American Airlines sues skiplagging site, claiming it tricks passengers

One of the first things Skiplagged promises customers visiting the airline-booking website is that it will find flights “the airlines don’t want you to see.”

“We’re exposing loopholes in airfare pricing to save you money,” the website says.

On Thursday, American Airlines sued Skiplagged, accusing the company of deceiving passengers. In a 37-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern Texas, American Airlines alleges that the website tricks passengers into thinking they’re getting “access to some kind of secret ‘loophole’” while in some cases actually charging them more money than if they booked with the airline.

The loophole goes by several names — skiplagging, hidden-city ticketing and point-beyond ticketing — all of which refer to the practice of booking a flight with a layover and then getting off at the layover city instead of traveling to the final destination. Getting a lower price on a longer trip is possible because flights with a connection are usually cheaper than direct ones and airlines want to increase efficiency by routing as many travelers as they can through their hubs.

Skiplagged, which launched in 2013, allows customers on its website to book flights from Point A to Point C, knowing that their actual final destination is their connecting city — Point B.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Skiplagged CEO Aktarer Zaman said the company’s robust repeat business shows that it provides a valuable product.

“Our millions of users who keep coming back clearly speaks for how much value we bring to the travel industry, contrary to American Airline’s claims,” Zaman wrote in the statement.

What is skiplagging? All about the travel hack airlines hate.

Last month, American canceled a North Carolina teenager’s flight after discovering he planned to skiplag. American allegedly banned the 17-year-old from flying on its planes for three years.

The ban shows how serious airlines are about cracking down on skiplagging, Clint Henderson, an airline industry expert, told The Washington Post last month. He noted examples of airlines revoking frequent-flier miles and memberships, or in rare cases, suing passengers.

In the new lawsuit, American claims that skiplagging violates its terms of use and threatened to cancel tickets that Skiplagged has sold.

“Skiplagged knows any ticket it issues is at risk for invalidation, and that American could simply cancel the ticket if detected, so Skiplagged hides its activity. It also tells its customers to hide it from American,” the lawsuit states.

In addition, Skiplagged “misrepresents” how much its flights cost relative to American, the airline alleges. In the lawsuit, American notes that Skiplagged has advertised a $441 round-trip flight from Ontario, Calif., to Reno, Nev., with a layover in Phoenix —$14 cheaper than the $455 that American charges for the same ticket. But Skiplagged’s fees raised the cost to $459, the suit states.

Zaman called American’s description of Skiplagged’s fees “deceptive” but said those fees have given the company the means to fight “this ridiculous lawsuit.”

Skiplagged and Zaman “openly acknowledge” that their ticketing practices violate airlines’ rules and encourage customers to break those rules, the suit states. In a 2015 “ask me anything” forum on Reddit, Zaman allegedly said that, in buying tickets from his company, a customer might be “breaking an agreement with the airlines known as a contract of carriage, where it might say you can’t miss flights on purpose.”

Skiplagged’s website allegedly coaches customers on how to lie to airlines about their final destination. It “even provides personalized, scripted guidance” on steps they can take to not get caught, the suit states. The website allegedly advises fliers to wear only backpacks, since anything larger risks being checked at the gate. That would result in their luggage going to their trip’s final destination, not the layover city where passengers plan to end up, the suit states. In the case of bad weather, the website prompts travelers to ask for a “similar itinerary” if the airline tries to change their layover city, according to the suit.

Finally, Skiplagged’s website allegedly warns customers of “angry airlines.”

“Airlines don’t like when you miss flights to save money so don’t do this often,” one prompt allegedly reads.

Airlines have gone after Skiplagged before. In 2014, United Airlines sued the website, accusing Zaman of “intentionally and maliciously” interfering with its operations and promoting “prohibited forms of travel,” the Los Angeles Times reported. A federal judge threw out the lawsuit the following year, saying the court lacked jurisdiction.

In 2021, Southwest filed a suit alleging that Skiplagged was tricking passengers into violating the airline’s terms of service. A judge dismissed that case in June after the parties agreed to an undisclosed settlement.

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