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The Not-So-Legal Way to Save Money on Flights

The Not-So-Legal Way to Save Money on Flights
Taylor Rains

Welcome to FlyerTalk 101, a guide to traveling like an expert from the experts. For more guides like this, check out our FlyerTalk 101 tag or head to the forum links in this article to have any of your questions answered.

When it comes to saving money on plane tickets, travelers are getting more and more creative. Whether it is opening numerous credit cards to reap the bonus miles, or buying tickets at the airport to waive the passenger handling fee, travelers will find a way to save a few bucks. One of the more popular, yet risky, travel hacks is buying a plane ticket to one city, but getting off and staying in the layover city. This is considered “skipping a flight leg” and it will get you into trouble if you are not careful.

What Is Skipping a Connecting Flight Leg?

Let’s say you’ve spent hours searching the internet for a cheap flight from New York to Paris. You realize that airlines know that travelers are willing to pay more for time and convenience, so nonstop flights are $700+.

After doing some research, you find a cheaper, $548 ticket to Dublin with a layover in Paris. You plan to simply get off in Paris instead of continuing on to Dublin.

 

Seems like a win-win, right? You save $171, get to fly nonstop to Paris, and the airline would be none the wiser. However, this is skipping a flight leg as you never intend to fly to Dublin, and airlines are not letting passengers get away with buying “throwaway” tickets anymore.

What Happens If I Get Caught?

Consequences for skipping or missing any portion of your flight itinerary is one of the hardest rules airlines enforce. I have personally seen a passenger show up for his flight at the airport in Charlotte to find his return leg had been canceled because he skipped his connecting flight in Atlanta. He had to cough up the money for a flight home, and that last-minute plane ticket likely cost hundreds more than if he had just bought the nonstop ticket to Atlanta.

Why Do Airlines Care and What Are They Doing About It?

Most airlines, especially major carriers such as Delta and Lufthansa, have a policy built into their Contract of Carriage (you know, that really long statement that you’re supposed to read before buying a plane ticket, but no one ever does) that states that you must fly on all legs of your purchased itinerary and may incur higher costs if you decide to skip any leg. Those costs can include the cancellation of your return trip, the responsibility for the cost of the leg that you skipped, or the deactivation of your frequent flyer account.

Some people may argue that airlines set themselves up for this hack because they charge less for connecting flights, but because they outline the requirement to complete all flight legs in their Contact of Carriage, travelers are bound by that contract and can be penalized for breaking it. Some airlines are harsher than others – American Airlines are in their right to cancel the remainder of your flight itinerary and cancel your frequent flyer account, while Lufthansa is known to take customers to court for exploiting their fares.

You may ask, how could airlines truly know that I intended to get off in the connecting city? What if I truly missed my flight or had a family emergency? I’m sorry to ruin your argument, but airports are highly secure with cameras recording every square inch of the airport and airlines are staffed with teams of investigators dedicated to identifying fraud. They can use cameras and time stamps to determine if you truly missed your flight or if you simply walked out of the terminal.

Is This Illegal?

The short answer is ‘no’. As of right now, I am unaware of any countries that have federal laws against doing this. Airlines mostly see this as a contract dispute, but in most cases, you will not be sued for this type of fraud. Some airlines will take legal action, but it is more cost-effective for them to cancel your frequent flyer miles rather than to pay for a legal battle.

So, Should You Still Take the Risk?

 Although there are costly risks with skipping a flight leg, you could still manage to pull this off without any repercussion if you follow a few of these tricks:

  • Do not check your luggage. In terms of security, checking your luggage and getting off the plane can suggest there is something in your bags that may pose a threat to the aircraft. At that point, the cancellation of your return flight is the least of your concerns.
  • Buy two one-way tickets on different carriers. I have never personally tried this approach, but hypothetically if you buy a one-way ticket home from Paris on Norwegian and a one-way ticket to Dublin via Paris on Delta and get off in Paris, then there is no return leg to cancel as Delta does not control Norwegian’s reservations. However, this still may be more expensive than flying nonstop.
  • Plan to skip your connecting flight on your way home. If you skip the very last leg of your itinerary, then the airline has nothing to cancel (however, still be aware of the potential responsibility for the cost of the skipped flight leg).
  • Book on airlines that you do not have a frequent flyer account with. By booking with an airline you have never flown, they have no miles or rewards to take away from you. It takes that consequence off the table.
  • Be creative without breaking the contract. You could complete your full flight to Dublin and then buy a $20 roundtrip ticket to Paris on a low-cost carrier, such as Ryanair or EasyJet, and still save over $100. Sure you’d be spending a lot more time on planes than exploring the city, but isn’t that the benefit of the nonstop in the first place?

Tips and tricks aside, airlines are no longer tolerating this technique and this hack is a gamble that can cost you a lot of time and money. I personally do not recommend trying this, but if you want to take the risk, make sure you understand the consequences.

View Comments (23)

23 Comments

  1. flyingnrunning

    September 13, 2019 at 12:47 am

    interesting. risky

  2. Marathon Man

    September 13, 2019 at 4:18 am

    If the airlines didn’t gouge their travelers and customers so much then people would probably retaliate less. The airlines can and should make up more fair pricing and more sensible routes based on how people think about money, not on how they must make more and more of it no matter what.

    Newton’s third law: when one object exerts a force on a second object, the second object exerts an equal-and-opposite force on the first object.

    Their fault not ours. Make it better and people will fall in line. Make it suck and we will find workarounds. And it should not be wrong to not get on a plane. I bought the seat. So if I chose to sit in it or be sick in the bathroom leaving my seat empty is up to me. It’s not like they could have re used it anyway. Not unless their pricing was made in such a way where logic dictated me to never have bought the leg I later intended not to take.

  3. DeltaFlyer123

    September 13, 2019 at 4:29 am

    My friend did this once on Delta – he got off at a connecting airport and didn’t complete his trip, but Delta recalculated the fare and charged his credit card. He disputed the charge with the credit card company, and Delta eventually prevailed.
    Since the deregulation act of 1979, airlines are calculating fares based on supply and demand rather than distance flown, just like with everything else. If you can’t afford it, just don’t fly, then prices will come down to attract customers.

  4. drsmithy

    September 13, 2019 at 5:04 am

    It’s not wrong and it’s certainly not illegal.

    To any normal-thinking person, doing things like cancelling return legs because earlier legs are missed is the kind of behaviour that should be punished, rather than paying for a seat and not filling it.

  5. SamirD

    September 13, 2019 at 5:11 am

    I’ve skipped the last leg before when I didn’t have checked bags. I did run into an issue one when it was my first leg of the trip, so I wouldn’t recommend this until it is the last leg of your journey.

  6. Heidelberg Barbie

    Heidelberg Barbie

    September 13, 2019 at 5:48 am

    Why do airlines care if a seat is empty on that second leg? That empty seat could save them money, in the long run. Less time for an FA to spend on a passenger, less weight for the aircraft etc.

  7. ftgee

    September 13, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Not to mention you are screwed if you are late in the boarding process and they start gate checking carry-ons. Skiplagging is just too risky.

  8. ChuckieB

    September 13, 2019 at 6:14 am

    I’ve never done this, there are other ways to get cheap tickets and I’ve never seen enough savings to make the risks worth it, to me. That said, I read this anyway wondering if there would be anything written that I didn’t already know from reading other articles. Not much new.

    But I take issue with a couple of points that you made.

    Legality: Yes, passengers have been sued in obvious cases of someone intentionally missing legs. But, and I could easily be wrong, to the best of my knowledge the airline has lost each time. Not to say that they always will, but you should more clear. And, if we think that the airlines are spending a lot of time and effort on this issue (which I don’t), I’d argue that it’s more dangerous to book 2 one ways while planning to skip a connection(s), as the airline could subpoena your credit card statements and prove your intent at booking. There’d be no defense against that.

    Security: I wonder if you have any examples of an airline being given security footage by an airport authority to support the airline’s efforts to chase down passengers for violating airline rules or the COC? It strikes me as highly unlikely that an airport would turn this information over to an airline for this reason, absent a court order or subpoena; if they did so I suspect that, in the US at least, they’d be liable to a lawsuit from a creative lawyer. Which brings us back to the effort and expense associated with trying to police this issue. I just don’t think it’s worth it for the airlines to pursue unless someone is being egregious about it.

    I think the moral of the story is if you’re going to do it, be smart and don’t do it very often to avoid drawing attention to yourself.

  9. mhrb

    September 13, 2019 at 6:25 am

    It’s not called “skipping a flight leg”, it’s a basic 3X fuel dump. It’s not remotely new. It’s also impossible to prove why you missed the last leg.

  10. mbgaskins

    September 13, 2019 at 6:43 am

    Actually it is not a valid contract per contract terms 101 in my opinion. This would be the equivalent of McDonalds charging you more because you didn’t eat all of your fries in a value meal. You used less of the service you contracted for. It didn’t cost the airlines any money and actually saved or made them money as they could fill the seat you didn’t use.

    This is ripe for a lawsuit when the airlines try to enforce this. Right now they are just bullying.

  11. ulxima

    September 13, 2019 at 6:46 am

    Once I threaten to sue OTA Kiwi.com for booking a o/w ticket with a hidden return. I did not like it and I asked to cancel the ticket and get the full refund. Kiwi.com refused.
    Since the flight was on a carrier of which I am FQTV, I involved the carrier itself by letting them know what OTA did.
    Once the airline got involved Kiwi.com agreed to refund me the whole amount of the ticket within 24 hours.

  12. IEFBR14

    September 13, 2019 at 6:56 am

    This is a well-known technique called ‘hidden city’.

    The title says it’s illegal. No one will serve jail time using the hidden fare technique, so it’s not really illegal. It’s not immoral or fattening either. It’s against the contract of carriage, though.

    However, if the airline catches you, you must pay the full fare to continue, or they might seize your frequent flyer account.

  13. jrpallante

    September 13, 2019 at 7:08 am

    The article mentions Lufthansa, but I thought they had lost recent court cases regarding skiplagging. Has this made it to any courts in the USA? I have skiplagged several flights to DEN, usually booking a cheaper itinerary connecting through to LAS. However, I am always fearful that my flight to DEN will be cancelled, and they will rebook me on a direct flight to LAS.

  14. see2xu

    September 13, 2019 at 7:52 am

    So far as I know, in any civilized country, there is nothing unlawful about not consuming something fully, that one has paid for. I can throw a way a half-empty can of soda, not read a book cover-to-cover, not make a single telephone call on my handheld, with impunity.

    This nonsense is a consequence of an oligopolistic industry. There is NO logic to someone from Spokane being able to fly, through Seattle, to Heathrow, for LESS than a SEA-based PAX, but they do it, because they can get away with it. The GEG PAX can look at DEN, SLC, or ORD for competing fares to LHR. So, DL takes advantage of its lack of competitive pressures on the SEA-LHR trunk, to screw the SEA PAX. In a truly competitive environment, where costs and prices are necessarily closely linked, this wouldn’t be possible.

    By walling off airlines from competition, mostly by locking up gate assignments and regulating service frequency, bureaucrats and elected officials are wholly complicit with this shafting of the traveling public. No accident that even crappy carriers, like UAL, are posting record profits.

  15. jybrick

    September 13, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Was this article paid for by the airline association to spread FUD?

  16. Jackie_414

    September 13, 2019 at 10:20 am

    The tactics described are definitely for low time-value people. You know, the people that sit for hours clipping coupons.

  17. bobunf

    September 13, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Southwest does not include any provision against hidden city booking in their contract. It is polite to let them know when de-planing.

    I think the assertion of using airport cameras is pure myth. Even if the incredible happened, and you were traced through an airport wending through thousands of people, maybe stopping in the loo, and then hurrying out:

    “I hurried out to briefly visit my kid (who obviously couldn’t get through security since she wasn’t flying anywhere), but the security line back in was so long, I missed the flight.”

  18. BSpeaker

    September 13, 2019 at 11:24 am

    OK, playing devils advocate here. This isn’t just a matter of “not consuming something I purchased…” From a safety standpoint, I would think there’s some consideration about a seat that’s supposed to be taken and isn’t. The FA’s have a list of the empty seats and one would think there’d be concern that they are “missing” one of their people. It could result in a delayed flight as they call out in the terminal for you. It could be a concerned seatmate…. etc that would alert them. But I think about plane incidents like an accident and you are reported dead because they didn’t find your body in the wreckage, not knowing you never got back on. Apparently being reported dead comes with a lot of hassles and could result in more trouble than a few extra bucks or canceled miles.

    Might be a stretch, but it sounds like too much hullabaloo to save $100. Book the flight you want.You know the rules, why create more problems in your life than you already have?

  19. LukeO9

    September 13, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    Its (one of) the airline’s war on common sense.

  20. Ruudzaan

    September 14, 2019 at 2:29 am

    I did this. Wanted to book a flight from Amsterdam to Cali, Colombia. Flying from Amsterdam (stop over in Panama) with KLM was € 1.600. Flying from Barcelona with stop-overs in Amsterdam and Panama also with KLM was € 950!
    The stop over in Amsterdam was also very long. Arriving 8pm and depart the next day to Cali at 9am.
    So I bought a ticket a return ticket from and to Barcelona (I live in Amsterdam) Also bought a ticket with Ryanair or Easy Jet from Amsterdam to Barcelona for € 30. Flew to Barcelona without luggage, had lunch, visited the Picasso Museum and then boarded the KLM flight to Amsterdam. Went home, packed my bags, and the next morning the flight to Cali. 2 weeks later flew back. Asked the woman at the counter to get my luggage only to Amsterdam because I had to leave the plane in Amsterdam. She did it. Flew back, left the plane in Amsterdam. Collect my bags. Went to the counter of KLM and told them that I was no going to Barcelona. The plane was overbooked, so as a reward they gave me a few 1000 FF points. 🙂

  21. Britsok1

    September 14, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Turning the tables a bit here …We flew American Airlines LHR to Richmond via Philadelphia, The leg from PHL to Richmond was cancelled and AA rebooked us on a flight at noon the next day , We rented a car and drove home to Richmond. taking us 41/2 hours to drive versus waiting 16 hours in PHL . Would this be considered a breach in the conditions of carriage contract too ?

  22. glob99

    September 14, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    The FAs match boarding pass count with pax head count. Since your BP is not scanned at the gate you won’t show up in the pax list. So you won’t be reported dead in the event of a crash.

    People miss flights all the time, that is why airlines overbook.

  23. IanFromHKG

    September 18, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    There is a well-known parody “explaining” the reasons for all this, entitled “If airlines sold paint”:
    IN A HARDWARE STORE:
    Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?
    Clerk: We have regular quality for $12 a gallon and premium for $18. How many gallons would you like?
    Customer: Five gallons of regular quality, please.
    Clerk: Great. That will be $60 plus tax.
    FROM AN AIRLINE:
    Customer: Hi, how much is your paint?
    Clerk: Well, sir, that all depends.
    Customer: Depends on what?
    Clerk: Actually, a lot of things.
    Customer: How about giving me an average price?
    Clerk: Wow, that’s too hard a question. The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 150 different prices up to $200 a gallon.
    Customer: What’s the difference in the paint?
    Clerk: Oh, there isn’t any difference; it’s all the same paint.
    Customer: Well, then, I’d like some of that $9 paint.
    Clerk: Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?
    Customer: I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off.
    Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.
    Customer: What? When would I have to paint in order to get the $9 version?
    Clerk: That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.
    Customer: You’ve got to be kidding!
    Clerk: Sir, we don’t kid around here. Of course, I’ll have to check to see if we have any of that paint available before I can sell it to you.
    Customer: What do you mean check to see if you can sell it to me? You have shelves full of that stuff; I can see it right there.
    Clerk: Just because you can see it doesn’t mean that we have it. It may be the same paint, but we sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price just went to $12.
    Customer: You mean the price went up while we were talking!
    Clerk: Yes, sir. You see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven’t actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest that you get on with your purchase. How many gallons do you want?
    Customer: I don’t know exactly. Maybe five gallons. Maybe I should buy six gallons just to make sure I have enough.
    Clerk: Oh, no, sir, you can’t do that. If you buy the paint and then don’t use it, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.
    Customer: What?
    Clerk: That’s right. We can sell you enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will be in violation of our tariffs.
    Customer: But what does it matter to you whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it!
    Clerk: Sir, there’s no point in getting upset; that’s just the way it is. We make plans based upon the idea that you will use all the paint, and when you don’t, it just causes us all sorts of problems.
    Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don’t keep painting until after Saturday night!
    Clerk: Yes, sir, it will.
    Customer: Well, that does it! I’m going somewhere else to buy my paint.
    Clerk: That won’t do you any good, sir. We all have the same rules. Thanks for flying–I mean painting–with our airline.

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