Back in July United had a glitch whereby they were pricing all award tickets to/from Hong Kong at just four miles, which many people took advantage of. A few days later they started canceling the tickets, which caused quite an uproar.
The reason many people thought United couldn’t back out of the “deal” is because of the new DoT regulations which prohibit airlines from changing a fare once ticketed. The relevant regulation reads as follows:
Therefore, if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as a confirmation email and/or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.”
A contract of carriage provision that reserves the right to cancel such ticketed purchases or reserves the right to raise the fare cannot legalize the practice described above.
Anyway, several months later the DoT has completed their review of the situation, and here are their findings:
We have completed our review of United’s conduct regarding its recent Frequent Flyer fare sale to Hong Kong from the United States on its website. Our review found that the actual price of the advertised fare was never clearly stated during the booking process, thereby creating ambiguous circumstances in which it could be reasonably interpreted that the actual price of the fare was significantly more than the amount consumers paid at the time they attempted to purchase the fare, e.g., $40 plus 4 frequent flyer miles. Therefore, we are not able to establish that consumers, in fact, paid the full amount of the offered fare at the time of purchase. Accordingly, the evidence does not support a finding that United engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of the relevant statute. Please note that, regardless of the outcome of our investigation, consumers are free to pursue claims (e.g., a breach of contract claim) against the airline in an appropriate civil court for monetary damages and other remedies particular to their situation.
So there you have it, folks…