According to the website, Skiplagged, a site that helps people find the best prices for airline tickets, is better at finding cheap flights than any other website. It must be true: United Airlines and Orbitz are suing young founder Aktarer Zaman, claiming that he “intentionally and maliciously” interfered with airline industry business relationships “by promoting prohibited forms of travel,” according to the lawsuit (United Airlines Inc. v. Zaman, 14-cv-9214, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois).
“Everything Skiplagged has done and continues to do is legal, but the only way to effectively prove this is with lawyers,” Zaman says on his GoFundMe campaign, the proceeds of which are going towards his legal defense.
Zaman got the idea for Skiplagged from a New York Times article that explained “hidden city ticketing,” which basically means that you book a flight that includes a layover to your actual destination, because it’s cheaper than flying direct. You get off the plane during the layover – and make sure to pack only a carry-on bag, or ship your bags ahead of time.
“I was looking for a flight from New York to San Francisco and the cheapest was $300,” Zaman explained. “But if I booked a flight to Seattle with a stopover in San Francisco, it was $170.”
Skiplagged was born.
“It was a side project, and the (New York Times) article said that it was fine.”
In fact, the article gives tips on how to book such flights, and the practice is not foreign to many a frequent flyer and business traveler.
We had a few questions for Zaman, too.
How did you get the idea for Skiplagged?
Skiplagged is a sandbox project I’ve been working on in my spare time. I have been treating it as a fun project, to see how far it would go. It’s one of top 3,000 websites in US.”
On the Tuesday of Christmas week, over a million people used it, he explained.
“I wanted to see if it had potential. For me to pursue it, I had to prove its viability.”
What are the differentiators?
I believe I have something that benefits consumers and really makes sense. I’m giving back to people and improving the efficiency of the market. These little nuances of the industry have been kept in the dark, before Skiplagged. Another is that two arbitrary one-ways are cheaper than a round trip. I went to London recently. The cheapest direct flight total came to $670. I did the same search and it was $800 round trip. For the same flights. When booked separately, it’s cheaper. With Skiplagged, the market will potentially be more competitive. It will be better for society. By the very definition of efficiency, this is an improvement.
(Skiplagged) is only doing very unique things. It has no competition, and it benefits consumers. It’s a very pro consumer website.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
Travel is a multibillion dollar industry.
While registering on the site is not necessary, Zaman recently gave users to ability register, if they choose, so that they can be sent alerts about the flights they’re searching for.
“Say you’re searching for a flight from New York to San Francisco for February 13th. You can register and it’ll show you how prices fluctuate and send you alerts. I’m not forcing people to register. It’s just something I added recently.”
How many people do you have on you team?
I’m the only team member right now. I do the daily development, marketing and PR. I have had people offer to help get the word out. I haven’t spent anything on advertising. It’s been spreading by word of mouth.
Where you see the company going, long term?
My vision was to make it easier for people to experience the world. I love traveling myself. My site is focusing on addressing problems people find – how to find tickets, when to buy tickets. Based on how this ‘other thing’ (meaning the lawsuit) goes, when I can prove my viability, I will build more things that will help travelers, that aren’t being addressed anywhere else.
I wanted to build something that’s very pro consumer and show them what it is. I invested in myself, as a way of giving back to the community.
How does it feel to suddenly be a media star?
It’s nerve-wracking, but I’m grateful to have the support from the public. I can’t do a battle of money. The media attention just naturally sort of happened. I didn’t pursue it. I first heard about the lawsuit when a Bloomberg reporter called me. Forbes wrote about us. CNN. In the beginning of December, I did a Q&A on Reddit that attracted immense attention. One I did ranked #8 of all time, #3 in the last year, and #1 in the last month. It says a lot about this project and how focused people are and how much they appreciate it.
Why did you decide to start the company in New York, and how did it help in getting it off the ground?
New York is where I grew up. I grew up in Brooklyn, my family lives in queens, and I live in Manhattan. I love the city. There’s so much to do. I’m on the computer a lot, but can easily go outside and relax and do anything I want. It’s great living here. NYC is a huge market and there are so many people doing so many things, and if I want to reach (certain) people, chances of them being in NYC are pretty good.
With so much going on right now, what’s your favorite thing to do In New York to relax?
I usually just go for a walk. I don’t look at the map. Just walk. Right after I left Amazon (where he worked before he decided to join an unnamed startup), it was a Friday night, I booked tickets for the next morning for Las Vegas.
And if you’re going to launch a travel site, living in a city that in easy commuting distance to three major airports and sits at the center of the universe, is not a bad place to be.