It seems American Airlines is getting serious about cracking down on skiplagging passengers. One passenger has reported being asked to pay $2,500 after AA accused them of taking some 52 skiplagged flights. The airline states that this is in breach of its conditions of carriage and requested reimbursement for its losses.
Cracking down on hidden city ticketing
Skiplagging or ‘hidden city ticketing’ is a well-known method of snagging cheap travel. The nuances of airline fare pricing, which is primarily based on demand rather than what the service actually costs to provide, means that sometimes it’s cheaper to book a longer segment with a connection than it is to book direct – go figure.
Skiplagging exploits this fact, with passengers paying for a connecting flight they never intend to take. For example, if I wanted to book from Dallas to Los Angeles, a direct flight is coming out at £124 ($162).
However, I have also found a one-stop itinerary to San Francisco, stopping off in LAX, for just £70 ($91). Feasibly, I could buy this connecting flight, fly the portion from DFW to LAX and simply not catch the next flight to SFO. As an added bonus, the Dallas to Los Angeles portion is flown by the American Airlines Dreamliner.
However, airlines do not like this, and see it as ‘cheating’ their fare system. Some take a more hardline approach than others. German flag carrier Lufthansa previously tried to sue a passenger for skiplagging, and United Airlines has also been trying to punish these cheating passengers.
Now, it seems that American Airlines is keen to crack down too.
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A bill for $2,500
Aviation blog One Mile At A Time picked up on the move by AA to punish skiplagging passengers after one such person posted about their experience on FlyerTalk. The passenger had been contacted by an analyst from American Airlines, who stated they had identified 52 cases of hidden city ticketing.
The American Airlines representative advised the passenger that “Hidden city ticketing is explicitly defined in AA’s Conditions of Carriage as a violation of ticket validity,” and stated that the person’s account would be terminated unless they paid some form of restitution for the losses incurred. Within the letter, the representative laid bare the problem with this practice. They said,
Not unlike other commodities, airline seats are market priced. A seat on a non-stop flight is a premium product and commands a higher price. Seats in connecting markets must be priced competitively and hence can be substantially cheaper. The ill-effects of point beyond ticketing are two-fold; the customer receives the flight for a price for which they aren’t entitled and a seat is spoiled on the separate connecting flight. An airline ticket constitutes a contract and the terms of that contract are stated explicitly in the Conditions of Carriage.
The representative reportedly suggested the customer pay a one-off fee of $2,500 for the 52 instances they had identified of skiplagging. Considering that works out at less than $50 a trip, that’s a bit of a bargain offer right there.
Chances are, the passenger saved a lot more than that in airline ticket costs over the years, not to mention they’ve racked up around 600,000 AAdvantage Miles and, present circumstances aside, usually fly around 100 segments a year. Taking everything into consideration, it seems only fair they cough up the requested amount.
It seems AA is getting serious about weeding out skiplaggers, but will likely focus on regular, repeat offenders such as this chap. Nevertheless, if you’re tempted to indulge in a bit of hidden city ticketing, don’t be surprised if you get caught.