There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what happens when you skip a segment on a flight itinerary. There are a variety of reasons people may do this, so in this post I wanted to look at that from a few perspectives:
- Why people intentionally skip segments on an itinerary
- What happens to your ticket if you skip a flight on an itinerary
- How to minimize the risk of skipping a flight on an itinerary
- The potential consequences of skipping a flight on an itinerary
Note that this is not an endorsement of this practice, but rather is intended to answer questions that people may have.
Why people intentionally skip segments on an itinerary
There are a variety of reasons people may want to skip segments on a flight itinerary, (probably) the most common of which is known as throwaway ticketing.
As we all know, airline pricing can appear to be irrational, and this is largely because of the pricing power that airlines have in various markets.
Airlines know that they can charge more if they operate a flight nonstop than with a connection (since people value a nonstop), they know that certain cities can sustain higher prices than others (for example, there’s more finance money in New York than Colombo, and airfare reflects that).
So how does this play out? Take for example this Seattle to Miami to San Juan itinerary on American, which costs ~$473 one-way in business class.
Meanwhile if you booked just that same Seattle to Miami flight, you’d pay ~$370 more.
So the idea is that you book the itinerary to San Juan, but then get off the plane in Miami. Let me emphasize that this violates American’s contract of carriage.
What happens to your ticket if you skip a flight on an itinerary
As soon as you skip a segment on a flight itinerary, the remainder of your ticket will be invalid. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work across the board.
If your entire itinerary is on one airline then that’s almost certainly how it’s going to play out.
However, I’ve heard of instances where people have had a ticket on interline partners where a segment was skipped and they could still board a flight down the line. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, and it doesn’t happen consistently, but I have heard of some instances of it happening, and I imagine that comes down to some airline systems just not communicating well.
But assume that if you skip a segment, your entire itinerary will be canceled. This isn’t an issue if you’re booking a one-way and skip the last segment. However, you couldn’t book a roundtrip, skip the last segment of the outbound, and still expect to take the return portion of the trip.
How to minimize the risk of skipping a flight on an itinerary
If you know you’re planning on skipping a segment on an itinerary, make sure you don’t check bags, or at least make sure you are able to check your bags through to the destination you intend to fly to.
Most airlines have a policy against short checking bags, meaning if you were flying from Seattle to Miami to San Juan, you’re typically not allowed to pick up your bags in Miami. The exception is if you have a long layover, in which case you may be able to do so.
Also make sure you don’t have to gate check your bag, because it would be rough to discover that bag will be sent to your final destination if you have no intention of actually flying there.
Furthermore, keep in mind that you’ll still need to meet all the travel requirements for the destination you’re ticketed to travel to, even if you don’t intend to fly there.
Lastly, if you’re going to do this, make sure you don’t end up making duplicate bookings on one airline that are scheduled to depart around the same time. In other words, if you book a Seattle to Miami to San Juan itinerary and plan on skipping that last segment, don’t book another segment on American from Miami to somewhere else around the same time.
My one other tip involves using your frequent flyer number for your itinerary, so stay tuned for that.
The potential consequences of skipping a flight on an itinerary
Let me start by saying that I’m not a lawyer, so I’m only sharing my take as someone who (usually) has some common sense and is pretty familiar with airline rules. Also keep in mind that different countries have different laws.
With that out of the way, what are the potential consequences of skipping a segment on an itinerary?
It’s not illegal
Skipping a segment on an itinerary isn’t illegal in any country that I know of. I think this is worth clarifying because in the airline industry the term “illegal” is often used in a way that has nothing to do with laws.
For example, an “illegal connection” is one where there isn’t enough time to connect, per the airline rules. If you find yourself having an illegal connection, you don’t need to expect the police to meet the flight. 😉
Using any throwaway ticketing techniques would at most be a contract dispute, so there’s nothing inherently illegal here one way or another, as far as I know. As I’ll explain below, in some countries it’s actually completely legal and supported by court cases.
It (typically) violates the airline contract of carriage
While not illegal, intentionally skipping segments on an itinerary does almost always violates airlines’ contracts of carriage.
For example, American’s contract of carriage says this:
Reservations made to exploit or circumvent fare and ticket rules are prohibited. Examples include purchasing a ticket without intending to fly all flights to gain lower fares (hidden city ticketing).
How an airline could try to punish you
So if you do decide to skip a segment, how could an airline punish you?
- They could punish you in regards to your frequent flyer account, since that’s something that’s 100% within their control, as they own the program and the miles
- Airlines threaten that they’ll charge you the fare difference between what you booked and what you flew, but we only very rarely seem them try to pursue that
- An airline could try to sue you, but the effort required would be extreme, and it’s questionable if they’d win; this all depends on the country as well, because in Spain a court actually ruled that airlines couldn’t punish passengers for throwaway ticketing (and we’ve seen similar verdicts in other countries)
One important thing to keep in mind is that the airline would have to prove intent here. In other words, they’d have to prove that you were trying to “exploit or circumvent fare and ticket rules.”
There are plenty of other situations where someone may be skipping a segment. Maybe they accidentally fell asleep in the terminal and missed their flight, maybe they became ill and couldn’t fly, maybe they had a genuine change in plans, etc.
So it’s all about intent, and that’s not something that’s necessarily easy to prove in court, unless someone makes a habit of it.
My take on skipping flight segments
This post isn’t at all an endorsement of any throwaway ticketing or hidden city ticketing techniques, but rather is intended to address the concept more broadly.
If you are going to engage in some sort of throwaway ticketing (which most airlines prohibit, but several courts have ruled is permissible), my general advice is:
- Make sure you’re not checking bags, and make sure your carry-ons are within the size limits and that you board early, so that you’re not forced to gate check them to your final destination
- Like everything in life, moderation is key; if you do this once with an airline, chances are they won’t care, while if you do this constantly, they will likely take note
- If you are going to do this, I’d recommend doing it with a different airline than the one you’re crediting the miles to, since the most likely punishment from the airline would involve your frequent flyer account; that risk isn’t there if you’re crediting miles to another frequent flyer program, for example
There are reasons you may find yourself in a situation where you skip a segment of an itinerary (either unintentionally, or otherwise intentionally if you’re engaged in hidden city ticketing). Hopefully the above is a useful rundown as to what happens, the risks, etc.
It’s not a practice I engage in personally, but it sure is tempting sometimes when you see how much cheaper connecting itineraries can be.
If anyone has any firsthand experiences with skipping segments, please share your experience!