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United Airlines

United Is Cracking Down on Skiplagging Customers

United Is Cracking Down on Skiplagging Customers
Jackie Reddy

United Airlines is closing in on skiplagging customers, No Mas Coach reports. The practice lets passengers book cheap connecting flights only to see travelers intentionally disembark at their layover airport. United has been especially active in pursuing those who indulge in the dubious practice.

United Airlines is closing in on skiplagging customers, No Mas Coach reports. Explaining the practice, also known as “hidden city ticketing,” the outlet describes a hypothetical travel scenario.

“Lets say that you want to fly to Seattle from Minneapolis. You can fly that route on either Alaska or Delta as they service it non stop. Because it is a non stop flight (and non stop is in demand) you’ll see, perhaps, a slightly higher price. Seattle to Dallas, on the other hand, is not serviced by Delta directly. It is, however, served by both Alaska and American, and in order for Delta to be competitive on that route, they’re going to have to route you probably through Minneapolis,” explains the outlet’s Jon Nickel-D’Andrea.

“No one in their right mind would proactively fly to Minneapolis before heading to Texas, so they’re going to heavily discount that flight in order to garner your business. Since you really only want to get to Minneapolis and not to Dallas, you just get off the plane in Minneapolis (since you’re connecting through) and you’re on your way,” Nickel-D’Andrea.

Though not technically illegal, it appears that skiplagging is causing carriers some trouble. In fact, it appears that United Airlines is now actively pursuing those who engage in the practice.

In fact, as Nickel-D’Andrea explains, United sent a letter to his friend’s husband, outlining time, date and cost of each offence.

The letter, excerpts of which can be viewed here, adds that skiplagging, “constitutes fraud and a violation of Rule 6 of United’s Contract of Carriage. Accordingly, United demands … that you reimburse United in the amount of $3,236.76 which represents the difference between the cost of the tickets that you purchased and the cost of the travel taken…”.

While skiplagging is certainly questionable, Inc.com‘s Chris Matyszczyk queried United’s motives in sending the letter, saying, “All that skiplagging customers do is take advantage of a loophole in the airline’s own systems … Sometimes, you have to accept that some customers are clever, or even a touch slippery, and deal with it in an intelligent way.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (68)

68 Comments

  1. formeraa

    October 15, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    I guess I am not in my right mind. I used to fly between SAT and SEA via MSP all the time when I was a NW elite 15 years ago..

  2. itsallgood

    October 15, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    FormerAA, you’re obviously one of those darned mileage runners. Or, should I say, former mileage runner.
    FWIW, I once flew (during a United triple EQM offering) BWI-SFO-FAT-SFO-ONT-SFO-BWI on a weekend on a single booking for less than $300 just to keep 1K status. I left on a Friday evening after work and returned on Sunday morning.

  3. Bowgie

    October 15, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    Assuming that the customer does not care about status or miles, the proper response to such a letter would be to bin it, or write “nuts” on it and mail it back. (old WWII reference)

  4. drvannostren

    October 15, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    I feel like this is the same as mistake fares. The airline cries because their system isn’t smart enough to either close a loophole, or, to price things as they should be.

    Maybe you just DON’T compete on SEA-DFW then? Or maybe you compete at the price you wanna compete at because it’s worth it for you, then if you get a handful of skiplaggers here and there, so be it. Newsflash, that’s a problem with the hub and spoke system. I’d venture to guess Southwest doesn’t have this concern.

    Plus how could you ever prove without MY info, what my actual plans were? You can’t force me to show you a hotel/car/airbnb booking in Dallas. Even if you could, I can just as easily say I was gonna wing it, book something once I get there.

    Personally, I wouldn’t skip lag all the time, I also wouldn’t do it over and over on the same airline, but you know what? Some flights are ridiculously priced. See YVR-YYZ, when someone can continue on to CLE at a fraction of the cost…the system is broken.

  5. southpac

    October 15, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    all UNited will do is annoy customers. No one will actually pay those amounts. Easy to get around. Just don’t use any frequent flyer account number.

    Frequent flyer programmes are dying fast anyway.

  6. Airrage

    Airrage

    October 16, 2018 at 5:54 am

    That is BS. He needs to tell United where to stick that letter.

  7. mvoight

    October 16, 2018 at 9:27 am

    Yes, but back then you got more miles for it. 🙂

  8. topman

    October 16, 2018 at 10:59 am

    This can go both ways. If UA is going to be this petty how about a class-action for all the misconnects and cancellations due to their poor aircraft maintenance.

  9. Digits

    October 16, 2018 at 11:29 am

    So basically United Airlines sent a bill to a customer asking to be reimbursed for a flight the customer did NOT take. That makes sense.

  10. Lakeviewsteve

    October 16, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Digits, You don’t get it. To say “that makes sense.” shows your ignorance. “So basically,” abide by the rules or pay for stealing.

  11. fish3d

    October 17, 2018 at 4:21 am

    Recently I received a bill in the amount of 137.88. I flew biz class on AA JFK/SFO .I didn’t eat the dinner that was served.

  12. BMGRAHAM

    October 17, 2018 at 4:24 am

    southpac where is your spring evidence that FF programs are dying?

  13. Marathon Man

    October 17, 2018 at 4:25 am

    Why not just make the fare structure more “one price only” with no hidden fees and also make it logical, practical and fair, and discount fares appropriately to make it so flights make sense to the customer to the point where they don’t even need to nor want to try this move?

    Oh wait, I am either from the far distant (hopeful) future or I am completely high, because the major airlines flying domestic in this country totally blow and would never ever donthat! Sorry

  14. Mike Rivers

    October 17, 2018 at 4:29 am

    In defense of the airline, I can understand their concern about a passenger who they knew got to the transfer point and then didn’t board his next flight. With all the fuss about security these days, I can imagine some scenarios

  15. jrpallante

    October 17, 2018 at 4:33 am

    I have skiplagged several times over years, usually booking LAS as my final destination instead of Denver, because LAS is usually the cheapest place to fly. It backfired on me once when my flight was canceled and they re-booked me on a direct flight to LAS!

  16. sassafrasnewport

    October 17, 2018 at 4:59 am

    The airlines getting beaten at their own game. Imagine that. Last I checked, I’m not an indentured slave. If I decide to take a right turn in Chicago instead of going on to Dallas, that’s my prerogative.

  17. zitsky

    October 17, 2018 at 5:01 am

    Is that letter even legal? They can send anything they want, doesn’t make it right.

  18. Mtothe M

    October 17, 2018 at 5:05 am

    I’m not sure why people would be upset with this. United is simply demanding payment for service they did not provide, for a seat that was not filled and for the weight of luggage that was not boarded. Perfectly legit…

  19. JMitchell

    October 17, 2018 at 5:14 am

    As usual, the term “Customer Service” is an oxymoron for United Airlines. Perhaps they should treat their customers fairly and not overcharge for direct flights. I used to live in Denver and was unhappily flying United a lot. I could drive an hour south to Colorado Springs, board a flight from COS to DEN, fly over my house, catch the connection in DEN and save as much as $500 each way,

  20. BeatCal

    October 17, 2018 at 5:17 am

    No Digits, What they are sayin is the ticket to minn would have been more than the ticket to Minn to Dallas. The passenger should pay. Many years ago, Delta simply charged them. The rules say you are not supposed to do it

  21. Karan97

    October 17, 2018 at 5:17 am

    Legally does United have a claim? Any kind of misrepresentation here? Just wondering before I skiplag again 😉

  22. chrisboote

    October 17, 2018 at 5:27 am

    In the UK I do this all the time wit train fares

    London – Bristol – London, £65

    London – Gloucester (via Bristol) – London, £42

    What can they do?

  23. MitchR

    October 17, 2018 at 5:31 am

    Skiplagging or hidden city works great until it doesn’t. I used to do it in the 80’s when Southwest had limited service in and out of DAL so AA and DL had much higher fares to DFW than they had to Houston. I booked a trip from Pittsburgh to Houston on AA. My intent was to hop off at DFW and be done. Got to the gate and found that the DFW flight had been canceled but AA had routed me to Houston through O’Hare.

  24. skimple

    October 17, 2018 at 5:36 am

    Digits, I think you’re exactly right. The airline cannot force a customer to fly a segment.

  25. lazynay

    October 17, 2018 at 5:40 am

    Not a fan of UA’s business practice here but what recourse do they have should the flier punt the letter?
    Drain their MileagePlus account? Anything else?

  26. moreofless

    October 17, 2018 at 5:56 am

    I doubt any court would enforce collection of this “bill”. Maybe if the airlines did not make it so complicated to comparing prices, maybe some people would not go to extreme lengths to find the best price.

  27. Nevsky

    October 17, 2018 at 6:00 am

    What are their damages (other than potential revenue)? They saved fuel by not having to fly a passenger the extra leg.

  28. ikko1

    October 17, 2018 at 6:03 am

    I’ve been shopping for LAS-AVP OW ticket recently and quickly realized that AVP is too small of an airport and there are only few options available, so I might want to consider arriving to EWR or PHL (no big deal, both are within 2 hrs drive from my house). What caught my eye were two options from AA: one was a direct flight LAS-PHL and the other one was a LAS-PHL-AVP itinerary with the very same first flight, then 9 hours (!) overnight layover and then another 25 minutes flight to AVP …And most interestingly, the second option was MUCH-MUCH cheaper (who in their right mind would opt for spending a night in the airport when you are literally within 2hr drive from your destination?)

    Guess what I did lol

  29. Tafflyer

    October 17, 2018 at 6:40 am

    There is no requirement to use a service you have purchased. Suppose I bought SEA-MSP and no-showed through no fault of my own? Would UA refund me the ticket with no deductions or allow me free rebooking? No. They would pocket the cash. So if I no-show a connecting flight suddenly I have cheated them because they could have charged me more for the sector flown? Heck, no. Where will this end? What about unused return flights because the round trip was cheaper than a one-way? Does UA want their cake and eat it there too. It’s a slippery slope and if you ask me it’s due to pure greed.

  30. Lord Bowdon

    October 17, 2018 at 6:40 am

    As if passengers weren’t already mistreated by UA – I suffered a 12 hour delay ELP-DEN because of a chain of events, mechanical, weather, then crew time out, and all I got was a measly 2500 compensatory miles! Granted this was a regional carrier, Trans States, but it was still flying a UA flight. They should focus their resources on maintenance and staffing, not skiplagging.

  31. BigJC

    October 17, 2018 at 7:26 am

    I got sick after landing at MSP and couldn’t continue. Sue me.

  32. Supers54

    October 17, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Customer should check the cost of single flights between Minneapolis and Dallas and then demand the cost of those flights as a refund seeing as they didn’t take them….

  33. jlc1978

    October 17, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Years ago my employer flew a lot of people every week and used back to back tickets to cut costs, since we flew Mon – Fri to the same location 2 weeks in a row. When DL found out they demanded we stop so travel booked us on a different airline mid week. Once our DL account mgr saw the revenue drop 50% they asked us to come back and use back to backs. For some reasons airlines think we are so enamored of their airline that we’d gladly pay more.

    As for United, did they fill the seat on the empty leg? What did that save them?

  34. kc1174

    October 17, 2018 at 8:15 am

    It probably wasn’t wise to post the letter including the number of times they’ve skiplagged, and the amount owed. The post states they haven’t heard anything for 5 months and nothing’s gone to collections, but I’m pretty sure someone at United will see the post and may decide to proceed – if not through collections or monetarily, through membership of the frequent flyer program, or denying boarding/booking. As for this case – 38 times (I may be wrong on the number I read in the letter) is excessive. I mean – you could maybe do it once and claim you’re unwell or need to get back home or something and wait for the flight you already booked back home. That might work, but that often is crazy. Doesn’t excuse airlines charging what they do though.

  35. riku2

    October 17, 2018 at 8:16 am

    It is like a restaurant having a fixed price three course meal but you are too full after the main course to want dessert. They then try to charge you extra for not eating the dessert!

  36. thefareguru

    October 17, 2018 at 8:21 am

    drvannostren, I was hoping that you had found a loophole, so I checked it just now using a 1-way fare YVR-CLE vs. YVR-YYZ Nov 13 (midweek) departure.
    YVR-YYZ = $253
    YVR-CLE = $443
    Perhaps the YYZ fares are low right now. Too bad it didn’t work.
    tfg

  37. azmojo

    October 17, 2018 at 8:22 am

    If UA ran a restaurant, would they charge extra if you didn’t finish everything on your plate?
    UA should be happy to have the weight savings on the onward flight, as well as the extra seat that could be reassigned to a standby passenger.

  38. Lumeria

    October 17, 2018 at 8:22 am

    Fly the friendly skies.

  39. MikeFromTokyo

    October 17, 2018 at 8:26 am

    @Digits, no they asked for the difference in fare applicable to the actual flight travelled, as opposed to the hidden-city trick fare.

    It’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Throw away ticketing is also technically a fraudulent practice, but it is common and rarely enforced. Sometimes the full one way fare is significantly more expensive than a discounted round trip.

    In the case of hidden city ticketing, I would definitely not put an FF number of any kind, or use the same credit card(s) one normally does to purchase those tickets.

    And I agree with the above poster who said the appropriate response to that letter woild be to can it. Throw it in the bin and get on with life.

    We can talk about fairness the day UA stops killing people’s pets in the cargo hold, and othewise not being the gold standard of how to treat customers (at least those who are not Global Services).

  40. StrandedinLA

    October 17, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Next time United adds an unplanned stop to a nonstop I paid more for, I will send them a bill. That’s how this works right?

    I know the bar is low, but unites is absolutely the worst of the big carriers.

  41. nomad420

    October 17, 2018 at 8:35 am

    This has been discussed at length on various UA FT Blogs. It almost seems illegal that they can actually attempt to bill someone for it. I just traveled with a friend who went KOA-SFO-IAD for a fraction of what I paid for just to go KOA-SFO. I was tempted to book through to IAD and skip the last leg as I was traveling without checked bags but given all of the this just paid up. Don’t like it but it is what it is I guess. Well at least for now.

  42. JRinPDX

    October 17, 2018 at 8:44 am

    I don’t see how there is any incremental cost to the carrier. The seat was paid for at an amount they agreed to. If it’s not occupied, they spend less on fuel, the workload is a bit lighter for the crew and some lucky passenger gets more elbow room.

  43. OutOfTheNorth

    October 17, 2018 at 8:50 am

    I don’t really understand how the airlines incur costs when pax skiplag. They paid the fare and, although the seat is empty for the second segment, it shouldn’t cost the airline more to operate that second segment.
    I understand there is a missed-opportunity cost (not really a cost) and that it might interfere with their revenue models but is there any real increase in expense for the airline?

  44. Dataton

    October 17, 2018 at 8:55 am

    southpac, they can just as easily match you up by your legal name required to purchase the ticket and verified in order to board a flight.

    southpac October 15, 2018 at 10:24 pm
    … Easy to get around. Just don’t use any frequent flyer account number.
    Frequent flyer programmes are dying fast anyway

  45. stevenmb

    October 17, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Lol lol lol a demand letter for an unenforceable contract… the negative publicity they’d get on this is epic.

    Ignore the letter and nothing will happen.

  46. PushingTin

    October 17, 2018 at 9:11 am

    If I don’t eat all of my dinner, will a restaurant charge me more?

  47. rjg319

    October 17, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Ok, so let me play devil’s advocate here for a second. Why is this even a big deal at all? You have reserved a seat on a flight that you have zero intention of taking. This means that seat is no longer available for purchase by another customer. This then leads airlines to continue with the practice of overselling flights in order to mitigate the risk of having people blow off connections… and if not enough people blow off their connections, then flights are oversold and passengers are bumped. See how this contributes to a bigger issue?

  48. jsintexas

    October 17, 2018 at 9:23 am

    The airlines have their hidden city fares.

    A few years ago I was flying on AA FLL-DFW-SEA and the fare was $400 consistently. When I would fly DFW-SEA the fare was $1100.

    On the same DFW-SEA flights. Its an unfair FARE game.

  49. 777 global mile hound

    October 17, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Put the offender in jail where they belong ;):)
    Drag em off the plane bloody!
    Yes my sympathy runs quite deep for United
    Now if they put those recovered funds in customer relationship management and actually taking care of customers I might be on their side

  50. Morgacj2004

    October 17, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Screw United. Do anything to avoid flying that lousy carrier. What difference does it matter if the customer gets off the plane early. Idiot’s.

  51. flyboy_88

    October 17, 2018 at 10:31 am

    I think many are missing the point. Many are wondering why you should have to pay for that leg you don’t use. It is because you are taking a flight that is not meant for you! You are supposed to pay premium for the direct flight! The simple solution is for the airline not to service that route. However, that is not possible. I believe there is a law or requirement that airlines service all these smaller cities. It would make no economic sense for them to fly to these cities direct so they have to all route through major hubs. I think the answer is that eventually, airlines will put it into their code of conduct during the booking process. The price of this ticket is for those flying to XYZ city. If you don’t fly the whole route, you have to pay an additional fee. Let’s be realistic people. Not all routes make money! The premium routes makes up money lost flying to these small cities.

  52. HawaiianGuy

    October 17, 2018 at 11:02 am

    United demands … that you reimburse United in the amount of $3,236.76 which represents the difference between the cost of the tickets that you purchased and the cost of the travel taken…”.

    LOL! Good luck with that! No one, and I mean NO ONE, threatens or demands anything from me. In addition to highly publicized Faux Pas in the recent past in which you and your idiot Munoz have treated “Customers” with outrageous disrespect, arrogance, and contempt, you and Mr. Munoz can pack sand. Congratulations, United. You’ve just made my personal “NO FLY LIST”!

  53. eknock007

    October 17, 2018 at 11:16 am

    Nothing dubious about this practice. These were not free rides and he certainly didn’t try to hide it. Dubious is United changing the rules when it doesn’t conform to their profit maximization business model. Maybe they’ll impose a new ancillary fee (they love fees): System Gaming Fee: Failure to fly all segments: $250.

  54. mrjohnnyt

    October 17, 2018 at 11:57 am

    I would love to see one, just one,court case where United sued to enforce their contract of carriage.

  55. appletreasures

    October 17, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    How about this? When you pay for a non stop flight and the airline failed to provide the non stop (per the reservation) , but provides two legs instead (which is a lower priced fare) do they return the fare difference to customer?
    I strongly doubt it! I suspect that they would instead try to charge a flight change fare instead saying that the non stop requires the fee in order to change.

  56. honigdachs

    October 17, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Funnily enough, the Senator team suggest exactly this solution to me last summer.

    I had bought a ticket on LH: VIE-FRA-DEN-FRA-VIE, but needed to stay in FRA on the way back to fly FRA-OSL-TRD. The agent said I should simply let the last segment go, and there would no problems or any penalty for doing so.

  57. KRSW

    October 17, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    An airline suggesting that not using a ticket to its fullest constitutes “fraud”? That’s a bit rich coming from an airline, especially United.

  58. mdj1

    October 17, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    A business can only pursue you through a court for an actual physical loss. As they haven’t actually physically lost anything they can’t sue you.

  59. jerryricht

    October 17, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    When the carrier quits ripping me off, I will not have to game the system. I actually have better thing to do with my time.

    I recently paid 545.00 for a round trip 45 minute commuter flight to a hub airport (CLT) that was booked weeks in advance.

    I do business in CLT and take this typically full flight numerous times per year because the drive through the mountains is difficult and not without risk. The ticket price has continued to increase at an unreasonable rate.

    I take offense that I am apparently subsidizing the carriers ability to compete on other more competitive routes with my $$. Why should I tolerate this BS?

  60. LukeO9

    October 17, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    How dare pax try to get value for money by taking less from the company. Shame.

  61. southpac

    October 17, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Dataton

    many people don’t use middle name when flying, so you can make some bookings with middle name & some without.

    BMGRAHAM

    the days of most people earning ff points/miles thru credit card are diminishing. In Australia, points earned are diminishing as bank fees are reigned in by fed govt.

    I would never pay to fly a certain airline, but used to earn a million ff pts a year with them. So I’m not the type of frequent flyer airlines want. They all seem to now be targeting, the business type(who doesn’t pay his/her own fares) who flies regularly on high last minute fares.

    BTW
    it’s so cheap to fly between USA west coast & Australia right now. USD$700 return & less on many airlines & no extra fees. Fiji Airlines are prob the best option(linked to AA & AS) & you get the option of a stopover in fabulous Fiji, the friendliest place on earth. Under 72 hours in Fiji, you don’t pay their departure tax, so why not stop over in both directions. If desperate, you could even fly with them to New Zealand via Fiji. Between NZ & Australia there are a hundred or so flights a day & the roughly 3 hour flights are very cheap as many international airlines fly the route, not just AUstralian & NZ airlines.

  62. mrworldwide00

    October 17, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    I wanted to fly to SDF-EWR but found SDF-EWR-SJU at half the price lol

  63. CEB

    October 17, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    While all of the major airlines have their issues, I find the vitriol and irrelevant drivel contaminating this thread rather offensive. Airfares are priced based on markets, demand and supply. So the pricing of a connection versus a nonstop is a matter of course. Sobeit. If someone wants to game the system, more power to them. But don’t whine because the airlines are trying to protect their business. Do any of you whiners ever take a close look at how your own company and you in your own job take advantage of your customers? Likely not.

    More to the point, the constant complaining is a disservice to the 88,000 employees at United who MOSTLY do a great job and try to do their best. Sometimes someone has a bad day and things get out of hand, but when you have hundreds of flights per day with thousands of passengers and hundreds of thousands of bags things happen, particularly when you cannot control the weather or even the personalities and moods of your customers as well as your employees.

    United is a good airline doing a good job 99% of the time. Unfortunately, too many media types get their jollies making fun of everyone and the airlines are easy pickings due to the complexity and vastness of their business. So get off your collective arrogant butts and provide CONSTRUCTIVE criticism rather than simply bitching and moaning about every l incident as if its a travesty!

  64. jjonathan

    October 17, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    UNITED (and American) continue to tell us WHY they are the worst airline(s) in the world. WHY do we keep flying them? Is is possibly because there are/is no other choice?

  65. Gig103

    October 17, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    The legacy US airlines all have skiplaggers, but only UA is being arrogant and combative about it. The legacy US airlines all have basic economy but only UA is not allowing a full size carry-on. The legacy US airlines all have an elite dollar qualifier, but only UA blocks partner flights. Does anyone choose UA that isn’t hub captive?!

  66. Jinxed_K

    October 18, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Think the only way to eliminate this is if airlines take a distance based pricing structure like railways do?
    Though I suppose this opens another can of worms where flying from JFK-EWR will need to connect through LAX so the airline can maximize profits.

  67. kkua

    October 18, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    I tried it on an international trip… almost met with a disaster in Rome FCO. As a seasoned traveller (2MM under my belt), I say avoid it. There are ways to trace the charges back to you, especially if your frequent flier information has already been captured.

  68. nittfan

    October 18, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    As far as the “bill” is concerend, if it was not sent certified or registered mail – throw it in the trash. No way to prove you ever received the bill (just like being summoned for jury duty …….. no way to prove your received it). I’ve never done the hidden cities/skiplagging since I am merely a leisure time flyer, but I too would be concerned about cancelled or rerouted flights.

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