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Travelers can save money on flights by "skiplagging," but there are risks. Here's what to know.

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Seasoned travelers who know how to get the biggest bang for their air mileage sometimes use a hack known has "hidden city ticketing" to save money on airfare. Also called "skiplagging," the practice involves buying multi-stop airline tickets with layovers in a desired destination, then ditching the second flight. 

Savvy fliers look for these kinds of tickets because they're often cheaper than flying direct. It's effectively a way of skirting how tickets are typically priced, with carriers charging more for direct flights than trips with layovers.

"Airlines don't want to sell a $200 ticket to a passenger that would be willing to pay $2,000. They don't like 'skiplagging' because they feel it's a way for travelers to get around the rules and policies they put in place," Scott Keyes, founder of flight deals website Going, told CBS MoneyWatch.

Major airlines with operations across the U.S. rely on what's called a hub-and-spoke model to run efficiently. It can be more cost-effective for carriers to first fly passengers to an out of the way destination on less-trafficked routes like, for example, Orlando, Florida, to Richmond, Virginia. In this case, airlines would rather shuttle passengers from a few different locales, including Orlando, to New York City, and then send them all to Richmond on a full flight, as opposed to operating several half-empty planes, which would lose money.

A direct flight from Orlando to New York City costs roughly $121. But fly from Orlando to Richmond, with a connection in New York City, and you pay only $88. 

"The reason why you sometimes see those price differences is pretty simple," Keyes said. "People will pay more money for a nonstop flight. I'll certainly pay a premium if my flight is nonstop versus having a connection, so airlines want to take advantage of that. They charge more for travelers looking for that one-stop flight."

Is skiplagging legal? 

It is legal for consumers to book hidden city tickets and ditch the second half of the trip. But it violates most airlines' policies. 

For example, American Airlines explicitly prohibits passengers from purchasing tickets "without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares." And when passengers engage in prohibited booking practices, the airline reserves the right to cancel any unused part of the ticket. It can also charge passengers what a ticket would've cost if they hadn't violated the airline's policy, refuse to let the traveler fly and otherwise make your life miserable. 

American Airlines recently put that policy into practice when a teen accidentally revealed to airline agents that he was planning to skiplag, according to a report in Queen City News, a media outlet that covers the Carolinas. Logan Parsons' parents booked him a hidden city ticket using Skiplagged, a website that helps consumers search for these types of fares. 

An American Airlines spokesperson confirmed that Parsons was questioned about his travel arrangements while checking in for his flight. 

"The ticket was canceled after the customer acknowledged the violation of our conditions of carriage," the spokesperson said, adding that a customer relations agent has reached out to Parsons. 

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Parsons was forced to rebook his flight from Gainesville, Florida, to Charlotte, North Carolina. He had hoped to fly on a ticket from Florida to New York City, with a layover in Charlotte, according to Queen City News. 

Skiplagged did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

What to know 

While skiplagging can save travelers money, unless they're experienced — and bold — it may not be worth the trouble, according to Keyes. Downsides include: 

  • You can't check a bag
  • The airline can reroute your flight through a different city
  • Your ticket could be canceled
  • It only works on one-way flights

To be sure, it's hard for airlines to catch passengers who do this on occasion, but it can raise red flags if a person repeatedly engages in skiplagging.

"Airlines typically know if they're doing it regularly, eight, 10, 12 times a year. They can pull up a passenger's history and say, 'Oh well they keep missing a flight almost every time they fly with us,'" Keyes said. 

Keyes doesn't recommend it for inexperienced fliers. "It's more of an intermediate traveler type of thing to do sparingly if you feel comfortable."

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