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Boston - United Airlines, Orbitz Sue 22-year-old Inventor Behind Website Promoting ‘hidden City’ Fares

Published on: December 30, 2014 02:23 PM
By: Reuters
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New York computer whiz and skipplagged.com founder, Aktarer Zaman, 22.Boston - A website called Skiplagged.com wrongfully encourages travelers to purchase “hidden city” tickets — booking a layover and intentionally skipping the second flight — a practice that saves people money but is banned by many airlines, according to a federal court lawsuit.

Zaman’s attorney, Irwin B. Schwartz of BLA Schwartz PC in Westwood, Mass., says his client is doing nothing wrong.

“There is nothing illegal about the service offered by Skiplagged.com, which is an online tool to help air travelers get from point A to point B in the least expensive way possible,” Schwartz said.

“Evidently United Airlines and Orbitz want to prevent the public from having relevant information about their unfair pricing models and sued Skiplagged’s founder to shut it down, just in time for the holiday travel season when consumers most need the information,” he said.

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Searching on Skiplagged

The search tool on Skiplagged.com enables users to find hidden city flights and buy them directly through Orbitz.com or United’s website, according to the lawsuit.

United and many other airlines prohibit passengers and travel agents, including websites like Orbitz, from booking these types of itineraries because of logistical and public safety concerns, the suit says.

Additionally, Zaman knows that many airlines and Orbitz ban this practice, the suit says.

Orbitz allegedly notified Zaman about this prohibited practice before suing him, but Zaman responded by blocking personnel from the company from accessing his website, according to the suit.

Affiliate advertiser

Zaman signed up to be a so-called affiliate advertiser for Orbitz in December 2013, the complaint says.

Retailers like Orbitz pay third-party affiliates to advertise their services and products, both online and offline.

Orbitz’s affiliate program authorizes third parties to create HTML links that refer customers to its online store. The affiliate can earn commissions on travel products or packages a customer buys during a referred visit.

Before Orbitz ended its affiliate relationship with Zaman in September, he earned a commission when Skiplagged.com visitors clicked on a referral link to Orbitz.com and booked their travel plans, the suit says.

The affiliate agreement, however, restricted Zaman from using a technique called “deep-linking,” or creating HTML links to search results or interior Web pages, the suit says.

Zaman breached the parties’ affiliate agreement when he allowed customers to search and find hidden-city tickets on Orbitz or United’s website, allegedly using deep-linking and other technologies, the suit says.

As an affiliate, Zaman agreed to use Orbitz’s corporate brand, name and trademarks under certain terms and conditions. His website, however, wrongfully uses Orbitz’s name and trademarks to make it appear as if the company endorses this practice, confusing customers, the complaint adds.

‘Publicly available information’

Schwartz disagrees with the complaint’s characterization of his client’s website and the services it offers.

“Skiplagged simply organizes publicly available information about airline pricing and routing, presents it in an easy-to-understand format, and then points consumers to websites to buy the tickets, for which service Skiplagged receives no compensation,” he said.

The suit includes counts for federal unfair competition under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a); tortious interference with contracts; breach of contract; and misappropriation.

United Airlines Inc. et al. v. Zaman, No. 1:14-cv-09214, complaint filed (N.D. Ill., E. Div. Nov. 17, 2014).



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Read Comments (14)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Dec 30, 2014 at 02:54 PM Anonymous Says:

Can someone please explain the shtick in simple english? The way I understand it is that sometimes stopovers to another city may be cheaper than direct flights. And so say you want to fly from LA to NYC but you find a cheap ticket that's offically from LA to Toronto with a stop over and flight transfer in NYC. So you would book that ticket to Tornto and just walk off in NYC. Is that what it is?

2

 Dec 30, 2014 at 03:25 PM Yoilish Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Can someone please explain the shtick in simple english? The way I understand it is that sometimes stopovers to another city may be cheaper than direct flights. And so say you want to fly from LA to NYC but you find a cheap ticket that's offically from LA to Toronto with a stop over and flight transfer in NYC. So you would book that ticket to Tornto and just walk off in NYC. Is that what it is?

Yes

3

 Dec 30, 2014 at 03:33 PM Anonymous Says:

All I know is that we had a similar story where we were booked, unbeknownst to us, to Caracas before flying off to Israel. When we got to the gate, ElAl informed us that our ticket was illegal, and we were denied boarding on the plane. So here we were with our luggage, our family, and all I can say to everyone: BEWARE !

4

 Dec 30, 2014 at 03:41 PM Mishelanu Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Can someone please explain the shtick in simple english? The way I understand it is that sometimes stopovers to another city may be cheaper than direct flights. And so say you want to fly from LA to NYC but you find a cheap ticket that's offically from LA to Toronto with a stop over and flight transfer in NYC. So you would book that ticket to Tornto and just walk off in NYC. Is that what it is?

Yes thats correct. You can find alot about this topic on dansdeals

5

 Dec 30, 2014 at 03:52 PM Shmoger Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Can someone please explain the shtick in simple english? The way I understand it is that sometimes stopovers to another city may be cheaper than direct flights. And so say you want to fly from LA to NYC but you find a cheap ticket that's offically from LA to Toronto with a stop over and flight transfer in NYC. So you would book that ticket to Tornto and just walk off in NYC. Is that what it is?

Lets say you want to go to Texas, a ticket lets say cost $700, but there is a flight going to Arizona for $500, this $500 flight will be stopping in Texas as a connecting flight.

What this person is doing, he will tell you to buy a ticket for $500, stop in Texas (The place where want to go) and don't take the connecting flight, just stay in Texas & you paid $200 cheaper!!

Got it?

6

 Dec 30, 2014 at 03:52 PM HAPPY12 Says:

seems so. this creates a security issue as you don't board the second leg of trip and noone is aware why.

7

 Dec 30, 2014 at 04:08 PM Ganev Says:

Yes, exactly how you described it.

8

 Dec 30, 2014 at 04:40 PM Bezalel Says:

Obviously you can't use this method with checked bags. Also, there may be fine print prohibiting it, and if so then the airlines could charge a person more if they want to pursue it.

9

 Dec 30, 2014 at 06:07 PM Anonymous Says:

In what way is this a security issue? Was anything forbidden brought on board the second leg? What would happen if the person said to the gate attendant "I don't feel well. I want to go to a doctor, so I won't be taking the second leg."? Would they be forced to take the second leg against their will? No!, So why can't they tell the gate attendant they will not be taking the second leg, for whatever reason they want, like to save $200.?

10

 Dec 30, 2014 at 07:10 PM Anonymous Says:

Why would it be cheaper to book a flight going further, with 2 steps, rather than a flight to a closer city which gies direct?

11

 Dec 30, 2014 at 07:26 PM Mazal1 Says:

Stop the stickers and pay like a mensch, you skip the turnstiles anymore?

12

 Dec 30, 2014 at 07:36 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
Anonymous Says:

Why would it be cheaper to book a flight going further, with 2 steps, rather than a flight to a closer city which gies direct?

It's obviously cheaper for the airlines to fly one segment rather than that one segment plus an additional segment, but airline pricing is basically about what they can get for each flight, as in supply-and-demand and other factors.

So if there is a lot of demand for flights to Dallas, then they can raise those fares. But if they don't have much demand to Kansas, and that Kansas flight first stops at Dallas, then they might have to charge less to Kansas via Dallas than they would to Dallas without Kansas.

13

 Dec 30, 2014 at 07:46 PM TexasJew Says:

Most airlines won't let you return if you don't originate from the 2nd city.
Doesn't make sense to me.

14

 Dec 31, 2014 at 01:55 AM lazerx Says:

"Skiplagged.com wrongfully encourages travelers to purchase “hidden city” tickets"

I find little to support that there is "wrongfully" something here. I hope that Skiplagged.com is able to fend off the hungry lions and keep helping us poor consumers.

15

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