The 22-year-old founder of cheap airfare website Skiplagged has raised more than $40,000 for his legal defense against a lawsuit filed against him by United Airlines and Orbitz. The travel companies have sued the young man for $75,000 claiming unfair competition and damages for lost income. The lawsuit was filed in Chicago federal court.
The Skiplagged website helps travelers find cheaper airfares by focusing on “hidden city” ticketing, allowing them to book a one-way flight to a cheaper city with a layover in the city they actually want to travel to. The passenger then leaves the flight at the layover and forfeits the last leg of their journey. With the way airlines price their fares, booking the longer trip can be much cheaper than purchasing a ticket directly to the destination the passenger desires.
The website was built as a side project to take advantage of the hub-and-spoke nature of airfares, where airlines fly traveling customers to their hub city and then put them onto connecting flights to different destinations. By exposing the airline’s inefficiencies in pricing air travel, the website has created a way for consumers to get around some of the highest fares on popular travel dates and slash the price they pay for flights on other days.
While technically not illegal, the practice has been prohibited by both the airlines and third party booking sites. The airline carriers have claimed that the practice will ultimately hurt consumers by forcing the airlines to raise their prices on all flights. Customers caught using the practice have had their tickets cancelled and have been punished with the loss of their frequent flier miles or loyalty program status.
Aktarer Zaman has reported that the crowdfunding campaign for his legal defense has raised about $42,000 from more than 2,000 people interested in helping his defense. The fundraising campaign currently has a goal of raising $50,000 for Zaman’s legal defense. In an email post, Zaman has stated that any funds left over after the lawsuit is resolved will be donated to charity.
The lawsuit may ultimately backfire on United Airlines and Orbitz. Many people (including this author) had never heard of the website prior to the filing of the lawsuit and the subsequent news reports about the issue.