Orbitz, United Airlines Sue 22-Year Old Over Ticketing Loophole

31 Dec 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Daily Talker: Unfair Airfare?.

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. The lawsuit filed last month in an Illinois federal court alleges that Aktarer Zaman, who operates the Web site Skiplagged.com, 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.

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. 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 Skiplagged.com 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.

United said in a statement, “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.” Orbitz says it is obligated to uphold airline fare rules. Michael Boyd, president of the aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International, agreed, saying he was trained 30 years ago by American Airlines to actually help customers find hidden city fares. On Tuesday he boosted his target to $25,000 after quickly passing the prior $20,000 target given media attention of the lawsuit. “That’s because I really don’t know how much this lawsuit is going to ultimately cost, other than probably a lot,” Zaman wrote in a note thanking donors. “However, you have my word that how every cent is spent will be posted here. 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.

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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