Savvy travellers are busy researching an emerging money-saving airfare trick – which airlines are fuming over – but experts warn there is plenty to consider before hitting the ‘booking’ button.
The concept of skiplagging involves working airlines’ stop-over routes so that travellers can reach their desired destination for a cheaper price.
The intricacies of airline loading and revenue modelling mean that on some routes customers find booking a flight from A to C via B and getting off the flight at airport B is cheaper than booking a direct fare from A to B.
“The idea of skiplagging is to drop that last leg,” explained Steve Hui, founder and CEO of iFLYFlat.com.au, which focuses on using frequent flyer points to travel business class.
“It only works between certain destinations, typically from a low-cost or unpopular destination to a high-cost or popular destination.”
Lufthansa recently sued a customer for intentionally missing the final leg of his flight in Europe, and in 2015 United Airlines sued the computer-whiz founder of Skiplagged.com, a website exposing airfare loopholes to save flyers money.
Lufthansa lost and is appealing against the decision, and a judge threw the United case out of court, but airlines continue to point to the rules people are violating when they skiplag.
We’ve got Skippy, but can we skiplag?
For those trying to work out if there’s a play here for them, the news for Australian flyers is that the skiplagging skies don’t extend to the Antipodes.
“In Australia, direct routes between capital cities are always going to be cheaper than connecting through a smaller city,” Daniel Sciberras said, managing editor of local frequent-flyer tips site Point Hacks.
“Our big cities are spaced out, so pricing in Australia is based on distance, whereas in Europe and the United States you have a lot of big cities near each other, and airlines will sometimes discount the fare on the first leg to fill the plane, and the cities involved are big enough for them to do that.”
Mr Sciberras and Mr Hui pointed out the same situation applies when flying internationally from Australia.
“If you’re going to Phuket, it’s not going to be cheaper to get to Singapore by booking and saying you’re going to Phuket but then getting off in Singapore,” Mr Hui said.
Neither expert think it’s worth the risk, even if skiplagging scenarios should turn up Down Under.
If you are considering it
For those who like to live on the wild side, here are some things to remember:
1. You can never check in luggage (if you do and skip the last leg, your luggage will fly on without you).
2. Your skiplagging may harm others. Mr Hui said: “You could hold up the flight because you’ve left the airport and they’re calling you. That impacts on everyone else, so that’s unfair.”
3. The airline could come after you because you’ve broken the contract of carriage.
4. You might lose your points. “You will be flagged if you constantly do this,” Mr Sciberras said. “They might close your frequent flyer account, or ban you from travelling on their airline. You may gain a little, but you could lose so much more. It’s too risky.”
5. If after all of that, you’re still considering skiplagging, never tell anyone you’re going to do it, before or after you skip that last leg (see above). “You are within your rights to leave an airport,” Mr Hui said. “There are many reasons you may abandon a trip.”
“There are plenty of other ways to get great value from ‘hacking’ the points system in a way that abides by all the rules,” Mr Sciberras said.
“I would never do it and at Point Hacks we’d certainly never encourage it.”
Points whisperer Mr Hui also turned the conversation back to points.
“If you know what you’re doing with your points, you’ll be able to fly way cheaper and you don’t have to muck around with skiplagging. There’s no need to drop the last leg,” he said.