United Airlines threatens Skiplagged clients with Collections
Back in 2015, United Airlines decided to go to court. This court battle was a little bit different than most their court battles in that they were suing a 22 year old computer programer for allegedly trying to defraud the airline out of $75,000 in lost revenue.
United Airlines lost as the case was thrown out of court, and the 22 year old defendant, Aktarer Zaman, got to keep his website and continue to save fliers hundreds and thousands of dollars on their flights. The site, Skiplagged.com, takes advantage of a little known feature known as hidden city ticketing, allowing travelers to exploit a loophole to save money on their flights.
United may have lost that battle, but they have not lost the war. They’re taking to threatening individual travelers, some of them Gold, Platinum, and even 1k members, with collections and banishment from United, if they don’t pony up all the cash they believe they are owed.
What is Hidden City Ticketing?
Lets say that you want to fly to Seattle from Minneapolis. You can fly that route on either Alaska or Delta as they service it non stop. Because it is a non stop flight (and non stop is in demand) you’ll see, perhaps, a slightly higher price. Seattle to Dallas, on the other hand, is not serviced by Delta directly. It is, however, served by both Alaska and American, and in order for Delta to be competitive on that route, they’re going to have to route you probably through Minneapolis.
No one in their right mind would proactively fly to Minneapolis before heading to Texas, so they’re going to heavily discount that flight in order to garner your business.
Since you really only want to get to Minneapolis and not to Dallas, you just get off the plan in Minneapolis (since you’re connecting through) and you’re on your way.
This does provide its own unique set of challenges however, foremost among them is luggage. You can’t bring any luggage with you because your luggage will end up in Texas and you will be in … well … Minneapolis.
Airlines hate this. They hate it because you’re skirting the system in order to get cheap flights and screw with their byzantine and complicated pricing structure.
And while it’s not illegal (you’re not breaking a law) it does violate certain parts of the airline’s rules, or Contract of Carriage. For that reason alone I have never skip lagged nor do I intend to do so. I enjoy flying on the airlines thank you very much and don’t want any lifetime bans.
United Airlines Cracks Down
A good friend shared a letter that his husband received a couple of months ago. It’s pretty telling in what it says about the lengths that United Airlines will go to try and claim their money back from passengers who milk the system.
Mr. Skiplagged Customer
RE: Notice of Claim Pertaining to Point Beyond Ticketing and Demand for Reimbursement
Dear Mr. Customer,
It has come to United Airlines’ attention that on multiple occasions you have violated the “Prohibited Practices” outlined in Rule 6 of United’s Contract of Carriage.
United identified 38 instances since January of 2016 where you engaged in “Point Beyond Ticketing,” which is the unauthorized purchase of a ticket to a destination more distant than your actual destination. As shown below, the last segment of each ticket was not used. By including the additional segment, you were able to purchase your ticket at a lower fare. Please note that no irregular operations were involved in these itineraries to prevent you from making the connecting flight.
(editing my own… at this point the letter goes on to list every flight and every destination, it also goes on to list, in United’s opinion, the amount of money they’re out for each flight ranging from $11 to $460)
Such conduct constitutes fraud and a violation of Rule 6 of United’s Contract of Carriage. Accordingly, United demands that you cease and desist these unauthorized practices immediately and that you reimburse United in the amount of $3,236.76 which represents the difference between the cost of the tickets that you purchased and the cost of the travel taken, within 10 business day of receipt of this letter.
Please remit payment directly to me via credit card or a check made out to “United Airlines, Inc.” and send to:
United Airlines, Inc.
233 S. Wacker 28th floor
Chicago, IL 60606
If you do not make the requested payment, United Airlines reserves its right to take further action, including submitting United’s claim to an outside collection agency, terminating your MileagePlus membership and/or refusing to transport you on future flights in accordance with Rule 21 of the Contract of Carriage. If you have questions regarding this letter, feel free to contact me via MPCompliance@united.com
Wow. Well then. So United’s brought out the big dogs and all the leagalese to try and stop this.
My take from United’s point of view
United does have very clear rules in their contract of carriage that prohibit this, and they do have the right to deny boarding because of this breach of their contract. They have a published price from A-B and you’re circumventing that fare by going from A-B-C and not actually going to C.
You’re cheating, and you should be punished.
My take from the passenger’s point of view
It doesn’t make any sense for you to charge me $400 more to take the same flight just because you’re getting me to point C. It’s the same fuel, the same plane, and the same work to get me there. I’m simply finding a discount (much like using a discount code on a website or a promo code) and gaming the system. The court threw out your case, so you don’t have a legal leg to stand on. Go ahead and send me to collections. It won’t go anywhere.
You’re cheating, and you should be punished.
So, what happened?
My friend (obviously) decided not to pay. I mean, he didn’t want to pay before, so why would he pay now? It’s been 5 months and United hasn’t sent the dogs after him. Perhaps he’s in the clear? Only time will tell.
I do find it a very unique step for United Airlines to come in and offer him the chance to make it right. In my mind, what’s stopping United from accepting the almost $3,300 and then decided to not allow him to fly anyway? I suppose if they did, then that would leave them liable for damages, considering they seem to say “pay us and you’re good.”
Curious to know your opinion
What do you think about this whole scenario? Is United in the right by asking him to pay “or else?” Is he also right in saying that United has no leg to stand on to demand the past payment?
Have you used skip lagged, and what would you do if United came after you? Share in the comments thread below.