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IT’S THE time of the year when every morning comes with a rude awakening. While shivering through what feels like Australia’s chilliest winter in years, you’ve likely awoken to endure endless Instagram stories and holiday highlights from friends enjoying greener, and warmer, pastures in Europe — all while regretting your decision to forgo an extra blanket the night before. 

Yes, it’s enough to sap the energy out of even the most ardent of cold weather enjoyers. And while it seems like everyone has made the voyage to warmer climes, at a time when flight prices are higher than ever, planning your own getaway is often nothing but a pipedream. But a new travel hack known as ‘skiplagging’ is currently all the rage and stands to save traveller’s a few bucks.

What is skiplagging? 

Skiplagging, also known as ‘hidden city ticketing’ or ‘point beyond ticketing’, involves travellers deliberately booking a flight with layovers, and purposefully disembarking at a layover, before the flight’s final destination. For example, say you get on a flight from Sydney to London, with a layover in Paris, and simply leave the airport once you’re in Paris — that’s skiplagging. It might sound sketchy, but money is a finite resource after all and travel is never cheap. 

This daring process can be considerably cheaper than paying for direct flights to a desired location and has been booming in popularity. There are even websites and apps that can help you spot bargain flights and discounted fares by taking advantage of layovers. Websites like Skiplagged are specifically designed to facilitate skiplagging and exist to expose loopholes in the travelling system. 

Cheaper flights without much fuss? What’s the catch? Well, there are a few fairly large drawbacks to skiplagging. For one, you can’t bring any checked baggage, because if you depart during a layover, your bags will continue without you to the final destination, meaning strictly carry-on is the way to go. There’s also the small caveat that airlines don’t tend to appreciate it when you violate their terms and conditions, so the possibility of bans and fines are something you’ll need to be comfortable with if you are to become a skiplagger. 

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How much can you save from skiplagging? 

Skiplaggers are claiming they’ve saved hundred of dollars by using the loophole. But to put it to the test, we looked for flights from Sydney to San Francisco later this month. We found that a direct flight will set you back a hefty $1,590. While a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, with layovers in Honolulu and San Francisco, costs a more wallet-friendly $1,122.

Above all, skiplagging showcases the absurdity of how flights are priced. The cost of a plane ticket is usually calculated based on destination popularity rather than distance, which is why it can be cheaper to hop off at a necessary layover than a final destination.  

What do airlines think of skiplagging? 

If there’s one stakeholder that’s not a fan of skiplagging, its airlines. Primarily because if a passenger departs at a layover, there’s going to be an empty seat for the rest of that flight — and that’s potentially lost revenue.  

Back in 2014, United Airlines tried to sue Skiplagged, arguing that the website had cost the airline $75,000 in lost revenue. Evidently unbothered by the lawsuit and unfazed by the threat of similar future cases, the Skiplagged website proudly proclaims, “Our flights are so cheap, United sued us… but we won.” It’s just like any business guru would tell you, to be successful, you must be confident in your brand, and the people at Skiplagged certainly are. 

Can skiplagging get you in trouble? 

Skiplagging is perfectly legal and poses absolutely no security risk, but it is a violation of the terms and conditions most airlines make you agree to before purchasing a ticket. Airlines are trying to crack down on the practice, threatening its partakers with lifetime bans, loss of frequent flier miles and even the cancellation of return flights. Even the Skiplagged website warns that there are serious potential consequences to the travel hack.   

When it comes to skiplagging, the policy is very much that of ‘caveat emptor’ or buyer beware. Travel hackers must know the risk they are taking, like the possibility that your flight gets shuffled at the last minute, changing the layover, and throwing your entire trip into jeopardy. But since skiplagging is showing no sign if slowing down, we’ll likely continue to hear plenty of success stories – and dramatic failures.