American Airlines Tells Customer to Pay Up for 52 Cases of Hidden City Ticketing
American Airlines made big news earlier this year for shutting down accounts for people that earned multiple bonuses from credit cards. But not all infractions are treated the same apparently. Hidden city ticketing, or skiplagging, is also prohibited in the terms. But one customer who engaged in the practice a total of 52 times, was not banned. Instead he was asked to just pay $2,500.
Hidden City Ticketing
Hidden City Ticketing or skiplagging is the practice of booking an itinerary where the stopover is the actual intended destination of the passenger. This trick often lets you travel for less, even though you are paying for a longer flight.
Let’s say that a flight from A to B costs $300. So the passenger would book a ticket that takes them from point A to point C, with a stopover at point B for cheaper. The passenger’s actual destination is B, so he/she leaves the airport at this layover. They just skip the second leg of the purchased ticket from B to C.
This doesn’t work when you check baggage, since it could end up going to airport C while you get off at airport B. It also works on one-way travel only as the rest of you itinerary could be canceled after you don’t show up for a segment.
Airlines Don’t Allow Hidden City Ticketing
Since you are able to pay less to get to the destination, it’s no surprise that airlines don’t like this practice. Contracts of carriage often forbid the practice of skiplagging or hidden city ticketing.
American Airlines for example says “reservations made to exploit or circumvent fare and ticket rules are prohibited. Examples include (but are not limited to): Purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares (hidden city ticketing).”
However, two lawsuits in recent years have ended up with Lufthansa and United losing in court against skiplaggers.
American Airlines Asks Skiplagger for $2,500
Now let’s get back to the person who engaged in the practice of hidden city ticketing a total of 52 times. He posted the interaction with American Airlines on FlyerTalk.
As an analyst with American Airlines, one of my responsibilities is investigating violations of the General AAdvantage® Program Conditions. An audit of your AAdvantage account, determined that you have engaged in the practice known as ‘Hidden City ticketing’; the purchase of a fare to a point beyond your actual destination. Hidden city ticketing is explicitly defined in AA’s Conditions of Carriage as a violation of ticket validity. The Terms and Conditions of the AAdvantage program further state that compliance with the Conditions of Carriage is compulsory for participation in the AAdvantage program. As such, AAdvantage account XXXXXX is restricted, pending the outcome of our investigation. You may review the terms and conditions of the AAdvantage ® program (several parts of the terms and conditions are noted below) by clicking the link below or by copying and pasting it into your browser.
The audit of your account XXXXXwas completed on August xx, 2020. The following reservations were not issued in compliance with the AAdvantage Terms & Conditions, Conditions of Carriage or AA.com Site Usage policy:
52 HIDDEN CITY TICKETS (Included each one of the flights they believe is a hidden city ticket)
Not unlike other commodities, airline seats are market priced. A seat on a non-stop flight is a premium product and commands a higher price. Seats in connecting markets must be priced competitively and hence can be substantially cheaper. The ill-effects of point beyond ticketing are two-fold; the customer receives the flight for a price for which they aren’t entitled and a seat is spoiled on the separate connecting flight. An airline ticket constitutes a contract and the terms of that contract are stated explicitly in the Conditions of Carriage. Please see excerpts below.
But instead of banning the customer and shutting down his account, American Airlines gave him a way out.
However, we are willing to provide you with an opportunity to restore an equitable relationship through restitution for the loss on your identified travel.
You may respond to this message by 3pm,CST, Friday, August 31, 2020 stating you would like to bring your account back to good standing. At that time, the segments will be re-priced based on your intended travel and we will send you the information so that you may make the appropriate reimbursement for the travel provided. Failure to return the account to good standing or to reply, will result in the termination of your AAdvantage® membership and all its benefits, including all remaining AAdvantage® miles in your account and any award tickets issued from it.
So to bring the account to good standing, American Airlines asked for a payment of $2,500. He says “I have been Chairman (US) and EXP (AA) for about 10 years. Million Miller and Business Extra Member.” He also has about 600K miles in his account and still (pre-COVID) flies about 100-120 segments a year. So it seems like a very reasonable price, and probably way less than what the person saved with his 52 cases of hidden city ticketing. If he had saved $48 or more each time, he would come out ahead.
It’s interesting to see what American Airlines does when they come across someone who has engaged in hidden city ticketing this many times. It’s not clear if this is part of a larger pattern. It could just be an isolated case that has only surfaced because the customer has been continuously breaking the rules.
I would think that doing this a couple of times wouldn’t put you in the airline’s radar. But I guess it’s good to know that American Airlines at least will not ban you right away for it. Still, if you have a large balance of miles with a certain airline you should be careful. Jeopardizing your account this way seems like a bad idea.
It’s also strange to see two different approaches to this and the credit card bonuses from earlier in the year. Could be that American Airlines is just targeting elites who also have large balances. They are more likely to pay, especially if the miles in the account are more valuable than the fine.
Let us know what you think!