If you’ve played enough with airline search engines or Google Flights, you may have noticed some odd pricing where two itineraries contain the exact same flight, but the one with an additional segment is cheaper.
Therefore, you may be tempted to book the cheapest flight and dump the segment you don’t need to get off at your “real’’ destination at a fraction of the cost. That practice is called skiplagging (hidden city or throwaway ticketing).
Skiplagging - Why would you do this?
Airfare pricing is very complex, but it is mainly built around offer and demand; the cost isn’t based on the number of segments or distance travelled but focuses mainly on the origin and destination’s popularity.
Also, connecting flights are less desirable than direct routes, so flying from Montreal to Toronto to Vancouver is less appealing than a non-stop flight. As a result, the latter will be more expensive.
Another example: Japan might be much trendier than Vietnam for the same dates, like in April for the Sakura blossoms. Since Tokyo is a central connecting hub for passengers heading to Vietnam, the airlines may have a more challenging time filling those Japan-Vietnam flights.
Consequently, the pricing will reflect that by giving you a lower price when your destination is Vietnam, even though you are embarking on the same Montreal-Tokyo flight as passengers bound for Japan.
Economically, booking the Montreal to Vietnam flight and simply getting off (skiplagging) when you are supposed to catch your connecting flight to Tokyo may make sense.
Skiplagging is also possible for award fares, as shown here:
While it may sound easy enough, there are major risks with skiplagging strategies.
Skiplagging - What can happen if you skip a flight?
First and foremost, when you don’t show up for a segment on your itinerary, the remaining legs are automatically cancelled.
In the following two screenshots, the Montreal to San Jose segments are identical on both itineraries. However, flights to Costa Rica out of Toronto are significantly cheaper than out of Montreal.
If you plan on boarding and disembarking only in Montreal since that is where you live and where you want to return to, you might be stunned at the airport when the airline annulled your whole ticket because you didn’t show up for your first segment, from Toronto to Montreal.
How about if you take a bus to Toronto, start the itinerary as planned but only hop off in Montreal on the return journey because it won’t matter if the last flight is cancelled?
This can work if you only travel with carry-on luggage, as checked bags will be sent to your final destination. Again, you may be forced to check in your carry-on on some aircraft so that it might play against you.
However, we do not encourage this kind of skiplagging practice because, while not illegal, you are violating the airline’s contract of carriage you signed when you bought the ticket.
There’s nowhere to hide when travelling an entire itinerary on the same airline. But there have been feedback discrepancies where passengers could board a connecting flight when it was on a different airline than the one operating the skipped leg.
We cannot repeat this enough; this behaviour is not recommended since nothing backs you when things go wrong, and you are going against your purchase contract.
Also, whenever you fly, you must meet the travel entry requirements for where you are supposed to go. Otherwise, they won’t even let you board the first segment. Therefore, if you have no intention of going to Vietnam but want to get off in Tokyo, you may be denied boarding if you don’t have a valid visa.
Finally, since many kinds of schedule changes can lead to rebooking, either in advance or at the last minute due to weather, they might send you on the Montreal-Dubai-Ho Chi Minh route if there is an issue with connecting to Tokyo! Their responsibility is to get you to your destination!
Skiplagging - The possible consequences
As we’ve discussed earlier, the immediate risk with this kind of practice is getting your itinerary cancelled and potentially losing your bags. Still, there are possibly more significant consequences even though it’s not technically illegal. It’s frowned upon by the airlines, and they can have the last word.
If we take a look at Air Canada’s rules of transportation, we can read the following:
“Throwaway ticketing”— The usage of round-trip fares for one-way travel.
“Hidden City/Point beyond ticketing”— The purchase of a fare from a point before the passenger’s actual origin or to a point beyond the passenger’s actual destination. Accordingly, passengers shall not purchase one or more tickets or use flight coupons in one or more tickets in order to obtain a lower fare than could otherwise be applicable.
The airlines don’t like this kind of practice because they lose revenue, and the seat you threw away could have been sold to someone else. When we look at it this way, it makes sense for them to turn to overbooking strategies to minimize their possible losses with empty seats.
Collecting points through the airline’s loyalty program is a reward in exchange for information; they can keep track of your habits and detect skiplagging behaviour.
Also, if you purchase another ongoing ticket out of your hidden city around the same time, they may notice it!
For example, suppose you booked a Montreal-Tokyo-Ho Chi Minh ticket. A few days after you arrive in Tokyo, you have a Tokyo-Sapporo reservation on All Nippon Airways shown on your Aeroplan profile because you wanted to credit the points there.
Since the airline has management power in regards to their business and whom they offer it to, you could:
- Lose your frequent flyer account and all points since the airline owns them, and you violated their terms and conditions
- Be banned from flying with them ever again.
- Be asked to pay the fare difference they lost because of your skiplagging behaviour.
Skiplagging - The alternatives to save on flight tickets
The purpose of skiplagging is to save money or points on your airfare, but since it comes with risks (some of them significant), it’s better to turn to other very effective strategies like using points.
Points are quite easy to earn through a credit card welcome bonus or by optimizing your organic spending. Flights have gotten more expensive, but the offers are also higher than ever!
On Milesopedia, we have written and detailed various ways to fly without going broke:
And the best current credit card offers for travel can be found here:
While skiplagging is never encouraged, you may have to miss a flight for many reasons (fell asleep in the lounge, got suddenly ill, family emergency, etc.). Chances are that it will be unnoticeable if it only ever happens once, but if you keep doing it or if they can prove you intentionally wanted to do so, you may run into a lot of problems.
Earning points is a much more sustainable way to save so you can travel more and even better!