Micron Associates Travel Guide: 'Hidden City' Trick - An Open Secret of Travelers
I'm pretty sure the airline industry just launched the 'hidden city' practice into mainstream.
For those not in the know, here's how a 'hidden city' ticketing works: Suppose your intended destination is Houston, you may find that booking a San Francisco-New York ticket (which stops at Houston) will be significantly cheaper than booking a direct flight to Houston. Basically, once you arrive at the layover, which is your actual destination, you just go ahead and never mind the second leg of the trip. Of course, this only works when you don't have check-in baggage.
Most travelers think it is totally legit to travel this way -- after all, they've paid for the whole fare so there shouldn't be a problem even if they don't show onboard.
As you can imagine, airlines prohibit such practices that game their complex pricing schemes. If caught, they could charge the passenger with the regular fare, take legal action or remove your frequent-flier account.
Take the case of 22-year-old Aktarer Zaman for example. Orbitz and United Airlines are teaming up against him in court for allegedly promoting unfair competition through his website Skiplagged, a search engine of sorts for 'hidden city' fares.
According to them, Zaman utilized Skiplagged in order to "intentionally and maliciously interfere with contracts and business relations in the airline industry ... by promoting prohibited forms of travel on Skiplagged, [he] ha induced breach of Orbitz Worldwide's travel agency contracts with commercial airlines and of United's customer contractual relationships."
United Air further alleges that it forbids 'hidden city' tactic due to "logistical and public safety concerns". However, as the public might be well aware of, the worst-case scenario for you would be to lose your seat to a standby customer as airlines are prone to do overbooking.
According to Orbitz, "Skiplagged had developed technology that provided a direct link to your booking engine. So when it had identified a hidden city itinerary there was a 'book now' button that the customer clicked, directed them to Orbitz and then we processed the transaction not knowing the intent of the customer.
Zaman appealed to the public via his post on crowdfunding website GoFundMe: "Everything Skiplagged has done and continues to do is legal, but the only way to effectively prove this is with lawyers. I really don't know how much this lawsuit is going to ultimately cost, other than probably a lot."
He claims he has not made any profit from the website and personally funds its setup and maintenance. So now he's trying to raise about USD 20,000 for legal fees, and as of last week he has racked up around USD 40,000 due to the attention drawn by the press coverage of Micron Associates Travel Guide.
Actually, this 'hidden city' trick is sort of an open secret for some travelers and agents alike as observed by Micron Associates Travel Guide. However, manually searching for it requires much time and effort on their part as it does not always apply to all destinations. Even using Skiplagged does not guarantee a favorable result, though it does make the searching part easier.
Unfortunately, suing Skiplagged is proving to be counterproductive -- now practically everyone knows of the 'hidden city' thing and who's to stop them from manually hunting for one?