Airline Suing 22-Year-Old For Promoting ‘Stopover Trick’

31 Dec 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Airline Suing 22-Year-Old For Promoting ‘Stopover Trick’.

Here’s the lesson his users are taught: Instead of booking a direct flight, book a cheaper flight with a stopover in the destination you want and simply ignore the second leg of the flight to save a bundle. As a side project, 22-year-old computer whiz Aktarer Zaman built a website called Skiplagged, which searches out cheap airfares, particularly a type of cheap airfare called Hidden City that is frowned upon by the airlines.United Airlines and online travel Web site Orbitz have filed a lawsuit against a young computer programmer who used a clever trick to get discounted airfares.A federal lawsuit is bringing public attention to “hidden city” ticketing, the technique of buying an airline ticket between two cities with a connection but ditching the rest of the trip.United Airlines and booking company Orbitz are suing a young American entrepreneur for establishing a website that searches for cheap flight tickets by using a loophole known as “hidden city ticketing”.

The lawsuit filed last month in an Illinois federal court alleges that Aktarer Zaman, who operates the Web site, illegally promoted use of the technique to get discounts. Say, for example, you want to fly from Boston to San Francisco but notice that a ticket from Boston to Seattle—with a connection in San Francisco—is cheaper. In the lawsuit, United and Orbitz call Skiplagged “unfair competition” and say it promotes “strictly prohibited” travel, reports CNN Money’s Patrick Gillespie. Skiplagged, launched last year by the recent university graduate, enabled travelers to get a fare below the published rate by skipping the final leg of a flight.

While the method is not always the cheapest, it can often reduce the ticket price considerably; in a similar way to how split-booking train journeys can cut the fare cost. But instead of bowing, he’s fighting. “Everything Skiplagged has done and continues to do is legal, but the only way to effectively prove this is with lawyers,” he said in a blog post on GoFundMe, where he’s trying to crowdfund at least $20,000 to pay his legal bills. So far, he’s raised over $16,000, almost $33,000 with the total raising every minute, thanks to all the press attention this lawsuit has gotten. (In the time it took us to write the post, the total raised grew from $14,000 to $17,000.) “I really don’t know how much this lawsuit is going to ultimately cost, other than probably a lot,” he told donors on GoFundMe. “However, you have my word that how every cent is spent will be posted here.

Zaman, who according to media reports is 22, posted a notice on his Web site that the lawsuit could “force us to remove results only we find, getting in the way of saving you lots of money on airfare.” “I launched last year with the goal of helping consumers become savvy travelers,” he wrote on the online forum Reddit, adding that the method “has potential to easily save consumers up to 80 percent when compared with the cheapest on Kayak, for example. DiScala, a travel expert who blogs as Johnny Jet. “I think it’s smart for the consumer.” Jay Sorensen, a consultant and former executive with Midwest Airlines, argues that airlines also violate the terms of sale with their customers “and then rely on the customer to write a letter to complain to get that violation addressed.” (In a phone call Tuesday, Sorensen noted that his wife, who is also a former airline executive, vehemently disagreed.) “I think there are greater sins in life,” he says.

Finding these has always been difficult before Skiplagged because you’d have to guess the final destination when searching on any other site.” According to his LinkedIn page, Zaman graduated last year from Rensselaer Institute of Technology and has worked as a software engineer for Amazon and Cisco. I haven’t decided which yet, but if you have any suggestions, do send me a message.” Hidden City travel is when you book a longer flight that includes a layover to your real destination because it’s cheaper than flying direct.

Tickets may not be purchased and used at fare(s) from an initial departure point on the Ticket which is before the Passenger’s actual point of origin of travel, or to a more distant point(s) than the Passenger’s actual destination being traveled even when the purchase and use of such Tickets would produce a lower fare. Travelers feel that this is a perfectly fair, legit way to travel: They’ve paid for the flight—why does the airline care if they sit in the seat the whole time? The companies also want at least $75,000 in damages and attorney fees. “This practice violates our fare rules, and we are taking action to stop it to help protect the vast majority of customers who buy legitimate tickets,” United spokeswoman Christen David said Tuesday.

Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting firm in Colorado, told Fox News he doesn’t think what Zaman is doing is illegal. If you get caught using the stopover trick, airlines can ban you or remove your frequent flier miles, Pauline Frommer, of Frommer Guidebooks, told Pix11. They argue that booking a flight like this makes it difficult to track passengers and that it unfairly takes advantage of the hub-and-spoke nature of airfares, where airlines fly to hub cities and add connecting flights from there. If there are any remaining funds, those will be completely donated to charity.” Zaman did not reply Tuesday to an email sent via his personal web site.

These cheaper fares arise from the fact that nonstop flights typically command a premium, given that most people—especially business travelers—prefer to avoid connections when possible. Delta and United, meanwhile, have plenty of service on the same routes from DFW Airport, but they typically route passengers through one of their own hubs with a connecting flight. In some cases with repeat offenders, Harteveldt and Sorensen said, an airline may shut down the account or try to collect the fare difference on the flight a passenger actually used. 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,” a representative told us. “We asked Skiplagged to disengage that link but they originally declined.

American warns travel agents not to sell such tickets, likening the practice to “switching price tags to obtain a lower price on goods sold at department stores.” DiScala, who travels more than 150,000 miles per year and was spending the holidays with his wife in Hawaii, says hidden city tickets have been an occasional financial temptation–but one he’s avoided. “I didn’t want to lose my miles,” he says.

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