On Sunday United had a glitch whereby they were pricing award tickets to/from Hong Kong for four MileagePlus miles, regardless of the cabin, route, or award type.
A full two days later United issued the following statement, which I wrote about here:
Hi Everyone, over the weekend, we discovered a united.com programming error that allowed customers to obtain Mileage Plus travel awards to and from Hong Kong for as little as four miles roundtrip per person, substantially below published levels, which we disclose to customers. We have since corrected the error and will be in contact with customers who have tickets issued at the incorrect award amounts. Customers will be given the choice to redeem at the correct mileage amount or re-deposit their award with all fees waived. We regret any inconvenience this has caused you, and appreciate your understanding.
Director, Customer Insights
Then there were another two days of silence, until they issued this statement just now:
Hi Everyone, I want to provide you with a further update on our Hong Kong award programming error from this past weekend. Specifically here’s how we are proceeding with these reservations:
- For those customers who had sufficient mileage in their account for the correct award amount, the correct amount of miles were deducted at the time of redemption. Any customers who do not intend to use the published number of miles for their ticket may cancel their reservation without paying a fee and we will refund all miles, taxes and fees.
- For those customers who did not have sufficient mileage in their account for the correct award amount, the correct amount of miles could not be deducted at the time of redemption. These tickets have been canceled for non-payment and all taxes and fees have been refunded.
- For those customers who have already begun travel, or are ticketed to begin travel on or before July 21, we will not cancel these tickets and will allow travel to be completed in full. This is intended as an accommodation to those customers whose travel is already underway or the departure date to begin travel is imminent.
We hope you’ll agree this was a unique circumstance. Unlike other widely reported “mistake fares,” the number of miles required for these awards – the correct purchase price – was clearly disclosed to customers throughout the MileagePlus award redemption process and is also available on our MileagePlus travel award chart.
We are in the process of communicating with affected customers at this time. Once again, we appreciate your understanding.
Director, Customer Insights
On the plus side they’re honoring the tickets for those that are scheduled to begin travel before July 21, which I think is the right to do, given that it took them four days to issue this response. I think that’s the only positive thing that can be said about United’s handing of the situation. Now it’s four days later and passengers still haven’t been contacted, aside from United posting a “statement” on internet bulletin boards, which hardly counts as “notice.”
I’m not going to beat a dead horse, so I’ll just finish with two thoughts:
- Why isn’t this covered under the DOT’s rule on price change? I’m not saying it should be, I’m just saying I think it would be really useful for future reference to understand under what circumstances the DOT enforces ticketed award reservations when it comes to their price change rule. They issued a statement saying that award tickets are covered under the DOT rules, so I’m curious why specifically they don’t apply to this situation (again, not saying they should, but rather just asking why they don’t, so we know for future reference).
- Most mistake fares are the same. I’ve seen a ton of hostile comments on both sides of the argument. There are those that are convinced this should be honored and they’ll sue United if they don’t, and then there are those that think that anyone that took advantage of this is an absolute scum of the earth. Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that this was a mistake. We all know it was a mistake. And while this may have been a drastic mistake, we also all knew that United’s business class tickets to Australia a few years back were also a fat finger mistake where they left off a zero. My point is simple — we can all selectively be ignorant to what best suits our needs, but when it comes down to it I really don’t see a huge difference between a four mile mistake fare and a $1,400 business class mistake fare. No one that’s being honest with themselves would think either are intentional. But there are plenty of people I know that took advantage of the $1,400 fare, that are now preaching about how immoral taking advantage of a four mile fare is. I don’t buy it. If you’re against all mistake fares and think they’re immoral to take advantage of, I completely respect that.
While I’m speaking only for myself, I think it has been fun. These kinds of deals can lead to endless hours of entertainment if you don’t take them too seriously, and hopefully most of you feel the same way.