The big airline industry news of the past week or so has been about the 22 year old founder of the website Skiplagged, who is being sued by United and Orbitz. Among other things, his website helped people take advantage of hidden city ticketing.
Airline pricing is complicated
There’s no denying that airlines have made revenue and inventory management such a complex art that it’s virtually incomprehensible to the average consumer. That’s because the airlines want to squeeze every possible cent out of consumers based on what they perceive their willingness to pay is. This is why we have things like minimum stay requirements, advance purchase requirements, day of the week requirements, different fares based on whether you’re traveling nonstop or connecting, etc.
Using a combination of all these things, the airlines feel like they can not only figure out who’s a business traveler and who’s a leisure traveler, but also how much each person within those groups is willing to pay.
What is hidden city ticketing?
Hidden city ticketing, specifically, is a trick whereby you book a ticket to a destination other than where you intend to travel to, in order to get a cheaper fare.
For example, say you want to fly from Las Vegas to Chicago on American. Chicago is a huge hub for American, so generally they won’t have the lowest pricing in that market since they know people are willing to pay a premium for a nonstop flight.
For example, a nonstop ticket this coming Monday costs ~$538:
Say, instead, that you book a ticket on American from Las Vegas to Detroit connecting in Chicago on that same exact flight. The price is less than half:
Why? Because Detroit is a Delta hub. So while Delta might charge a premium for you to fly nonstop from Las Vegas to Detroit, American might have cheaper fares in that market since they realize you’re being inconvenienced by connecting with them through Chicago.
They know what they can get away with and what people are willing to pay for, and in this case they know people are more likely to pay a high fare for a nonstop flight on a route which they have a good number of frequencies on, vs. a connecting flight where a competitor has a much more convenient schedule.
So hidden city ticketing would be just flying from Las Vegas to Chicago, even though you booked a ticket all the way to Detroit.
This violates the contract of carriage, though in practice there usually aren’t consequences if done in moderation. Do keep in mind you can’t check bags when using this method, since they’ll be checked through to your final destination.
My thoughts on hidden city ticketing
Yesterday I participated in a segment on HuffPost Live with host Josh Zepps discussing hidden city ticketing, general travel hacking, etc. If you’d like to watch the replay, you can see the segment here:
To sum up my thoughts, yes, hidden city ticketing violates fare rules. That being said, I find it rather bizarre that they’re going after the founder of the site as opposed to the individuals doing it. Hidden city ticketing is prohibited in the fare rules, so why not enforce the actual rules rather than just go after someone running a site which shows how it can be done?
The irony in all of this is that is that they’ve literally made millions more people aware of what hidden city ticketing is, which seems like it kind of backfires. So sure, go after the site that shows the few people that are “in the know” how to do it, but in the process they’ve exposed millions more people to it…
What do you think? Is suing a site that acts as a search engine for hidden city ticketing a reasonable tactic?