What Happens When You Skip Flight On An Itinerary?

What Happens When You Skip Flight On An Itinerary?

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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.

Throwaway ticketing violates airline rules

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.

Airlines can cancel the remainder of your ticket is you skip a segment

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.

Avoid gate checking bags if you’re skipping a segment

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.

There are also innocent reasons plans can change

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
Avoid checking bags if skipping a segment

Bottom line

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!

Conversations (43)
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  1. Brett Guest

    I had a two flight trip booked with a short hop flight to a hub airport, and then a long haul flight from there. The problem was that the first flight was very early (so I would have to get up at 3:00 am to catch it). So I asked if I could change the first short flight to one on the previous day, the plan being that I would find a hotel for one...

    I had a two flight trip booked with a short hop flight to a hub airport, and then a long haul flight from there. The problem was that the first flight was very early (so I would have to get up at 3:00 am to catch it). So I asked if I could change the first short flight to one on the previous day, the plan being that I would find a hotel for one night, and then catch the long haul flight as planned. As my long haul flight was business class, I thought the airline would be very happy to swap my short hop flight by one day (I asked them to do this one month in advance, also they would have been able to resell the unused short hop flight). I will add that their website showed that there was availability on the day that I wanted to take the short hop flight at very reasonable prices (£60). The airline told me that this would cost me £880!! Seems very unfair to me. I had expected a free swap, but would have been happy to pay £60, but £880! So it looks like I will have to get up early.

  2. Phong Guest

    I'm gonna share an experience of a missed first segment, without the rest of the trip being cancelled. I think this is more of an exception than a rule.
    I moved to Singapore in 2011. My "moving flight" was GVA-ZRH-SIN LX+SQ. But since a one way ticket was more expensive, I bought a return ticket on a flex fare so that I could change the return date if needed.
    Comes the day of...

    I'm gonna share an experience of a missed first segment, without the rest of the trip being cancelled. I think this is more of an exception than a rule.
    I moved to Singapore in 2011. My "moving flight" was GVA-ZRH-SIN LX+SQ. But since a one way ticket was more expensive, I bought a return ticket on a flex fare so that I could change the return date if needed.
    Comes the day of the big departure, I arrive at GVA but realize I forgot my passport (yes, dumb dumb). I was already at GVA so I went to the LX desk and explained my situation. I said I would still have time to go home (Lausanne) and then catch a train to ZRH to fly the ZRH-SIN leg on SQ. The LX person called ZRH and explained the situation and said it was fine. So rushed back to Lausanne, took the train and caught the flight from ZRH to SIN without ever flying that first leg.
    Comes the day where I flew home (back then I was not a frequent flyer, didn't even know about all these rules) for a visit. So I was expecting to fly SIN-ZRH-GVA. Checked-in at Changi, nobody told me anything and I didn't check the luggage tag, my mistake.
    Arriving in ZRH, I walked towards the connecting flight to GVA but I'm being told that my luggage have already been off-loaded and waiting for me at the luggage belt... since I never flew the GVA-ZRH leg, they canceled the ZRH-GVA lef. Kinda makes sense now. Luckily, ZRH and GVA are in the same country and all I had to do is just take a train home.
    So I guess I was double-lucky here. I could fly the ZRH-SIN leg AND the SIN-ZRH return leg. Flight was booked on SQ, single PNR.

  3. K.C. Cooper Guest

    Another possible consequence, in addition to the ones mentioned in the article, is being banned from the airline...

  4. Scott G Guest

    My fear has always been that if the first segment is cancelled, I will be rebooked through a city (or on a nonstop) that does not include my intended destination. For example assume my destination is CLT but I book MIA-CLT-JFK because it's cheaper and plan to skip the CLT-JFK segment. If the MIA-CLT segment is delayed or cancelled, the airline most likely would rebook me on a nonstop MIA-JFK flight.

  5. Andy 11235 Guest

    I will share that the remaining itinerary is not always cancelled as long as there's been an exception on the ticket. Had booked EWR-LIS-BCN r/t. Ground staff were on strike in Portugal, and LIS was a mess. Impossible to contact a human working for TAP, and the automated system rebooked us on a flight to BCN two and half days away. We made our own way to BCN (ryanair + one-way car rental). I spent...

    I will share that the remaining itinerary is not always cancelled as long as there's been an exception on the ticket. Had booked EWR-LIS-BCN r/t. Ground staff were on strike in Portugal, and LIS was a mess. Impossible to contact a human working for TAP, and the automated system rebooked us on a flight to BCN two and half days away. We made our own way to BCN (ryanair + one-way car rental). I spent several hours trying to contact TAP to cancel the rebooked segment as the website wouldn't let us reject the change, but finally gave up. Fortunately, when we showed up for our return flight, there were no issues. I know most people are reading this article to find out how to break fare rules to save money, but it may be worth knowing that when the airline changes the flight, you are allowed to skip the segment.

  6. iamhere Guest

    The key point is that you cannot skip the first flight of the itinerary and expect to fly on the second and that the rest of the ticket would be invalid.

  7. glenn t Diamond

    A while ago I skipped the last flight of a itinerary as I deceided during the first leg I didn't really want to go to the city on the last leg.
    As it was an award ticket with no difference in miles whether I took the final leg or not I didn't feel too bad or naughty.

  8. Alec Guest

    Did this on a VVI - LIM - SCL flight many many years ago. The nonstop VVI - LIM was three times more expensive. The check-in agent at VVI actually asked for my hotel address in SCL, and proof of return ticket because that’s required for any international flight to Chile! Had to come up with a story on the spot involving a cross-border bus in Patagonia to Argentina 3 weeks’ time and a fictitious...

    Did this on a VVI - LIM - SCL flight many many years ago. The nonstop VVI - LIM was three times more expensive. The check-in agent at VVI actually asked for my hotel address in SCL, and proof of return ticket because that’s required for any international flight to Chile! Had to come up with a story on the spot involving a cross-border bus in Patagonia to Argentina 3 weeks’ time and a fictitious address in Santiago that somehow existed in real life. Would I do it again or recommend it to anyone else? Well only if it’s domestic or if you know the entry rules of the final destination fairly well

  9. Reno Joe Guest

    If you're booking an award flight, some airlines allow stopovers. Consider how you might use a stopover in an itinerary to -- in effect -- split the ticket. I'd have to think through a specific application. But, you get the idea. See if that might work for you. If it works, there you go. If it doesn't, you tried.

  10. Jianxiang Guest

    Protip: you CAN check bags and skip the last leg, if it's an international to US flight and your first US connection is your intended. I've only skipped legs twice, and both times I had checked luggage on a Delta flight from Europe to SEA.

    The US is one of the few countries that requires all bags to be claimed after clearing customs, regardless of final destination. Therefore, as long as your first US city...

    Protip: you CAN check bags and skip the last leg, if it's an international to US flight and your first US connection is your intended. I've only skipped legs twice, and both times I had checked luggage on a Delta flight from Europe to SEA.

    The US is one of the few countries that requires all bags to be claimed after clearing customs, regardless of final destination. Therefore, as long as your first US city is where you want to be, you'll have to claim your bags and can just walk out.

    1. eric Guest

      All times I did fly from europe to USA I indeed had to pick up my bags after emigration HOWEVER I was NOT able to get outside. It was always a short walk and then recheck bags to end up in domestic terminal

  11. efembe Guest

    I do this regularly, as I fly from DUB to the States frequently and save $1000's by doing so, if it's a BA flight it's always via LHR, and on returning from States I have always mentioned have Business in London and require my bags to be only checked to LHR. Never had a problem....yet!!!

  12. D3kingg Guest

    I’m flying Iah - ord - lga/jfk - amm - Dxb

    First 2 of 4 segments on AA 3 and 4 on RJ.

    What happens if one of my first flights on American is delayed or cancelled and I am rerouted on different flights to jfk ?Will my latter segments be cancelled ? Will the system boot me off ?

    1. snic Guest

      Is it all one ticket? When the airline tries to reroute you, they try to reroute you to the destination. If it's all one ticket, they find a way to get you to DXB. If it's two tickets, say to IAH-LGA, and JFK-DXB, they find a way to get you to LGA and you're on your own figuring out how to get from there to DXB if you can't get to JFK in time for your flight to AMM.

    2. D3kingg Guest

      @snic

      It’s all one ticket itinerary. Thanks

  13. Arie Guest

    I've done this a few times but instead of skipping I went to the airline agent and told I'm not feeling so will stay here for now and take a subsequent flight later and I just wanted them to know so that they can give away my seat and not look for me.
    Works every time and usually gets a thank you from them.

  14. George Romey Guest

    If you skip any segment all remaining segments are immediately cancelled. However, if the segment you have skipped is the last segment in general if you do it infrequently the airline won't come after you (take your miles, banish your FF accts, try to collect any fare difference).

    One caveat that happens from time to time if it looks like you won't make a connection, the system auto books you but you are able to...

    If you skip any segment all remaining segments are immediately cancelled. However, if the segment you have skipped is the last segment in general if you do it infrequently the airline won't come after you (take your miles, banish your FF accts, try to collect any fare difference).

    One caveat that happens from time to time if it looks like you won't make a connection, the system auto books you but you are able to make your original connection. The system will show you as a no show on the auto booked flight and remaining segments will be cancelled. That's happen to me a couple of times over the past 15 years. Although I think technology is a bit better to avoid that happening.

  15. Barack O. Guest

    Does this apply to award tickets? Can you get busted if you book an award ticket from SFO-CDG-BCN, and then get off at CDG because it costs 15k points fewer?

    1. Kami Guest

      This is my same scenario! I don't know the answer but it would be nice to know what Air France will do if I just stay in CDG vs. continuing to ATH as the ticket reads??

  16. Will Guest

    Tried this only with TAP Portugal (hey, their incompetencies can work to one’s advantage, too!)

    Ticketed to city A with a connection in Lisbon, city B where I actually wanted to go only had a nonstop on TAP so I bought it anyway… turns out my reason for going to city B dissolved on my USA => Lisbon flight, so… I hopped off in Lisbon as it was cheaper to make last minute plans and...

    Tried this only with TAP Portugal (hey, their incompetencies can work to one’s advantage, too!)

    Ticketed to city A with a connection in Lisbon, city B where I actually wanted to go only had a nonstop on TAP so I bought it anyway… turns out my reason for going to city B dissolved on my USA => Lisbon flight, so… I hopped off in Lisbon as it was cheaper to make last minute plans and lodging there than either of cities A or B!

    Credited to a different FF program, Lisbon to City A never showed up to earn miles but USA to Lisbon still did! No other consequences…

  17. Julia Guest

    What about when you book a round trip with the departure in a premium cabin and the return is in economy, and skip the economy part?

    1. Will Guest

      I’d personally request a flight credit after flying the outbound due to “my plans changing”, as that doesn’t even break the contract of carriage to my knowledge

    2. rjb Guest

      I tried that for United recently when my plans changed mid-trip. They told me to pound sand. I told them to keep my last segment open in case they cancelled the flight or there was a major delay.

  18. Phil Young Guest

    Actually for domestic travel within China, you are not allowed to skip the later flight segments if you already arrive at the first on a direct flight (a flight with one stop in the middle). They make special announcements that the passenger must report to the airline staff if they intend to skip the later flight segment as this behavior poses safety risk according to China's air travel administrative rules. If you don't report to...

    Actually for domestic travel within China, you are not allowed to skip the later flight segments if you already arrive at the first on a direct flight (a flight with one stop in the middle). They make special announcements that the passenger must report to the airline staff if they intend to skip the later flight segment as this behavior poses safety risk according to China's air travel administrative rules. If you don't report to the airline staff and just walk away, you can expect to be stopped by police or be arrested by police later.

    1. Leo Liang Guest

      I think with every direct flight with stopover is the same, as if you are not skipping, they will not unload your luggage, but if you are skipping, they need to unload your luggage incase their is a bomb inside it

  19. Alec Guest

    A couple other trips:
    1. Pay for extra leg room seats so yo they priority boarding and won’t have to gate check
    2. If your “layover” is over night you can often book it as a multi trip journey and it will price out the same as the hidden ticket fare (eg 8/1 lax to mia & 8/2 mia to mco) this will allow you to avoid technically doing a hidden city and allow you to collect your bag and possibly cancel the second leg and get a credit back

    1. Bob Guest

      I have purchased a folding cane and utilize it when the boarding agent announces for those needing help boarding prior to the actual boarding.

      No one has ever asked me about it and I do not say a word.

      I just scan my boarding pass.

      No chance of a carry on gate check.

    2. Linda Guest

      You should be ashamed of yourself! Count your blessings that you don’t actually need that cane

    3. Trey Guest

      Yes, the multi-leg/multi-city works well if you have to check bags. In Lucky's example, that last MIA to SJU segment can be booked as multi-city, with a stopover in MIA of (say, 8+ hrs) and you can legally collect bags in MIA.

  20. Creditcrunch Diamond

    A couple of work colleagues received account sanctions with BA for skipping the last part of their trips on 2 occasions, they lost the miles for the entire trip and warned any further breaches would result in account closure.

  21. brianna hoffner Member

    Has there ever been an instance of them shutting down your FF account with a partner airline? Like if I fly on United metal but always credit my Star Alliance flights to my ANA account?

  22. Bgriff Guest

    It is worth noting that another circumstance where you can successfully "short-check" your bag is when taking an international itinerary into the US with an onward domestic connection, since you have to claim your bag anyway in such a case.

  23. Mike Guest

    The fact that airlines can get away with it is remarkable. Not only do they engage in very exploitative prices, but they punish you if you try to play a similar game.
    To me this is exactly like me going to see Les Mis and deciding to leave during the interval. Or me buying an happy meal for my kid and throwing out the coke (because coke is bad for you).
    I can’t wait for them to try and take the wrong person to court.

    1. Julia Guest

      "To me this is exactly like me going to see Les Mis and deciding to leave during the interval. Or me buying an happy meal for my kid and throwing out the coke (because coke is bad for you)."

      Er, no it isn't exactly like that. You're still paying full price for that Les Mis seat.

    2. GBOAC Diamond

      Julia: I agree with you. The analogy I use shopping at a grocery store where for some reason a gallon of milk is priced less than a half gallon. But when you go to check out, the cashier tells you you can't buy the gallon because they know you won't drink all of it.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      @Mike

      The fact that you take these things for granted is just like an entitled Karen. You get cheaper fares not exploitative prices.

      You're thinking that you are paying more for nonstop, while in fact you are actually getting a discount for making a connection.

      You don't go into a store that sells BOGO and just walk away with one free item do you?

    4. Francisco C Guest

      Actually that is exactly how BOGO works in Publix in the state where I live

    5. snic Diamond

      "I can’t wait for them to try and take the wrong person to court."

      You don't have to wait. United tried it, and the lawsuit was tossed.

      https://money.cnn.com/2015/05/01/investing/united-airlines-lawsuit-skiplagged/index.html

    6. Reno Joe Guest

      Mike, someone took AA to court on this exact issue AND LOST. The person did this on dozens of flights per year over the course of five or ten years. AA canceled his AAdvantage account and the guy lost all of his points. He protested. They provided documentation of the cost difference between what he actually paid and what he should have paid. They offered to reinstate his account and points if he paid that...

      Mike, someone took AA to court on this exact issue AND LOST. The person did this on dozens of flights per year over the course of five or ten years. AA canceled his AAdvantage account and the guy lost all of his points. He protested. They provided documentation of the cost difference between what he actually paid and what he should have paid. They offered to reinstate his account and points if he paid that difference. He declined the offer and sued. He lost the case, he lost his points, and he is banned from AA. The court focused on the contract. I agree with the court.

  24. Sel, D. Guest

    You can check a bag when returning to the US as you’re given the bag for customs. Then don’t recheck it (obviously).

  25. JS Guest

    "it would be rough to discover that bag will be sent to your final destination if you have no intention of actually flying there."

    Ben, that's not going to happen, because if you haven't boarded the plane, then your bags will be offloaded before departure. At least internationally, this would almost always be the case, because it's a safety measure that bags cannot travel without their owner.

    The question is where you would go to...

    "it would be rough to discover that bag will be sent to your final destination if you have no intention of actually flying there."

    Ben, that's not going to happen, because if you haven't boarded the plane, then your bags will be offloaded before departure. At least internationally, this would almost always be the case, because it's a safety measure that bags cannot travel without their owner.

    The question is where you would go to pick up your baggage after that. I guess you'd have to go ask for it at the airport's lost & found.

    1. Paul Guest

      Airlines are not always thorough w/ that though, so you still run the risk. There are countless stories of someone's bag traveling to their final destination, but the passenger wasn't on the flight. In theory it should always work as you say, but in practice not often.

    2. Eskimo Guest

      @JS

      The obsolete rules of positive bag match, which predates 9/11.

      With the numbers of bags left at LHR or AMS, wouldn't it be a security nightmare?

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Linda Guest

You should be ashamed of yourself! Count your blessings that you don’t actually need that cane

2
Jianxiang Guest

Protip: you CAN check bags and skip the last leg, if it's an international to US flight and your first US connection is your intended. I've only skipped legs twice, and both times I had checked luggage on a Delta flight from Europe to SEA. The US is one of the few countries that requires all bags to be claimed after clearing customs, regardless of final destination. Therefore, as long as your first US city is where you want to be, you'll have to claim your bags and can just walk out.

2
Arie Guest

I've done this a few times but instead of skipping I went to the airline agent and told I'm not feeling so will stay here for now and take a subsequent flight later and I just wanted them to know so that they can give away my seat and not look for me. Works every time and usually gets a thank you from them.

2
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