The airlines didn't want you to know how cheap their flights are, but this stock photo of some guy does.
Aktarer Zaman is a 22-year-old entrepreneur who just got himself into a lot of trouble with the airline industry. He started a website offering people cheap ticket prices that have airlines losing a lot of money.
His method is called "hidden city" ticketing, and it isn't new. Everyone knows that flights with layovers are cheaper than ones without. Often airlines will offer lower ticket prices to destinations that are not regional hubs, but route them through big cities. Zaman's website Skiplagged.com (unavailable at the time of this post due to being over capacity) finds your destination as a layover, allowing passengers to take advantage of the cheaper flight by simply getting off the plane at the layover destination. Fox 13 explains the process:
"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)."
While this isn't exactly illegal—anyone with a lot of time on their hands could hunt for these tickets themselves—the ease with which Skiplagged has made it possible to acquiring these tickets has cost an estimated $75,000 in lost revenue, say United Airlines and Orbitz in their lawsuit. As Zaman explains in a reddit AMA,
"There are no good alternative for what Skiplagged is doing I think. The manually process involves guessing the final destination on other sites, which can be very tedious unfortunately. Skiplagged shows results absolutely no other websites show, saving consumers lots of money. Hence why it's being sued."
He also comments that he doesn't believe it is even clear that these airlines are in fact losing money, and points out that "consumers are paying for seats they don't take [on the leg of the journey after the layover] which allows the airlines to collect more standby fees."
The strangest part about this is that Zaman hasn't even made a profit off his site. Fox 13 reports that he has a real job at a tech startup (he won't say which) and Skiplagged is just a fun little "side project" he created to help travelers take advantage of the system.
He is confident that the service he is offering is legal, yet going up against billion dollar corporations in court could exhaust the project anyway. If you want to support him, he says there is a fundraising link on his site to help him with legal fees. That is, once his website is back up from being overrun with visitors.