Right now, you may be getting ready to fly off for your New Year's Eve celebration. Or maybe you just got back home from visiting family over the holidays. Either way, you're probably lamenting over the fact that you had to shell out a lot of dough to fly.
Don't you wish you had known about the so-called "hidden city" pricing when you purchased your tickets? Yeah, I didn't know about this either until the news that United and Orbitz sued the startup Skiplagged over taking advantage of this airfare hack blew up recently. The companies are asking for $75,000 in lost revenue.
"Hidden city" pricing is when you book a flight that has one stop or more before it reaches its final destination, but you get off of the plane at one of those stops. It's like if you booked a flight from New York to Los Angeles, which stopped over in Denver, but you just got off at Denver instead of continuing on to Los Angeles. This only works if you don't check baggage, obviously. Sometimes these kind of tickets can be cheaper than booking a flight to your intended destination alone.
"'Hidden City' ticketing is strictly prohibited by most commercial airlines because of logistical and public-safety concerns," according to the companies' complaint, as reported by Bloomberg in November.
United and Orbitz allege that Skiplagged's 22-year-old founder Aktarer Zaman "intentionally and maliciously" interfered with industry relations "by promoting prohibited forms of travel." As TechCrunch points out, United specifically prohibits customers from taking advantage of this "hidden city" trick. United's Contract of Carriage states:
"Fares apply for travel only between the points for which they are published. Tickets may not be purchased and used at fare(s) from an initial departure point on the Ticket which is before the Passenger's actual point of origin of travel, or to a more distant point(s) than the Passenger's actual destination being traveled even when the purchase and use of such Tickets would produce a lower fare. This practice is known as 'Hidden Cities Ticketing' or 'Point Beyond Ticketing' and is prohibited by UA."
United, along with most commercial airlines according to the complaint, prohibits "hidden cities ticketing" because of "logistical and public safety concerns." If you do get caught doing "hidden cities ticketing," potential consequences include getting charged regular-priced fare, losing miles from your frequent flier account, getting kicked out of the Elite flier program or even legal action, according to TechCrunch.
Zaman told CNNMoney that he knew the lawsuit was coming but that he hasn't made any profit off of his website and says there is nothing illegal about his venture. There's a link to donate to Skiplagged's legal fund on the website, which has already raised more than $30,000 as of this writing.
Of course, this lawsuit now has the unintended effect of bringing more attention to Skiplagged and the practice of "hidden city" fares than it probably would have gotten if United and Orbitz didn't sue Zaman. Oh, the irony.