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Back in December, United Airlines and Orbitz filed a lawsuit against a tech entrepreneur named Aktarer Zaman and his website, Skiplagged, that took advantage of airlines’ “hidden city ticketing” to help people save money on airfare.
A hidden city ticket is one where you book an itinerary with a connection and you take the first leg but skip the second one. Doing so can bring down airfares. For instance, while a non-stop ticket between two cities on a business-heavy route like New York-Atlanta might be expensive:
If you instead booked a ticket from New York to Orlando via Atlanta, it can bring down the ticket price…in this case by almost $100!
So you can see the advantage of investigating hidden city tickets if you don’t have to worry about checked bags and can simply skip the last leg of an itinerary.
Back to the lawsuit, though. Both companies claimed that Skiplagged was “unfair competition” and promoted travel that both companies strictly prohibited in their ticketing policies. They were suing for $75,000 in lost revenue. For his part, Zaman claimed there was nothing illegal about booking these kinds of tickets.
While Zaman settled with Orbitz back in February, United said it would not back down. Today, however, Judge John Robert Blakely of the Northern District Court of Illinois in Chicago threw out the lawsuit on the technicality that his court does not have jurisdiction over the case since Zaman does not live or do business in Chicago.
Though a win for Zaman, the ruling does not preclude United from filing a lawsuit elsewhere. As United pointed out in a statement released to Tnooz, “The decision was a ruling on procedural grounds and not on the merits of the case. We remain troubled that Mr. Zaman continues to openly encourage customers to violate our contract of carriage by purchasing hidden-city tickets, putting the validity of their tickets and MileagePlus status at risk.”
So it sounds like United is plotting its next move and potentially a new case against Skiplagged…and throwing in a threat to its own flyers at the same time. In other words, “If you use Skiplagged to try to game our fares, we’re going to find out and close your MileagePlus accounts.”
Nice, United, really nice. It is as though the airline is trying to go out of its way to appear even more customer-unfriendly than it already does. As for Skiplagged, Zaman had to crowdsource nearly $80,000 in funding just to fight the lawsuit so far, without which the site probably would have closed by now. So there’s not telling whether he can survive another round of litigation.
At least for the moment, though, the little guy has scored a temporary victory and proven that corporate bullying doesn’t always prevail. The case is also a clear call for more transparency in airfare pricing and structures and one that should alert consumers to use all the tools at their disposal to find the best airfares. That said, flyers do so at their own risk as airlines are becoming savvier at policing behavior they view as threatening their bottom line.
For now, I would suggest educating yourself on how to search for the best flights using Google Flights or the ITA Matrix, and then maximizing how you purchase flights and accrue as many miles as possible through the best credit cards and frequent flyer programs.
What are your thoughts on the lawsuit and its merits?
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