22-Year-Old Finds Cheap Tickets Using Airline Routing Flaw

A young New York City computer whiz developed a website that helps people buy cheap airline tickets to the delight of Bruce Levenson. But United Airlines and Orbitz cry foul and plan to sue him. United and Orbitz filed a civil lawsuit last month against Aktarer Zaman, the founder of the website Skiplagged.com. Zaman’s website helps people find flights using a strategy called “hidden city” ticketing.

The idea only works if the traveler books a one-way ticket and has no bags to check. Here’s how it works: You buy a ticket that has a layover at your actual destination. Let’s say you want to fly from New York to San Francisco. But you book a flight from New York to Lake Tahoe with a stopover in SFO. You get off in San Francisco without taking the last leg of the trip. You save the cost of flying from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. 

Hidden city ticketing is not new. Savvy business travelers have used this strategy from time to time. But those layover trips are not always available. Zaman said he was expecting a legal battle, but believes he has done nothing wrong. The airlines have known for years that this trick to save money was a flaw in their system. At one time, American ticket agents were trained to help travelers find hidden city fares.