Airlines Push Back On ‘Skiplagging’ Ticket-Buying Strategy


Airlines are pushing back on the clever, but questionable, ticket-buying strategy known as “skiplagging.” Here’s how it works. If all flights from the departure airport to their particular destination are sold out—or just have a high price tag—passengers have been purchasing tickets for multi-leg flights that pass through their desired destination. They then “skip” the final leg of the ticketed flight and the seat goes empty.

While not illegal, the practice can violate specific terms of the airlines’ ticket contracts. They could enforce the terms by penalizing the travelers by canceling frequent flyer miles, or even banning them permanently.

According to news reports, American and Southwest Airlines prohibit skiplagging, also known as “hidden city ticketing.” They define it as “purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares.” United Airlines and Delta Air Lines also put a bounty on skiplaggers.

American recently files a lawsuit against a web-based reservations company that specializes in providing tickets that use the practice, which can reportedly save travelers up to 50 percent on a ticket. While it might seem counterintuitive to charge more money to NOT fly the last leg of a multi-segment trip, the airlines’ ticket-pricing algorithms say otherwise.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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    • Airlines behaving like casinos: the customer always loses. I wonder what it must feel like as an airline (or any predatory capitalist enterprise’s) CEO knowing that as soon as you told an average person who you were and what you did that average person would, in a paroxysm of loathing, probably fantasize about shoving a shiv into your gut. Melon Mush comes immediately to mind.

      • Airline CEOs don’t mingle with ordinary people. Only other CEOs, and specifically those who share their predatory practices.

  1. Dear airline industry, skiplagging is just another form of karma. If you’re going to engage in gimmickry and gamesmanship then you should expect your clientele to do the same and eventually beat them at your own games. That’s just the natural course which dishonest marketing takes. If the airline would take a hard honest look at itself and come to grips with what it has become we would all conclude that dealing with each other on a straightforward honest basis is the best way to live. That process can start in any sector of the economy. Since the current subject is the airline industry feeling victimized by skiplagging, let it start with the airline industry by recognizing karma for what it is.

    • There’s strong competition on SF to London. Less on SF to Chicago. This is rent seeking behavior by the airline for the Chicago route. Screw’em. There should be no penalty for not taking a flight segment you paid for.

  2. As illogical as it may sound for a multi-leg ticket to be cheaper than a non-stop flight, that’s most probably caused by passengers preferring nonstop. If airline A offers XXX-ZZZ nonstop, a competing airline offering the less convenient XXX-YYY-ZZZ (YYY being a hub of theirs) will have to ask for a lower price to attract business. I see “illogical” routings on many of my flights, with passengers taking detours for routes which surely have a nonstop offering. If it’s surplus seats that are sold this way, it won’t hurt, but if everyone takes circuitous routes because they’re cheaper, it doesn’t make sense environmentally. The only way to curb this would be via regulation. Market forces won’t fix this because these price variations are caused by market forces.

  3. The airlines only have themselves to blame for adopting such predatory pricing algorithms in the first place. No sympathy here.

  4. American Airlines’ lawsuit is bringing renewed attention to a controversial travel hack known as skiplagging.

    A new lawsuit brought by American Airlines against a controversial ticketing website is bringing renewed attention to “skiplagging,” or “hidden city ticketing” — a technique used by some passengers to get lower

    But as airline prices started to surge in late 2021, skiplagging started getting a lot more attention.

    One site that’s helped popularize hidden city ticketing is The website allows users to type in their desired destination, locating flights where that destination is actually a stopover en route to another city (with a less expensive fare). The customer simply exits the airport at the connecting city and never completes the second leg of the journey.

    Last week, American Airlines filed suit against Skiplagged in federal court. In its complaint, American alleges that Skiplagged’s practices are “deceptive and abusive.”

    “Skiplagged deceives the public into believing that, even though it has no authority to form and issue a contract on American’s behalf, somehow it can still issue a completely valid ticket. It cannot. Every ‘ticket’ issued by Skiplagged is at risk of being invalidated,” the airline said.

    Officials for the site could not be reached for comment. But Skiplagged, which has been around for a decade, has survived past lawsuits from the likes of United Airlines and Orbitz. It even brags about these victories on its site, boasting, “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us … but we won ..”

    Skiplagging is not illegal. But most major airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest and United, don’t allow it.

    For one thing, airlines lose money on the practice, says Tim Huh, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, who co-authored a study on skiplagging last year. For a non-direct flight, “they have a lower price ceiling for it compared to direct flights so that they can attract customers.”

    When someone skips out on the final leg of a trip, airlines can’t fill the empty seat, which would have sold for more money had it not been booked as part of a multi-stop itinerary.

    “They are selling that seat with a 95% probability that you’ll show up,” Huh says. “That’s what the airline accounted for. So that’s a [big] loss in the system.”

    In addition, failing to board a connecting flight can cause confusion and delays at the gate, Harteveldt says. The airlines “will make announcements [such as] ‘paging passenger John Doe or Jane Doe.’ … The airline doesn’t want to leave people

    If an airline finds out what you are doing, it could simply cancel your ticket or even ban you from flying with it. That’s what reportedly happened recently to a North Carolina teen who booked an American Airlines flight from Florida to New York but disembarked at his Charlotte connection. The boy’s father said that American banned him from flying the airline for three years.

    “If you’ve done this repeatedly, the airline is going to say you owe us money,” Harteveldt says. “They may be willing to settle for a certain number of cents on the dollar. Maybe they want to collect all of it. But airlines can and will take steps to protect themselves.”

    There are other drawbacks as well, he says. Even if your attempt at skiplagging is initially successful, it’s only likely to work for one-way travel. Once the airline realizes you didn’t fly to your ticketed destination, it is almost certain to cancel your return.

    Finally, any checked luggage would arrive at the ticketed destination .

    • How can an airline *lose* money on a paid seat that is not occupied, unless you think it acceptable for them to sell it twice? They use less fuel.

      The possibility that they might have made more from it is entirely their own choice.

    • Frank, are these your words or are you pasting in an article you read somewhere?

      If it’s the former then you need to identify your post as such.

      If it’s the latter, then it sounds like you are siding with the airlines.

      • Clearly the former. A quick Google search shows it to be most of an NPR article titled “What is ‘skiplagging’ and why do the airlines hate when you do it?”

  5. A return to complete re-regulation of this out-of-control species of capitalist filth is obviously warranted because CEOs and boards haven’t the scruples, integrity or intellectual abilities necessary to function in a human society where providing critical services to the needs of the many are paramount.

  6. “Questionable” strategy?

    I wasn’t expecting AvWeb to be a shill for corporate profiteers.

    While it might seem counterintuitive to NOT fly the last leg of a multi-segment trip when it costs less, the customers’ ticket-pricing algorithms say otherwise.

  7. Skiplagging has been going on forever. It isn’t new nor is the predatory pricing by the bigs. I owned a travel agency until 1982. We regularly sold tickets to clients who didn’t fly the final leg of their ticket. The airlines won’t be getting any sympathy from consumers or consumer advocacy groups. By making their predatory fare policies public they have just taught the non-educated traveler how to search for lower fares.

    I had 33,000 Advantage Miles at AA until recently when AA decided to confiscate MY miles because of inactivity on my account. None of the miles had an expiration date at the time of purchase. The company simply changed the rules, after the fact, in order to reduce their own obligations.

    • Best of all, AA will allow you to “reactivate” those same miles if you pay a fee – so the miles you already earned, they expired and will sell back to you for more money.

  8. This is part of a bigger problem: namely the lack of an integrated transportation system. Rail, bus, car, aircraft all need to operate synergistically to provide as much access to the entire country as possible. Call it regulation or call it for what it really is: comprehensive planning, where the customer or citizen of the country is afforded the most efficient and effective methods for travel from point A to point B. Sell steaks, not sizzle, and think of the purpose of travel.

  9. This is just capitalism….charge what the market will bear. Do you all not believe in free markets? I never thought I’d hear calls for regulation from pilots. Maybe we want the other guy regulated but not us.

    • The fact that this happens enough that the airlines are noticing and getting annoyed by it would seem to indicate that the market does not bear this practice.

  10. Is this one more instance where government intervention (the essential air service program) has created a problem with subsidies??

    “I’m from the government and I’m here to help!”

  11. A far simpler solution to this problem is to prominently announce (and document via signage) the airline’s anti-skiplagging policy before boarding, and to verify passenger tickets before being allowed to deplane. Yeah, it’ll be a PITA and cause delays at first, but it won’t take long before customers will catch on, and probably choose another airline for their next trip.

    • You don’t necessarily stay on the same airplane on a through flight. Also, if you stupidly checked a bag, you are going to delay the next flight as they go through the baggage compartments looking for the bag the missing passenger checked.

  12. … and I can’t wait for the TSA to decide that passengers whose point of arrival does not match their travel documents, are potential threats.

  13. So I go to McDonald’s and get a combo meal because it’s cheaper to get that than just the burger and drink, when I throw away the fries the manager is going to make me pay for the fries I thru away??????

    • Going through a Drive-thru I realized it was cheaper to buy the numbered meal then the burger and fries separate but, had no cup holder in the vehicle. I told the voice I didn’t want a drink with the meal because I had no place to put it. They gave me a four place cup holder for the medium size water. 🤯

  14. The airlines should sue all their customers and make them sit between the two biggest people on a hot airplane for over three hours…. oops, never-mind 🤪🤦‍♂️

  15. Forget AA, this can affect you or me. Let’s say American is offering a very low fare from DFW to MDT via ORD, lower than the fare from DFW to ORD. Twenty savvy travelers book tickets to MDT knowing they will only use the DFW to ORD portion of their ticket. Now I’m in Chicago and need to get to Harrisburg due to a family emergency. I go online to buy a ticket on the last flight of the day from ORD to MDT but it shows sold out. I call American and plead with them but they tell me every seat is sold. What neither of us know is that there is going to be twenty open seats on the flight due to the twenty passengers that bought tickets, and reserved seats, with no intention of using them. This practice may not really hurt American but it can hurt other travelers that need to get a ticket on a flight that shows sold out when it really isn’t.

  16. This is really nothing new. Way back in the 1970s, then Trans Texas Airlines (who became Texas International, then Continental Airlines) was complaining about it. They had, what we called the Pogo Stick routes, from either Houston or Dallas to Lubbock, then Hobbs, NM, then Albuquerque then El Paso. I traveled it often to Hobbs on business. The ticket cost was the cheapest going all the way to El Paso, but half the passengers would get off early while holding a ticket to ELP. Rather than complaining to the Feds, TT simply got even by canceling your return segment of the trip. Then the passengers got even by only booking one-way tickets. Seems to me that the easiest solution was to charge the same price for each destination. That way they could legally fill any empty seats at a station with standbys. It’s hard to feel sorry for the airlines when they charge for checked baggage, have ridiculous prices for something they call “food” and charge extra for a seat you might actually fit in. For all their whining and moaning, they seem to be making money now.

  17. My gripe is that if I’ve bought and paid for something who in the H$%% can tell me what to do with it?!?! I mean they sold me that spot, I “own” that access for that flight. If they didn’t want to sell it they shouldn’t have. But they did so they no longer have the right to keep me from using it – or not using it. I believe it’s morally reprehensible for them to penalize their customers for using the airline’s rate structure most efficiently for the customer.
    When airlines stop overbooking flights they might have a moral leg to stand on in this argument. We’re already treated like cattle – no wait – cattle usually have more room to move around than we do in an airplane. We’re treated like cargo. I want my humanity back.