What is Skiplagged and should you use it?
Skiplagged started out as internet parlance and later became a website of the same name that allows you to search for “hidden city” flight deals. Long before this airfare search engine existed, savvy travelers uncovered the fact that they could often purchase tickets that included a segment beyond their intended destination for a fare much cheaper than buying the flight direct. But, is this a practice that you should participate in? How safe are your travel arrangements when booked through skip lagged?
Airline fares are highly determined by the route dominance an airline may have for a specific trip. Airline hubs are notorious for extremely high fares for residents of those cities. There is a premium that you have to pay for is to fly direct. What you will find as low cost airlines move into certain markets, is the fares decrease. When you live in smaller cities that don’t have hubs, you will notice that competition brings more competitive fares. If you live in Jacksonville, FL and you are looking to travel to Los Angeles, you have many options because you will have to stop somewhere to get to the West Coast. Often you can purchase a ticket from Jacksonville to Los Angeles, for cheaper than you can find from Jacksonville to Houston non-stop. But, now that you are smart, you know that you can “skip lag” the last leg and fly from Jacksonville to Houston without continuing to Los Angeles.
When discussing skip lagged and purchasing flights with an extra segment (or segments) that you do not intend to use, it is important to remember this. That these tickets are typically prohibited per the airline’s Contracts of carriage. However, this is not something that the airlines typically have the manpower to check and also it is not totally illegal. But, with that being said there have been instances of airlines suing passengers for skip lagging segments. The good news is that these cases have ended in the passenger’s favor.
In fact, a Chicago judge threw out a lawsuit made by United Airlines against Aktarer Zaman for the creation of Skiplagged. The lawsuit was dismissed because the Chicago court system said that they did not have jurisdiction as Aktarer was not an Illinois resident. The website has seen this as a victory, but rather United or other airlines decide to further pursue legal action is unknown.
Personally, I have been doing this for a very long time. But the reality is that you have to always be prepared for the worst when you are doing things like this. The airlines are pretty void of business ethics, so I don’t feel any sympathy for them. The airlines have no problems charging you a hefty penalty to make any changes to your ticket. As a previous airline employee, there were times when people honestly booked wrong dates, or something changed last minute, and they needed to make route changes. Regardless of the issues we always collected our change penalties.
So, you have decided to go ahead and save some money and book a skiplagged ticket? Well here are my tips and warnings to you.
Be prepared to potentially not fly to your destination
I think the biggest issue that you could possibly face is having to re-book because your flight was canceled or late. Remember if you buy Portland to Orlando, with a connection in Atlanta with the hopes to get off the plane in Atlanta, that your final destination is Jacksonville. The airlines are not contractually obligated to get you to Orlando. So, imagine that you arrive at the airport and your flight to Atlanta is delayed or canceled. The airline can now either rebook you on a non-stop flight to Orlando if available or they can route you via another city to Orlando and you forgo Atlanta altogether. This happened to me a year ago on Delta. I was flying from Jacksonville to Boston on a ticket, via New York. My Jax to Boston flight was 3 hours late, so they rebooked me on a non-stop flight to Boston that would have me arrive earlier in Boston than I was scheduled to. I had to argue with them to put me on a flight that would land in New York and departs for Boston the next day. I can’t remember my lie, but it did not make sense, the lady knew it too LOL, but she just did it.
You cannot check any luggage
If you need to carry a lot of clothing, then this is not the option for you. Remember, your destination is not your ticketed destination, so your bags (if checked) will be checked to your final destination. You can only take a carry-on, to store in the overhead you are much safer with a duffle bag. Because remember, often the overhead compartments fill earlier, and you are then required to gate check your bag. In some destinations, your gate-checked bag is given back to you and your next stop, in others it is checked through to your final destination. I like taking a duffle bag, because even when the overhead is full, usually a duffle can be stuffed in somewhere.
Customs and Immigration
Actually, this is something that can work in your favor if you are arriving back in the US. Flights arriving back in the US will have to collect their luggage and check it back into their connecting flight. This makes it very easy to skip lag a segment when returning back to the US. Please note that there are some destinations that have US customs preclearance and flights arriving in the US arrive as domestic flights (i.e. Abu Dhabi, Toronto, Bahamas). On these flights, you will not be able to arrive with any checked bags and they will be through checked to your final ticketed destination.
You have to book separate one-way flights itineraries
Airlines will cancel any remaining flights on an itinerary once a flight segment is missed. So, if you are planning to skip one leg on the outbound trip you cannot have a return booked on the same itinerary. Once you miss the segment on the outbound, your return flights WILL be canceled. You can only include a skip lagged segment on an itinerary when it is the last segment on the itinerary.
All-in-all if you are adventurous, skip lagging is a quick way to save money on flights. Follow these tips to minimize the associated risks.