Aktarer Zaman’s mission was to make it easier (and cheaper) for people to explore the world.
The 22-year-old New York City resident went about making that happen by designing a website, Skiplagged, that shows travelers the cheapest flight routes to their destinations.
Sounds harmless, right?
Apparently, Orbitz and United Airlines don’t think so. Zaman’s website is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the two travel industry giants.
According to various media reports and to Zaman, who could not discuss specifics, the commercial airline and the travel website claim Skiplagged is hurting their business and seek $75,000 in damages.
The main point of contention is that Skiplagged shows would-be travelers how to fly more cheaply by taking advantage of something known as “hidden city” routes.
Here’s how it works: You can search for flights to your destination on Skiplagged, and the site will show you how to fly there more cheaply by booking a ticket for a longer flight that has a layover in your destination. So you would get off the plane at its layover point and not get back on, rather then fly the complete route you booked. (Note that this only works if you don’t have checked baggage — since your bags would continue on to the final destination.)
Why book airline tickets this way? Because it can be as much as 80% cheaper.
Skiplagged takes advantage of routing practices that offer cheaper fares for long journeys with layovers, versus direct flights between two destinations.
“I personally, as a consumer, would love to know this sort of thing when I’m doing research, so I can make more informed decisions about which tickets I buy,” Zaman said in a recent interview.
A computer science major while in college, Zaman built the website after conducting research to find out whether any other travel sites provided information about “hidden city” routes. When he couldn’t find one, Zaman started Skiplagged.
And far from slowing down or stopping because of the lawsuit, Skiplagged (launched in 2013) recently introduced a mobile app.
What’s more, since the lawsuit made news, Skiplagged has received a surge of interest – more than 1 million site visitors in one day recently. Typical site traffic is in the hundreds of thousands.
Zaman admits the lawsuit makes him nervous, but says he has no plans to shut down Skiplagged or change the way he does things.
“I really have no reason to stop doing what I’m doing. We have something people want and find valuable,” he says.
The site doesn’t sell tickets, but provides publicly available information about the cheapest routes, he says.
Zaman has started a GoFundMe account to help defray what could become sizable legal costs. So far, he has collected about $65,000 and remains defiant about the legal challenges.
“All I am doing is exposing something that has been kept secret, making it very obvious to the masses,” he says. “I make it very easy for consumers to see what is going on.”