Hidden City Ticketing: Why United and Orbitz Are Suing a 22-Year-Old Web Developer
It was talked about in hushed tones, decades ago, then it became the fodder of online discussion forums. My father’s travel agent used the technique for some of her clients back in the day. Today, hidden-city ticketing is making headlines and the subject of an airline’s lawsuit against a 22-year-old software developer.
What is a hidden city ticket, you may wonder. It’s basically purchasing a connecting flight from point A to point C connecting at point B, with the intent of only flying from point A to point B. Say, for example, Joe wants to fly from New York to Los Angeles. He finds that a New York-San Diego flight with a connection in Los Angeles is cheaper, books that, and gets off the plane at LAX, saving $275.
Airlines, of course, don’t encourage such behavior and recently, United Airlines along with Orbitz, a travel-booking website, filed suit against a 22-year-old computer programmer, Aktarer Zaman, whose website, Skiplagged.com, finds possible hidden-city itineraries and allows travelers to easily book them on Orbitz.com.
Here’s a real-world example. American sells tickets on its 8:00 a.m. flight to Los Angeles for $345 roundtrip departing January 17 and returning January 27. Delta sells a similar flight for $326. Skiplagged.com recommends booking a JFK-LAX-DEN routing on American and returning on Delta after booking LAX-JFK-BDA, the final leg being New York-Bermuda. Total price: $262, a 33% savings. Of course, neither the LAX-DEN nor the JFK-BDA legs would be actually flown.
United and Orbitz are seeking $75,000 in damages and attorney fees. Hidden-city ticketing “interferes with United’s ability to sell unused seats on the final leg(s) of connecting flights, resulting in the loss of revenue that United would have earned by selling the unused seats,” the airline said in its court filing in December in U.S. District Court in Chicago. It also “violates our fare rules, and we are taking action to stop it to help protect the vast majority of customers who buy legitimate tickets,” explained United spokeswoman Christen David on Tuesday.
The Chicago-based airline said that passengers who don’t show up for flights due to hidden-city bookings can cause delays while gate agents try to locate the passenger and they can also impact a flight’s total weight calculation, which could delay departure.
In some cases, airlines have held back frequent-flyer miles it believes hidden-city ticketing was involved. In more egregious cases, when travelers use the technique repeatedly, airlines have shut down a frequent-flyer account or tried to collect the difference in fare between the non-stop flight and the one that was booked.
Skiplagged says it is not doing anything illegal. “Everything Skiplagged has done and continues to do is legal,” said Zaman, who is raising money online to fund his legal defense, in a message on his website.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)