Risky Cheap Airfare Strategy

While most travelers limit their cheap travel strategies toreviewing available cheaptravel options such as cheap airplane tickets, cheapdeals, discounthotel rooms, cheap auto rentals, discounttravel deals, and cheap vacation packages, somebargain hunting travelers have engaged in a largely prohibited budget bookingpractice known as hidden city.

Hidden cityfares, also known as skiplagging, are one-way airline tickets through aconnecting city where passengers intentionally stay in the layover city.  Finding these fares became much easier when awebsite named Skiplagged automated it in 2013. Its founder was sued for deception by United Airlines and Orbitz in2015, but that lawsuit was dismissed based on jurisdiction, and the website isstill going strong.

Skiplagging is away to exploit the way airlines compete and price their routes to get adiscount. For example, if you want to fly with Delta from New York to Atlanta,a major Delta hub, your ticket will probably be quite expensive, since they areboth high-income cities.

However, if youchoose to fly to another city via Atlanta, such as Montgomery Alabama, you willfrequently find that the ticket for New York to Montgomery, with a stop inAtlanta, is far cheaper than the New York to Atlanta fare, even though you aretaking the same flight on a portion of the ticket.

These routes areoften priced this way because the final destination will be a route with heavycompetition from low cost carriers, so the major airlines are cutting theirprices to compete. All you need to do to “skiplag” the route is book theconnecting ticket and then just leave the airport in Atlanta and miss yourconnection.

Airlines do not like skiplagging, in part because it preventsthem from selling otherwise empty seats. American, Delta, and United now explicitly ban exploiting fare rules intheir contracts of carriage.  Forexample, American Airlines states that “reservations made to exploit orcircumvent fare and ticket rules are strictly prohibited.”  This includes purchasing a ticket “withoutintending to fly all flights to gain lower fares (hidden city).”

Ifyou choose to indulge in hidden city ticketing, there are several things youneed to take into account:

  • Do not check bags since any bags will be going to the final destination.
  • Never give the airline your frequent flyer number when Skiplagging.  Airlines have been known to void all of a passengers’ frequent flyer points for Skiplagging.
  • Do not do this regularly.

The downside of skiplagging includes airlines sendingpassengers letters demanding payment for fliers who have participated in hiddencity ticketing, claiming that they violated their contract of carriage.  United Airlines recently threatened to referthe amount it was trying to collect from a passenger to an external debtcollection agency, which could significantly negatively impact that passenger’scredit rating.

Bargain hunting has resulted in an increase in cheap travelwebsites and rules of thumb for reserving flights, such as flying at off peaktimes and on slower days.  Travelerswould like simple rules, but in practice there is not a single day or time to buy.  Factors most impacting airfares are the dayyou travel, how long you stay, and the airports you are flying out of andinto.  How far in advance you reserve canalso impact the price you pay.

Airlines pricing is impacted by the old adage that time is money.  For bargain hunters the less money theyspend, the more time they are likely to spend in airports.  Fliers can save 5 percent on average onairfares by changing from direct to one-stop fares, and an additional twopercent more for changing from a one to a two-stop ticket.  Such non direct fares result in spending moretime stuck in airports.

Long layovers also tend to save fliers money.  A layover of over 12 hours comes with anaverage of a 6 percent savings on airfare.

Doing research and knowing when you see a fare that is reallya good value are important, as is having flexibility as to when youtravel. 

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