If you fly the friendly skies often, you know that even as the airlines advertise cheap fares, they are tightening the reins — and their grip on your wallet — in other ways. Case in point is United Airlines’ hardline policy on travelers who practice “skiplagging,” or other methods that allow them to book flights creatively in order to save money.
United also calls the phenomenon “points beyond ticketing” and “hidden cities ticketing.” The airline’s stand on it made headlines in 2015 when United filed a lawsuit against Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old New Yorker who launched a website called Skiplagged.com to help travelers take advantage of the booking tricks (the suit was dismissed).
United Airlines is threatening passengers who do this common practice
Skiplagging has been a fairly common practice for fliers who are game to capitalize on affordable fares. Here’s how it works:
Say you want to fly from Houston to Chicago, but the flight is ridiculously expensive. You may find a cheaper one-stop flight that goes from Houston to Los Angeles with a layover in, you guessed it, Chicago, which is a United hub.
All you need to do is to carry on your luggage (checked bags will end up at your final destination) and hop off in the Windy City.
While skiplagging is technically legal, the airlines see it as disingenuous. They feel that an empty seat arriving at a destination is a lost chance at revenue. In United’s case, the company is not only threatening to ban such fliers but the airline is actually going after the money they think they have lost.
The site No Mas Coach shares a letter that a traveler purportedly received from United, calling the practice of skiplagging outright “fraud.” The airline accuses the flier of skipping out on his final destination 38 times. Here’s what United says:
Such conduct constitutes fraud and a violation of Rule 6 of United’s Contract of Carriage. Accordingly, United demands that you cease and desist these unauthorized practices immediately and that you reimburse United in the amount of $3,236.76 which represents the difference between the cost of the tickets that you purchased and the cost of the travel taken, within 10 business day of receipt of this letter.
United then goes on to say that if it doesn’t receive payment, the airline “reserves its right to take further action, including submitting United’s claim to an outside collection agency, terminating your MileagePlus membership and/or refusing to transport you on future flights.”
That means even though you paid legal tender for your airline ticket, your financial life could be seriously derailed by not following United’s policies.
United’s beef is that fliers who exit the plane during a layover violate its Contract of Carriage, specifically the “Prohibited Practices” rule, which lists the following unauthorized practices:
- Tickets may not be purchased and used at fare(s) from an initial departure point on the Ticket which is before the Passenger’s actual point of origin of travel, or to a more distant point(s) than the Passenger’s actual destination being traveled even when the purchase and use of such Tickets would produce a lower fare. This practice is known as “Hidden Cities Ticketing” or “Point Beyond Ticketing” and is prohibited.
- Any practice that United believes, in its sole discretion, is exploitative, abusive or that manipulates/bypasses/overrides United’s fare and ticket rules.
No other major airline that we’re aware of has gone after passengers quite like United appears to be doing in this case, but we’re curious to hear if you’ve run across this at other carriers.
Here are some more travel-related articles you might enjoy from Clark.com:
- 7 things to know before you fly Southwest Airlines
- 7 things to know before you book a flight on Delta Airlines
- 6 things to know about ultra-low carrier Frontier Airlines
- See the full list of U.S. airlines ranked from best to worst!