not. It’s not even entirely clear if the teen in Florida was actually detained by airport security, or if there was an extended conversation at the ticketing counter. That said, it’s not impossible. But there are consequences if you’re caught skiplagging. American Airlines reportedly sent a $2,500 bill to a passenger when they determined this person skiplagged 52 times.
Like the other airlines across the country, United Airlines specifically states in their Contract of Carriage that practices like skiplagging are violations of their rules. If a passenger violates these rules, United has the right to take several actions including, but not limited to:
- Invalidating the ticket(s)
- Charging the passenger the difference between the fare paid and the fare for the transportation used
- Canceling any remaining portion of the passenger’s itinerary
- Potentially banning the passenger from future flights
- Deleting any frequent flyer benefits
- Possibly taking legal action (although this is rare)
Still, if you’re willing to take the risk, skiplagging can offer substantial savings.
The whole reason people roll the dice with skiplagging is because it’s actually a pretty serious money-saving practice — especially if you live in an area with a smaller airport. Here are just a few examples of flights departing on Aug. 15, 2023 — comparing a skiplagged flight to a direct flight:
- Billings (MT) to Salt Lake City: By jumping off in Salt Lake City instead of going on to Seattle, you’re spending $109 instead of $214.
- Montgomery (AL) to Charlotte: By jumping off in Charlotte instead of going to Jacksonville, you’re spending $87 instead of $285.
- Tampa to Houston: By jumping off in Houston instead of going on to New Orleans, you’re spending $95 instead of $136.
Tip: Before you take the risk, though, make sure you’ve checked low-cost carriers like Spirit, Frontier, and JetBlue — in many cases, those carriers rival skiplagging prices and have direct flights.