08 May 2015

'Skiplagged' Sued For Travelling Cheaply

The good news was announced a few days ago for those who are using cheaper travel options. A federal judge in Illinois, U.S. has dismissed a lawsuit that United Airlines and Orbitz filed against Aktarer Zaman

The bad news is that the judge ruled that it can be refiled in another jurisdiction.

"The reason for dismissal is technical, rather than merits, which means the judicial system isn't stopping United from trying again unfortunately," he wrote on his GoFundMe campaign, that raised money for his legal fees.

It all started when Zaman built a website called Skiplagged as a hobby.

Skiplagged searches out cheap airfares, particularly a type of cheap airfare called Hidden City that is frowned upon by the airlines.

After discovering Skiplagged, United and Orbitz filed a lawsuit trying to shut it down.

Instead of bowing to the lawsuit, the 22-year-old computer wiz fought back. He fired up a GoFundMe campaign and asked for people to help him pay for his legal expenses.

He was asking for US$ 20,000 but after his story went viral, people donated nearly $80,000.

Hidden City travel is when you book a longer flight that includes a layover to your real destination because it's cheaper than flying direct. You travel with carry-on and you get off the plane during the layover.

Although anyone can search and book their own Hidden City flights, it's a time-consuming mess to search through many cities, hoping to find a cheaper flight that has a layover at your true destination.

Skiplagged does that searching for you. And finding such a flight isn't a given. Often it tells you that there are no lower-cost Hidden City flights available that fit your travel needs.

Travelers feel that this is a perfectly legit way to travel: They've paid for the flight — why does the airline care if they sit in the seat the whole time?

But airlines hate this practice. They alleged that booking a flight like this makes it difficult to track passengers and that it unfairly takes advantage of the hub-and-spoke nature of airfares, where airlines fly to hub cities and add connecting flights from there.

If the airline discovers that you are getting off the airplane at a layover, they might cancel the ticket without refund. They may do other things, too, like void frequent-flyer mileage.

"This practice violates our fare rules, and we are taking action to stop it to help protect the vast majority of customers who buy legitimate tickets," a United spokesperson told us when it filed the suit in December. (We've reached out for comment about the suit's dismissal and will update when we hear back.)

Zaman explained that his site merely shows the airfares, it doesn't book the tickets. "I haven't made any money from this," Zaman said. He's been paying for the costs of the website out of his own pocket.