A small victory for bargain hunters: Lufthansa drops lawsuit against 'skiplagging' passenger
Lufthansa has withdrawn its lawsuit against a traveler who engaged in "skiplagging," also known as "hidden-city ticketing," or the practice of paying for a round-trip flight but skipping the final leg of travel in order to pay a cheaper airfare.
In 2018, Germany's largest airline filed suit against a passenger who paid for a round-trip flight in business class from Oslo to Seattle via Frankfurt. The airline alleges that the passenger went to Seattle but then intentionally missed their return flight and instead booked another flight, with the final destination in Berlin. Lufthansa claimed the passenger intentionally engaged in the practice known as hidden-city ticketing to save money on airfare.
Hidden-city ticketing basically means booking a multi-city ticket without then flying on the last leg of the itinerary. That's because in some cases, the most direct itinerary or a one-way ticket cost more than an itinerary that terminates in a different city, or round-trip ticket.
So for example you might want to fly from A to B, but discover that there is a cheaper ticket continuing to C. So you book that cheaper trip from A via B to C, but get off at your real intended destination B and never take — hence, skiplagging — the last leg to C. Obviously, this only works when you have no checked luggage, which would go to C without you. And it's also a practice that we at TPG do not condone.
In the Lufthansa case, sent the man a revised invoice for his ticketed itinerary, requesting additional payment of more than $2,300 for the going rate of what effectively became a multi-city flight instead of a round-trip ticket.
The lawsuit was thrown out of a low-level court in December 2018, but Lufthansa appealed the decision in the Berlin district court in early 2019. But this past week on Oct. 2, the airline unexpectedly withdrew the appeal without explanation, according to German newspaper Bild.
While the failed lawsuit represents a small victory for commercial travelers looking to save a few bucks, the practice is frowned upon in general by the commercial aviation industry at large. Airlines lose revenue when seats go empty which otherwise could have been sold to other customers.
In the US, skiplagging is against the airlines' contracts of carriage:
- American Airlines Contract of Carriage
- Delta Air Lines Contract of Carriage
- United Airlines Contract of Carriage
But how strictly is this enforced, and what does that mean for U.S. customers in practice?
The answer is "it varies." As a general rule, it's difficult for airlines to prove that passengers purchased flights deliberately intending to skip one or more legs of the trip. However, you'll most likely find that the rest of your itinerary will be swiftly canceled, which is why "skiplaggers" usually only ditch the very last leg of travel.
Instead, you're far more likely to find yourself threatened with the loss of airline privileges such as mileage credit toward elite status, or potentially even termination of your entire frequent flyer account and setting your mileage balance to zero, as American Airlines threatened to do to one TPG reader.
This story has been edited to specify that skiplagging is against airlines' contracts of carriage, but not illegal.