There is a new trend that is emerging among air travelers, whereby they are using a new way to find cheaper flights. Hidden City Ticketing occurs when a passenger gets off an indirect flight at the connection point. Here is how it works; say the traveler wants to travel from Atlanta to New York (ATL-JFK), a direct flight might be say $350. The traveler however checks and finds that a flight from Atlanta to New York to New Jersey (ATL-JFK-EWR) is $250. He/she books the flight and disembarks in New York.
Flight fares are typically dictated by market forces and not by the miles flown. Airlines may sell more tickets from connecting flights than through direct flights. People have noticed that they can take advantage of this “inefficiency” in pricing, and can work around the airlines fare and route system. Airlines in the United States use the hub system to aid connecting flights. This makes it fairly easy to get connecting flights for travelers, but also makes it easy to get off airports for passengers abandoning the last leg of their flight.
Websites and apps have even been created by some individuals to help detect these airline loopholes. A popular app is Skiplagged; the app was created by then 22-year old Aktarer Zaman in 2014 in a small New York City apartment. Zaman’s website and app only provide information and do not book tickets. The app has proved to be very popular and gets as many as 200,000 users a month. There are other websites such as flyshortcut.com that also employ this tactic.
The Ploy and Legal Battles
The ploy does have its disadvantages. The customer can only travel with carry-on luggage, because check-in luggage will be delivered to the final destination. Airlines are looking at several ways to discourage this trend. They may freeze a passengers frequent flyer miles, ban your return ticket, or even go as far as stopping you from booking their airline in the future. There are other disadvantages, such as the flight getting rerouted, whereby the airline only needs to get to the final destination and not go through the connecting hub.
United Airlines, one of the world’s largest carriers sued the Skiplagged app creator in 2014. They said he was intentionally and maliciously using the app to damage their business. The judge however dismissed the case. Orbitz Worldwide a website that helps travelers, research, plan and book travel also legally pursued Zaman; they however opted to settle out of court.
While Hidden City Ticketing may tend to save Americans travelers some travel dollars in the short term, they do violate the carrier’s rules. They raise travel prices in the long term because of lost revenues from the final leg of the flight, which may show the flight as full while it has empty seats. They also cause flight delays for the next leg of the flight you’ve abandoned, this is because boarding crew will try to give passengers as long as possible to get on the flight. The Hidden City Ticketing ploy has been around for many years but has become largely popular because of such apps.