Many of us have been there: You start out planning a trip full of excitement, only to deflate with each flight search. You notice that the flight prices are soaring higher and higher and that excitement you initially felt has transformed into exasperation at the price tag.
The cost of traveling and travel demand has rapidly increased as people are taking the trips they reserved earlier in the pandemic. As a result, many resort to shortcuts to save some cash. One of those hacks is a method called “skiplagging.”
“Skiplagging, also known as ‘hidden city ticketing,’ is a tactic used by some travelers to save on airfare. It involves booking a flight with a layover in the intended destination and then not taking the second leg of the journey,” explained Sean Lau, founder of the travel blog LivingOutLau.
Sounds pretty smart in theory, right? You saved money and still got a direct flight to Paris! But there are a number of factors you should keep in mind before you take this approach. Below, experts break down why.
Skiplagging violates airline policies and could get you banned.
Anton Radchenko, an aviation law expert and the founder of AirAdvisor, warns against trying this trend. If you read the fine print of the terms and conditions of any airline policy, you will realize that skiplagging is technically a breach of the airline’s “contract of carriage,” which outlines the rights, liabilities and duties of both parties. In fact, in 2019, Lufthansa airlines sued a passenger who didn’t show up for the last leg of his journey and sought $2,385 in compensation.
You could also get banned from the airline in the future. “Airlines also have the liberty to ban any travelers from their airlines. While skiplagging is not illegal, it is a breach of contract, and passengers risk this possibility,” Radchenko said.
It may invalidate any travel insurance you purchased.
According to Radchenko, insurance companies only cover circumstances that are outside of a passenger’s control, such as flight delays, cancellations or lost baggage.
Suppose a passenger voluntarily misses a leg of their flight. In that case, the insurance may not cover any resulting costs because it is a result of their own actions and not an unforeseen event. In the event of an unanticipated situation in the layover city or a medical emergency, you may not be covered by the insurance since you didn’t officially book a ticket to that location.
You may encounter luggage or schedule complications.
“Another downside to skiplagging to keep in mind is that any checked luggage will usually be sent to the final destination on the ticket, which can cause major inconvenience,” Lau said.
And just because you bring a carry-on doesn’t mean you’ll avoid this problem entirely: Some flights are extremely full and passengers are forced to gate check a bag to their final destination ― and you likely won’t know if that’ll happen until you board.
Additionally, schedule complications and forced cancellations are likely and may cause you to pay more money than you initially paid. For instance, say you want to go to Detroit, Michigan from Wisconsin. You purchase a roundtrip ticket from Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a layover at Detroit Metro Airport (DTW). The return flight is GRR to DTW to MKE.
The airline can cancel your return flight if you don’t board the Detroit to Grand Rapids flight, so you may be “forced to buy a new return ticket home to get back to MKE,” explained Mike Heck, a travel expert and vice president of supplier solutions at Fox World Travel.
Airlines can delete frequent flier accounts and points if you skiplag.
Airlines often have loyalty programs like frequent flyer programs, Radchenko said, which award points based on the flights passengers take or the distance they travel.
“Airlines don’t take kindly to skiplagging. If a passenger is caught skiplagging, an airline may choose to confiscate any points or miles that the passenger has earned, as well as suspend their ability to earn future points or revoke their membership in the frequent flyer program,” Radchenko said.
This can be a harsh blow, especially for avid travelers who painstakingly collect these benefits.
There are other cost-saving alternatives.
While skiplagging might seem like a technique to save money, travelers should be aware of the risks and whether the savings are worth the possible limitations (and headaches) this may lead to. Instead, one savvy approach to finding budget-friendly flights involves finding airports that are somewhat removed from the intended destination.
“Often, these secondary airports offer more attractive fares. Even when you account for the extra travel time it might take to reach your final destination, the overall cost can still prove to be a bargain. This approach not only offers potential savings but also provides an opportunity to discover areas you may have otherwise missed on a more direct route,” Lau said.
Travelers can also maximize savings is by booking early. Since prices often rise closer to the departure date, booking in advance means securing the best deals.
Radchenko also recommends using various flight search engines like Kayak, Skyscanner or Google Flights and comparing prices. Setting price alerts also notifies travelers when prices plunge or increase and the most recommended time to book.
Some other ideas include being flexible with dates, since midweek flights are usually less expensive than weekend flights, and early morning and late night flights are also cheaper. Opt for budget airlines if you can (though there may be additional costs and fees associated). Working with professional travel agencies may also help ease costs as they work with various travel tools to really understand how flights are priced and offer travelers a range of affordable options.