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Skiplagging explained: Can I use trick to score cheaper flights and what are the risks?

Extreme caution is advised before deliberately booking a skiplagging ticket.

If you hang around in travel forums looking for tips on scoring cheap airline fares, you'll soon run into the concept of ‘skiplagging’. So, what is it, and can it really save you money when you fly?

Skiplagging is where you book a flight that includes a stopover, but then get out at the stopover point rather than continuing on to your booked final destination. For example, you book a flight from Sydney to Cairns via Brisbane but only fly the Sydney–Brisbane leg and then just leave the airport.

Why would you do that? There's only one logical reason: if the Sydney–Brisbane–Cairns ticket was cheaper than a standard Sydney–Brisbane service.

Virgin Australia, Qantas and Singapore Airlines planes on the tarmac to represent skiplagging.
Skiplagging is not very common among Australia's main airlines. (Source: Getty) (James D. Morgan via Getty Images)

It might sound unlikely, but it does happen. Airlines sometimes want to compete on a route they don't fly to directly, so they lower their price to match another airline that does offer direct seats.

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So skiplagging New York–Vegas–Los Angeles might be cheaper than a direct New York–Las Vegas service. The practice is also sometimes referred to as "hidden city ticketing".

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Is skiplagging used in Australia?

First thing to note: This phenomenon really doesn't exist for domestic flights in Australia.

In my decades of flying, I've found booking a flight from Sydney to Brisbane will always be cheaper than booking one from Sydney to Cairns via Brisbane. Same for any other city pair.

Those multi-city tickets exist in Australia, but they're never cheaper than the direct flight. People mostly take them if the direct route is sold out and they need to get somewhere urgently.

In the US, though, skiplagging remains a very real phenomenon. My colleague Michelle Hutchison experienced it a few years ago travelling from New York to San Francisco, with a travel agent issuing her a ticket that actually finished in another city.

"The agent said they often booked trips that way to save money and not to just ignore the final leg," she said.

Risks of skiplagging

Skiplagging might save you some cash but there are risks and hassles involved. You can't check luggage, since that will end up at your final destination even if you don't.

If the airline changes flights on the day, you could have real issues. You might find yourself flying straight to the final city and missing your destination entirely.

Also, the airline very likely won't award you any frequent flyer points for your flight if it isn't completed. That might not matter for a one-off flight, but if you're trying to accumulate points, you don't want black marks against your account.

Some airlines actually charge a fee if they detect skiplagging. Air France, for instance, charges at least 125 euros (around $200) if it catches you leaving a flight early, according to its terms and conditions. For international sectors, the fee starts at an even more painful 500 euros (around $850) and business passengers are hit up for 1,500 euros ($2,500 or so).

In 2014, United Airlines and Orbitz sued Skiplagged, a website dedicated to finding cheap skiplagging tickets. The case didn't succeed, but it highlighted how much airlines didn't like the practice.

Skiplagging also isn't an option with low-cost carriers such as Jetstar or Ryanair, since they typically only offer point-to-point bookings rather than connected flights.

Those airlines are increasingly popular, with 35 per cent of Australians flying with them in the past year, according to Finder research.

Ultimately, I'd advise extreme caution before deliberately booking a skiplagging ticket. If you must do it, don't put your frequent flyer number on the booking.

I'd stick to other more reliable techniques for scoring cheap flights.

How can I get cheaper flights?

  • Try to book travel on Tuesdays to Thursdays, when tickets are generally cheaper than around the weekend

  • Use points to book flights. Reward flights booked with points can save you hundreds of dollars. You don't have to fly regularly to earn them – bonus sign-up offers for frequent flyer credit cards can easily earn you 60,000 points or more

  • Watch out for hidden extras. Don't pay for checked baggage if you don't need it and make sure you understand any additional booking fees.

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