United Airlines sues 22-year-old who found method for buying cheaper plane tickets

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.
[FILE] United Airlines jets are parked at the terminal at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 25, 2013. Credit: Ricky Shine/CNN

[FILE] United Airlines jets are parked at the terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 25, 2013. Credit: Ricky Shine/CNN

By Patrick Gillespie for CNN

NEW YORK – A young computer whiz from New York City has launched a site to help people buy cheap plane tickets. But an airline company and its travel partner want to shut him down.

United Airlines and Orbitz filed a civil lawsuit last month against 22-year-old Aktarer Zaman, who founded the website Skiplagged.com last year.

The site helps travelers find cheap flights by using a strategy called “hidden city” ticketing.

The idea is that you buy an airline ticket that has a layover at your actual destination. Say you want to fly from New York to San Francisco — you actually book a flight from New York to Lake Tahoe with a layover in San Francisco and get off there, without bothering to take the last leg of the flight.

This travel strategy only works if you book a one-way flight with no checked bags (they would have landed in Lake Tahoe).

It’s not like these tickets are the cheapest all the time, but they often are.

In the lawsuit, United and Orbitz call Skiplagged “unfair competition” and allege that it is promoting “strictly prohibited” travel. They want to recoup $75,000 in lost revenue from Zaman.

Zaman said he knew a lawsuit was inevitable but he points out that there’s nothing illegal about his web site.

He also said he has made no profit via the website and that all he’s done is help travelers get the best prices by exposing an “inefficiency,” in airline prices that insiders have known about for decades.

“[Hidden city ticketing] have been around for a while, it just hasn’t been very accessible to consumers,” Zaman told CNNMoney.

Indeed, “hidden city,” ticketing is no secret among frequent fliers, said Michael Boyd, President of Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting firm in Evergreen, Co. Boyd worked as an American Airline ticket agent 30 years ago, and says he was trained at the airline to help customers find “hidden city” fares.

“I don’t think it’s illegal what he’s doing,” Boyd said. But lawsuits are expensive and it could end up costing the young entrepreneur who has irked the two billion dollar corporations.

Airlines usually offer cheaper fares for some destinations that are not regional hubs, Boyd said. Many of these flights are routed through more popular destinations. But if a lot of people take advantage of that discrepancy it could hurt the airlines, which is why they want to shut him down.

Born in Bangladesh, Zaman grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science at age 20 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He lives in Manhattan and works at a technology start-up that he declined to name.

Zaman said Skiplagged is just a “side project.”

Zaman and United declined to discuss the lawsuit. Orbitz said in a statement that it is obligated to uphold airline fare rules.

Other travel experts say that the airlines may not achieve much if Zaman’s site is shut down, especially in a world where information is becoming more readily available.

“If [Skiplagged is] shut down, undoubtedly there will be other people to come along to scrape fares and make them available,” Robert Mann said, president of R.W. Mann & Company, an airline consulting firm in Port Washington, New York.

138 comments

  • Chris

    The complaint of lost revenue is a farce. you are still paying airfare from you starting airport to the final destination but are choosing to get off early. you aren’t getting discounted for the remainder of the flight, and in fact you could argue that you are saving the airline money as the plane is now lighter with more fuel left over when it arrives at its final stop due to the reduction in overall weight of the passenger and their carry on. All this is, is an airline being butt hurt because they can’t route their aircraft effectively and a competitor mad that they didn’t think of it first.

    • Patrick Meaney (@Patrick_Meaney)

      An astute observation, thanks dude! It makes so much sense, yet some of us don’t make the tiny effort to actually think through the true ramifications and whether or not the company is lying.

      Glad you clarified the corporate lies.. it’s amazing how they boldface lie to the public like that.

    • cxjohnson

      I suspect the real reason United doesn’t like this (despite it actually saving them money on a per flight basis) is that it exposes just how much they gouge and cheat the average customer on other flights (e.g. from NYC to SF, rather than Lake Tahoe). If the general public had web sites like this to help them get good fares, why, the entire airline industry might be forced to actually provide reasonable services at understandable and fair prices. We can’t have that!

  • hotsaucepancakes

    Start a funding campaign, I would donate to him.

    Also this Airline is beyond stupid, his site just hit the front page of Reddit.

    FAIL UNITED, FAIL.

  • Helen

    I have been using this method since the 70’s…….To bad to sad for all the airlines. Make the the prices fair. Seriously, $800 to fly Raleigh to West Palm during Christmas week but only $200 normal Times……ThaT is PRICE GOUGING…..FU Corporate America.

  • Lynn M. Lowe

    This young man only made VERY public information that was already public knowledge….Just another fine example of Greedy Corporations!

  • bob

    If I’m in the jury he has nothing to worry about. He’s doing nothing wrong. If the airlines don’t like it then they can change their price structure.

    “Strictly prohibited” my white a s s. You’re not REQUIRED to fly the last leg. It’s not like somebody is going to find you and force you on the plane at gunpoint.

  • Jamest 1

    I’ve done this once before about a decade ago to a family reunion. A flight from DCA to MSP was $600 something direct, but a flight to MSP that then connected to somewhere else (maybe it was Green Bay, but some random area) was $440. I knew I could send some luggage with other family so I said screw it and just walked off the plane. I always wondered if I was being paged after leaving the plane, but didn’t really care.

    • NT

      Airlines typically purchase fuel at contracted rates for a period of time. So if they lock in a certain price for 3 years, they’ll pay that price regardless of the current price. It’s a gamble for them. If the price of oil goes up in those 3 years they win. If the price of oil goes down, they lose.

  • MikeIt

    “But lawsuits are expensive and it could end up costing the young entrepreneur who has irked the two billion dollar corporations.”

    In other words, the airlines and orbitz have no case but they will abuse the legal system by imposing costs on defendant until he caves. What should happen but never does is that plaintiffs should be sanctioned.

  • Bonnie M.

    The fact they are only suing for $75,000 shows they are just trying to force him out of business. The website is probably saving consumers more than that, so if they were actually trying to recoup losses, they would be going for more. They just know that the legal fees could sink him.

  • Tavaris Jones

    they should thank him, because he’s actually saving them money because when customers depart early that mean lighter weight which equals to gas savings.

  • Patrick

    Wouldn’t this be better for the airline??? Less people on the 2nd flight leads to less weight and better fuel economy. This kid could potentially SAVING them money. This lawsuit is ridiculous and further proof of the INEFFICIENCY of our judicial system that this kid might have to pay money to defend himself. What does he get when he is found to be doing no wrong??? NOTHING! It’s not right

  • Paul

    I will never fly united. Sure, put him into a jail for finding a flaws in your idiotic ticketing, fare calculation system. Stupid communists.

  • Chuck Tator

    This is nothing new. I have been doing this for 20 years. Anyone flying in and out of Cincinnati Ohio from 1998-2008 has rented a car drove to Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, flew back through Cincy and then on they way home left on the layover leg in Cincinnati. I also have done back-to-backs and holdovers for unused portions of refundable tickets. Airlines screw business travelers hard.

  • Chris C

    “They want to recoup $75,000 in lost revenue from Zaman.” Seriously, these huge billion dollar companies are suing for what is tantamount to pocket change in the grand scheme of things. Why is it even worth their time?

  • Doc

    Been doing this for years for both plane and train. Sorry the airport thought its travelers were dumb and blind. Make flights more affordable and not as ridiculous like flying from DC to Chicago to get to Atlanta!

  • Ed BonGiovanni

    I’m retired from the travel business after a 32+year career. We did that LONG, LONG ago for our clients until the airlines cracked down on it. I have several-never-flown-to’ legs coupons that I’ve kept as souvenirs somewhere in the house.

Comments are closed.