Let’s Be Reasonable About Yesterday’s First Class Mistake Fare…

Yesterday many people were able to book a United mistake fare, whereby for ~$50 you could book business or first class from the UK to just about anywhere in the world. You could fly United, Lufthansa, Swiss, or several other partners. I didn’t bother posting about it at the time because I figured it was a given that this fare wouldn’t be honored (and I was also away from my computer when it was first announced).

Lufthansa-First-Class-Meal-Service
Lufthansa first class for the price of caviar? Yes please!

The fare could be booked by going to the Danish version of united.com. United had filed the fares correctly, and it seemed to come down to a currency conversion error with their third party software provider.

United won’t be honoring the mistake fare

United has said that they won’t be honoring these tickets, and has issued the following statement to USA Today:

“United is voiding the bookings of several thousand individuals who were attempting to take advantage of an error a third-party software provider made when it applied an incorrect currency exchange rate, despite United having properly filed its fares. Most of these bookings were for travel originating in the United Kingdom, and the level of bookings made with Danish Kroner as the local currency was significantly higher than normal during the limited period that customers made these bookings.”

DOT regulations on mistake fares

This is interesting in light of the Department of Transportation regulations concerning price changes after ticketing, which are extremely pro-consumer:

(a) It is an unfair and deceptive practice within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. 41712 for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to or from the United States, or of a tour (i.e., a combination of air transportation and ground or cruise accommodations), or tour component (e.g., a hotel stay) that includes scheduled air transportation within, to or from the United States, to increase the price of that air transportation, tour or tour component to a consumer, including but not limited to an increase in the price of the seat, an increase in the price for the carriage of passenger baggage, or an increase in an applicable fuel surcharge, after the air transportation has been purchased by the consumer, except in the case of an increase in a government-imposed tax or fee. A purchase is deemed to have occurred when the full amount agreed upon has been paid by the consumer.

In theory consumers have more protection than ever before when it comes to mistake fares.

Nobody booked this mistake fare by mistake

My general philosophy on mistake fares is that it’s always worth a shot to book them. If they’re honored, that’s amazing. If they’re not, well, that sucks.

But what makes this especially unique is that I’d be willing to guarantee that no one booked this mistake fare by mistake. No one booked this thinking it could have been a legitimate fare, so I don’t think there are any “victims,” as there definitely have been with other mistake fares. Why?

  • You specifically had to go to the Danish United website to book the fare out of the UK
  • You had to state you had a Danish billing address, which I’d be willing to bet a vast majority of people didn’t have
  • Other websites didn’t show the same fare

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting anyone shouldn’t have booked the fare, but rather that I don’t think anyone is being harmed by them not honoring this fare. It was worth a shot, but that’s it, in my opinion.

Fighting this battle will do more harm than good

I think we have to pick our battles. And I think that this is a battle that isn’t worth picking. If anything, it’s counterproductive.

We have the obligation to apply at least some level of logic here. The historical issue with mistake fares has been that sometimes it’s tough to know what is and isn’t a mistake fare. For example, is a $1,500 roundtrip business class ticket between the US and Europe a mistake fare? What about a $1,000 business class ticket? Or a $500 business class ticket? As you can see, it’s a very slippery slope.

With this mistake there’s no slippery slope. It’s as flat as Florida.

I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors by trying to fight this. The DOT regulations are designed to protect consumers from price changes are fares that are mispriced, where a consumer could genuinely think it’s a real fare. I don’t think anyone could argue with a clear conscience that was the case here.

All that being said, I would be curious to see if the DOT chimes in on this one, and what their ruling is. I’m afraid it might not end well for us, as it may lead to them changing the current policy.

Bottom line

I’m generally as pro-consumer as they get, but I do think we have to step back here for a second and put things into perspective. If we ultimately want legal protection when low fares are filed, I think fighting this will do more harm than good.

Was it a great fare and worth booking? Absolutely. Would it have been nice if they decided to honor? You betcha! But I don’t think it’s reasonable to throw a fit when they don’t, in this case. Because I think everyone that took advantage of this fare knew exactly what they were doing.

Just my two cents…

Would be curious to hear what you guys think — am I off base? Where do you stand on this mistake fare?

Comments

  1. I believe this United.com T&C may be part of what UA is relying on in defense of their position:

    Currency rates are based on various publicly available sources. Rates are not verified as accurate, and actual rates may vary. Currency quotes are not updated every day. Check the date on the Currency Converter for the day that currency was last updated. The information supplied by this application is believed to be accurate, but United and/or its suppliers do not warrant or guarantee such accuracy. When using this information for any financial purpose, United advises the User to consult a qualified professional to verify the accuracy of the currency rates. United and/or its suppliers do not authorize the use of this information for any other purposes, except for personal use, and prohibit to the maximum extent allowable the resale, redistribution, and use of this information for commercial purposes.

  2. Thank you for posting this! Yes, I got in on the deal, but I figured it wouldn’t be honored. I’m not going to fight it. I knew this was a mistake, as did EVERYBODY else manipulating United.com to book this.

  3. It wasn’t a mistake fare. It was a fraudulent purchase by anyone who doesn’t actually live in Denmark, yet stated that they do, in order to obtain a fare so ridiculously low it was obvious they were lying to exploit a loophole. Especially since United filed the correct fare, and the mistake was in the third party software. United didn’t make the mistake, and I’m guessing virtually everyone who booked this knew they were trying to pull off a scam.

  4. If you live in Denmark and have a genuine Denmark billing address, United should be forced to honor the fare. My guess is that this does not represent the vast majority of people who booked tickets yesterday. For all those who lied about their country of residence / billing address, they should have no recourse as they committed fraud in order to get those tickets issued.

  5. Lawyer here. If the mistake was a third party, the proper recourse seems to be United going after the third party for their mistake.

    I agree on one level that people can be a bit unreasonable, but when the law (the DOT regulations) say that this should be honoured, why should we deviate from that?

  6. Agree completely. And I also thought from the start that this fare wouldn’t be honored. I also think that neither DOT nor the legal system should punish United and reward the consumers. And, I am also fully willing to concede that I try to book every mistake fare I can and have few qualms with it. This one just seemed a bit more fishy from the start.

    And you’re definitely right. If we keep pushing and pushing on these DOT rules when an egregious mistake fare like this happens, and consumers knowingly take advantage of it, eventually those rules will become far less customer friendly.

  7. @Jonathan – If you are a lawyer, certainly you know that fraudulently entered contracts cannot be enforced by the party committing the fraud.

  8. Perhaps the airlines should have 24 hours to cancel a mistake fare itinerary (even if ticketed) if their own policy (read: not AA) is to allow the refund of a purchased ticket within 24 hours (for a ticket issued outside of a 7 day window).

    All tickets purchased for travel within the 7 day window would be obligatory (by both parties, under fare rules). Only way to get around this for passenger is full fare ticket.

    Trick here is define “Mistake Fare” which they would have to have approved by DoT or otherwise restore all itineraries ticketed.

    Reciprocity. Thoughts?

  9. Also a lawyer. I tend to agree with Jonathan. I do not disagree that many people jumped through loopholes to get this deal, but if we start to apply a “smell” or “feel” test, rather than applying the terms of the applicable law, rules or regulations, it is a slippery slope indeed. If nothing else, it creates uncertainty in the law as to whether or not a fare will be honored. For example, how long does an airline have to cancel tickets it purports were issued in error (e.g., last minute, potentially putting you in a bind)? Can an airline absolve themselves of responsibility because a third party (presumably someone they choose, selected and retained) made an error? In that case, outsource everything! If the current rules and protections are excessive or do not make sense, then so be it…change the rules accordingly in a transparent manner. But I’m not a fan of simply disregarding the plain text of a law or regulation.

  10. I know these usually get posted on Flyertalk but can anyone tell me the best spot to be looking. I am not that familiar with Flyertalk and have trouble navigating it. Any help would be appreciated.

  11. Think DOT regs are quite specific and a mistake fare is a mistake fare be it $1 or $1000. There is no ambiguity in the regulations.

    Also when United’s currency conversion charges too much do they put their hands up and refund you, hell no!! So works both ways.

    Lastly those that keep talking about fraud etc really need to get a grip. EU regulations are quite specific in that members of the EU can not discriminate against each other so a offer available for Germany needs to be available to all.

    So when BA have a sale and you need to start outside the UK to get a great deal (like the recent ex-DUB deals) should they have been cancelled because the ticket was charged in euros and not the currency of the card holder?

  12. I disagree. The law is clear, if they announced a fare they should honour it, end of story.

    Here in Mexico there was a somewhat famous case by which Walmart advertised flatscreen TVs for something like $1 USD, people went to buy it and they had to comply for the consumer protection agency forced Walmart to do so. I had a similar case with a laptop by Dell advertised in the Mexican website. They have no mercy on us when we make a mistake, why should we? They are champions of free-market, aren’t they?

  13. It is an interesting situation and I am looking forward to seeing what the overall resolution is. To me, the problem is with United since they were the only vendor that was allowing such tickets to be booked. The fare was available for every airline but it was not possible to book it with other airlines and alliances – only United.
    United has contracts with their “third-party” and also with those passengers that booked the fares yesterday. Why they decided to break contract with the passengers instead of taking it up with the third party just says that they are not afraid to take on the consumer and the DoT with this.
    Finally, economy, business, and first were all priced right around the same amount. That is not wholly a currency problem but obviously a fare issue as well.

  14. Non-laywer here, but ex-pat living in Berlin. I don’t buy the whole “entering contract fraudulently” rhetoric. I use my US credit card (with my German address) all the time to purchase flights on low-cost European carriers in Euros. Does this mean I’m committing fraud every time I do so?

  15. The crux of the issue is this: Should United have to honor all mistake fares, or are there cases where a mistake fare should not be honored.

    If one argues that there are extreme cases where a mistake is legitimately a mistake, where does one draw the line and who draws the line?

    The main problem I have with arbitrarily deciding when a mistake is mistake and when it isn’t, is that it almost certainly favors the merchant and not the customer. Aside from the 24hr rule, when can a consumer ever change the date, destination, price etc of a ticket without being levied huge fees and penalties regardless if the mistake was on the part of the consumer. Why can’t the merchants be charged the same fees or be forced to eat those costs the same as a consumer would have to. In other words, the merchant (and typically we’re talking “corporation”) is simply interested in extracting the maximum amount of revenue from the consumer. Shouldn’t the consumer then be interested in saving the maximum amount?

    The issue plain and simple isn’t a moral one. It’s simply a matter of fairness. When a merchant can impose their prices regardless of whatever “mistakes” a consumer makes in his booking, then the consumer should be able to likewise make purchases on those prices, regardless of the “mistakes” a merchant makes.

    My two cents.

  16. PS. I also liked this analogy I saw on FT: if I get my timezone (or date) mixed up and I arrive at the airport by mistake, United doesn’t care.

  17. I tend to agree with Doug.

    Not a lawyer so I might be totally wrong here, but an individual who purchases a fare and receives a confirmed ticket has entered into a contract with the airline, yes? If so, wouldn’t said individual be committing contract fraud via mis- or false- representation with their “Danish address”? Seems to me United could technically go after the fraudulent individual, but for the sake of goodwill and PR, likely won’t in this case.

    Given that, I’d say United should be on the hook for honoring the fare to (real) Danish residents with legitimate Danish addresses, and not anyone else.

  18. @Ben – Don’t you think DoT regulation are going to change regardless of this specific incident? I don’t believe this is going to change how people/lawmakers think about current regulations. To me, as others pointed out, is a case where United sold a ticket at a price set by themselves, issued tickets (including ticket numbers) and entered a binding contract protected by current DoT regulations. End of story. We can discuss how ethic or moral this is, but the fact of the matter is that UA sold tickets to a bunch of people and accepted the payment method. Another story would be if your tickets were processing (without issuing ticket numbers) and then UA canceled them. You can’t blame your suppliers and get out of a contract just because you don’t like their services. It’s like McDonald’s serves rotten burgers but when you sue them they pass the bucket to the meat supplier. I think UA should go after the company who provides the exchange rates and/or their insurance. Just my $0.02.

  19. @Doug how is it fraudulent when there is not only a unilateral offer, but also that offer is confirmed when United tickets the booking? Fraud is an intent to deceive. There is no intent to deceive United, who solely has the goods, has a unilateral contract, and provides them.

    This falls under the doctrine of unilateral mistake, not fraud. The problem is that the DOT regulations OVERRULE the common law here.

    If there is any fault, it surely is United for ticketing it. In the computer age, surely United could set up a system where it does not ticket First Class bookings under, say, $500.

  20. I actually followed an advice from a fellow FTer on the thread and made a smart change to my itinerary which repriced the itin to USD, and I paid verry little for the change. My flights are still intact and I expect to fly in 3 days on LH F, LX F, and UA F, clocking in close to 30k BIS miles. Total damage ~$1100.

  21. The regulations do not turn on whether someone booked the fare by mistake. Indeed, the regulations don’t turn on *any* mistakes. The DOT’s interpretation of the law says this, ” 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”. This does not turn on what kind of mistake was involved. It doesn’t say anything at all about mistakes (although they clarify right after this that mistake fares count).

    Perhaps airlines should get exempted in cases like this. If that’s right, then you might be right that fighting this will do more harm than good in the long run because it will precipitate a change to the DOT’s interpretation. Who knows. But given the DOT’s current interpretation, what mistakes were involved do not matter.

  22. First, the language in the T&C (probably added after recent mistake fares resulting from similar issues) most likely covers UA.

    Even if it doesn’t, basic contract law principles are on UA’s side here. When one party to a contract “knows or should have known” that the other party to the contract is making a mistake, the contract can be rescinded. While its arguable that almost everyone exploiting mistake fares always “knows or should have known” that the fare is a mistake, here its even clearer. In order to take advantage of this pricing mistake, you had to go out of your way to a Danish third party website, book ex-UK, and misrepresent that you had a Danish billing address.

    There’s no way anyone not based in Denmark could legitimately argue that they didn’t know what they were doing when they booked these flights. So go ahead, challenge United on this in court, they still won’t have to honor the ticket and all you will have for your troubles is a big legal bill.

  23. I think this is indeed a very slippery slope, especially given the Yangon fare in the past. I could certainly see both sides of the argument. One thing I do want to point out, I did take advantage of the EY CMB mistake fare that happened around this time last year. EY did not want to honor the tickets and they were as consumer unfriendly as they could be. They refused changes, other services etc. When DOT came back, they kinda sided with EY that changes shouldn’t be allowed without paying the ‘fare difference’, although it clearly stated otherwise in the fare rules. This left me wondering if DOT is getting more and more lax in terms of this kind of protection

  24. I agree with Linda K. United should ask for proof of Danish billing address. If you have that, congratulations, your fare is valid. If not the ticket is cancelled.

    Did anyone book and fly a same day fare?

  25. @Doug: I can state with some authority that you are right. Pretty elementary, really, as several other posters (here and elsewhere) have pointed out as well. Lying about your address when that’s the key to getting the fare? C’mon.

    @Mark: Your point about conversion rate reliability is really interesting. I have to admit that I’m not sure about this one. The language in question may not have been intended to cover ticket prices, however.

    The whole “mistake” analysis is even more interesting — everyone knew UA made an honest mistake — but I don’t know enough about the interplay of contract law and the federal rules here to comment intelligently one way or the other.

  26. @chasgoose – One little correction. The website wasn’t a Danish third party one, it was United’s US website. People just changed the location.
    I agree with the whole concept of people knowing this was a mistake but I don’t think that matters once you look at the DoT regulations. Basically it says if an airline sells you a ticket at one price and then changes it, they are at fault. I don’t believe anything else matters but I can be wrong 🙂

  27. @Tom – I don’t agree with the “everyone knew United made a mistake”. Specifically UA said on the email they sent out that their fares were loaded correctly and the problem was with a 3rd party company that provided the currency conversion. Am I missing something? Now, the whole “fake” address is also arguable. People were able to put their correct address (street, city and zip code) but leave the wrong country. The only reason they ask for all that info on the payment page is to verify you are using a legitimate credit card. Nothing else. If you can pay by PayPal or WesternUnion or at the airport ticketing office, how does that make any difference?

  28. Really? Tell that to anyone forced to pay into the Social Security system.

    @Jonathan – If you are a lawyer, certainly you know that fraudulently entered contracts cannot be enforced by the party committing the fraud.

  29. Lucky,
    Thank you so much for being the voice of reason on this! I completely agree with folks like 1K, Doug, and Robert. I considered booking a ticket myself, but when it came time to declare that I resided in Denmark, I decided not to. I’m all about taking advantage of mistake fares. However, I’m not willing to deliberately manipulate the situation nor fraudulently mis-represent myself at another’s expense, in this case United. Doing so harms all of our mutual passion for air travel. There will always be the folks that only care about “me” and not the group as a whole, but I refuse to be one of them. Bottom line, I find it to be petty and small to rely on “gotcha” tactics to enforce a mistake fare.

  30. @AlohaDaveKennedy Actually, according to DOT regulations, they can be enforced. That overrules contract law.

  31. Ben,
    Why is bad that consumer exploit “loopholes”? Companies including United; do it all the time. It almost seems like you can’t outsmart a corporation, because it is seen as a bad thing, but when companies do it, it is a whole different story.

    If you see United’s cancellation message, the main reason for canceling is that a vendor did the error, not them. United even highlights that the fare was filed properly, as implying it is not a mistake fare, so DOT regulation doesn’t apply. United is not blaming the customers for using the danish version.

  32. I didn’t make a booking, but I think United should honor the fare. United’s arrogant pass-the-buck public stance makes me feel stronger about my position too.

    Letting them off the hook due to ‘obvious mistake’ will lead to the same rationale being used in less extreme cases, and ultimately undermine the DOT rule. I’m curious why Lucky and other bloggers would argue against this deal being honored but in favor of any other extreme mistake fare. Booking via United Denmark has absolutely no bearing on the ‘it was obviously a mistake’ argument as far as I can tell.

  33. Thank you for posting this! So many people are being unreasonable, in my opinion this wasn’t even a mistake fare. They filed the fares correctly but the currency converter was faulty, people could even see the real price but then changed the billing address to Denmark so that they’d get charged in the wrong amount of Danish Krones… That is not a mistake fare… It’s not as simple as that, and even if United were to honor these fares, that doesn’t mean Lufthansa and Swiss would cooperate, and then where would you draw the line? United tickets honored but LH and LX fares not? People would be upset as well and find it unfair. This is not the same case as the Etihad mistake fare of last Christmas.

    Can people just take one moment and think about this before acting so entitled to a $50 First Class ticket. This is not the same as previous cases.

  34. Also a lawyer here (Eye roll). And we wonder why people hate lawyers? Ah hem…anyway…
    I agree with Ben. Know when to pick your battles. People had to LIE to get the fare.
    Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.
    Why don’t more people get this???

  35. I made a booking and am not complaining that UA is not honoring it. Though I’ve had my issues with UA in the past with change fees and what not, I do appreciate UA’s 24-hour free cancellation policy. If I bought a UA ticket and then changed my mind within 24 hours, I’ll get my money back. In this case, UA made a prompt decision to not honor the fare within 24 hours and I’ll give them credit that I’m ok with it too.

  36. @Joey – The only reason the give you 24hrs is because there is regulations that requires them to give you that cancellation window (not the other way around). If they could get away without the 24hrs cancellation policy, they would!

  37. @Angel, that 24 hour policy works for me when I make a mistake and enter the wrong date for travel. I see no reason UA can’t use the same policy in reverse for an error. It has to work both ways to be fair.

  38. Regardless of your view of mistake law, exhorting people to not file a DOT complaint is a waste of keystrokes. Everyone will do whatever benefits them the most, classic prisoner’s dilemma scenario. If there’s even a remote chance someone will get to fly LX F just for filling out a government form with the help of a template posted on Flyertalk, they’ll do so no matter what the “community” thinks, or what effect it will have on future DOT mistake fare regulations.

  39. @Linda
    Can you point were did people lie? Because they select the danish version vs other version? or later for the payment? Remember, the purpose of the billing address is to verify that the credit card is yours. Payments went though, which means they are not using the country field…..What happens at a gas station when you don’t input the right zip code?

  40. I am not sure why so many of you think UA does not have to honor the fare, or why consumers would not prevail with DOT. I agree that corporations take advantage of consumers all the time, and that this behavior is largely condoned by the “system.” Corporations enter in to contracts of adhesion where the consumer does not have an equal negotiating footing.

    Also I would feel more sympathetic to United if say they gave each person that booked this fare a $500 voucher instead of honoring the fare. which would be a partial recognition of their venders mistake. A $500 voucher may not be perfect but it would help.

    Also I would feel more ssympathetic if United were a mom and pop company, but it is not.

    I think United would do whatever it can to take advantage of vulnerable consumers, so I don’t feel bad that a small subset of savvy consumers are taking advantage or trying to take advantage of United in this “deal.”

    I know the DOT is stacked with a lot of people that used to work for the airlines, maybe that wasn’t the case 20 years ago!

    I remember in the 90’s CO offered an add for say a $50 BOS to LAX fare and they had to honor it on the day the add was printed, mistake or not.

    I don’t think United should get off so scott free and easy, and I hope someone or two or three sues them!

  41. Interestingly, when looking at the EU regulations as I was curious considering it starts there and the EU is quite pro-consumer there’s no compensation for flight cancellations with at least 2 week’s notice.

    I think most people booked far out, just because any date was available within 11 months.

    http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm

    However, it does suggest you can’t discriminate on price due to a person’s location/nationality – however I appreciate this was said to be a conversion error so it wasn’t intentional “you may not be charged a higher price for a ticket because of your nationality or where you are buying the ticket from”.

    But my point is even the usually protectionist EU wouldn’t seem to cover this, let alone the DOT.

  42. I agree that this may ultimately force the DOT to relax rules against airlines on mistake fares.

    Good thing I’m not CEO of United, I’d be cancelling MileagePlus accounts of the people that misrepresented their billing addresses as Danish if I were forced by the DOT to honor the ticket.

    That said, someone posted that they could just downgrade everyone to economy and they’d owe basically nothing as the difference in fare paid is $0

  43. “I’m generally as pro-consumer as they get, but I do think we have to step back here for a second and put things into perspective.”

    Is that really how you see yourself? I’ve been here long enough to see you openly mock pro-consumer reporters and activists, often choosing to focus on improper terminology and other technicalities while largely ignoring or glossing over the core issues they raise. You could say you’re pro-status and pro-premium travel and I wouldn’t disagree that people who travel in premium cabins probably do benefit from your attention to detail willingness to use your blog to draw attention to outdated hardware and lackluster service.

    However, the honest truth is that the vast majority of travelers are sitting in the back and I’ve yet to see you show much if any concern for the perpetually degraded experiences of average coach travelers. In the case of most of the traveling public your solution to ever worsening coach travel begins with joining the points race and ends when they run out of high interest credit. That sounds a lot more like a pro-usury shill than pro-consumer activist.

    Sorry for being blunt but sometimes you say something so careless and out of touch that I feel the responsibility to bring you back down to reality.

  44. @ Lucky – too late! Everyone’s filing complaints with DOT and/or UK’s authorities (for EU 261).

    If your destination was in the US (or you had a stopover longer than 24 hours), this is a clear case where DOT regulations should apply. There’s a theory that United may realize that but they went ahead and cancelled the tickets anyhow because they know that even if DOT mandates they honor tickets not everyone will file a complain with DOT.

    ~ The Original Ivan Y.

  45. I am not a lawyer, but I play one on TV…

    Note the sarcasm as I plow through the ridiculousness of most of these comments.

    The law says that if I put my trash out on the curb, it’s fair game for anyone who wants to dig through and take what they want.

    If my wallet accidentally fell off the counter, into a refuse can and I put it out with the trash, it’s my fault and the lucky person who finds it should be able to enjoy all of its contents, right?

    Maybe, someone finds it at the local dump and turns it in. If I get it back, I might offer them a financial reward for doing so, but I am under no obligation to do that. Maybe they keep the wallet and tell all their friends about it to brag on their good luck. Maybe I find out and I call the police. Maybe the case goes to court and the judge wisely sees that it was certainly not my intent to throw away my expensive wallet full of ID’s, cash and credit cards.

    This is not about the current regulations or changing them. It is about intent, plain and simple.

    If I had known about the mistake fair soon enough, I would have gone for it, but only with the full knowledge that if it were honored it would be because I was doing an honorable thing.

    Almost none of what we travel hackers do is by the designed intent of those who provide us with the goods and services we relish with reckless abandon. Frankly, I am thrilled to receive so much for so little and I am very happy I am not a loss prevention manager at one of these banks or travel companies.

  46. People will do whatever they want to do and will rationalize it no matter what. Whether someone files a complaint or not to DOT, ultimately nothing will happen. Certainly not a single person will decide to file an individual or a class action lawsuit. If people feel that strongly, then file away. They are more than likely to lose, otherwise there would have been bunches of these suite by now. No lawyer in his/her right mind would be willing to pursue the lawsuit on a contingency basis. So the people saying they are attorneys and believing that United does not have a leg to stand on are really doing BS otherwise they would have filed suits anticipating huge fees because they believe they will win.

    I would guess they United was in touch with the DOT before advising people the fares would not be honored. That is just a guess because United has been burned on mistake fares before so they would have the experience to talk to someone at the agency before taking such action.

    From a pragmatic standpoint, this is just more support for the airlines argument based on the doctrine of fairness that the current DOT requirements are not balanced between the legitimate interests of the consumer and the business.

  47. Well said. Hopefully those clowns who are threatening a class action lawsuit go and spend their time doing something else more worthwhile.

  48. Airlines should have 24 hours to cancel an error booking without penalty, the same way that consumers do. All the fuss over this might make DoT change their rules to something like this that is more fair to both parties.

    I wonder how long this error had been out there and undiscovered. I wonder if people had been using it for awhile?

  49. Just forget it. If you think that you’re going to get this one you’re delusional. I wonder how many would fight this if the airlines could sue you back for wasting their time. You took a chance and lost, accept it.

  50. Brant, your analogy is inherently faulty. This isn’t a matter as simple as finders/keepers. It’s a matter of a) a 3rd party misrepresenting information trusted to them by a client and b) consumers deliberately misrepresenting their financial information to enter into a contract. This wasn’t just users switching to the Danish UA site; it was by and large users claiming Denmark as the legitimate country of their billing address.

    Let’s say someone figures out that if you go to Chase ATMs and press the icons for withdraw $40 and $60 at the same time, you get $200 out of the machine. Should users who receive $200 be able to keep it?

  51. I love all the supposed lawyers making comments here. Bet not one of them is a practicing attorney in this area of law. And certainly no experts. They would have more sense not to comment on this in a blog with limited information.

  52. People have been using the country-switch trick for a long time. Just not all at the same time like yesterday. The airline web site designers need to implement a fix. I don’t understand how someone could enter Denmark as the country anyway when it doesn’t match the credit card address, or don’t the credit card companies check the country??? I tried to purchase something from a British web site and it wouldn’t accept my US credit card, I had to use a forwarding service.

  53. @Angel The DOT’s language still requires that there was an agreed upon purchase price between United and the consumer. If United made a unilateral mistake and a consumer knowingly took advantage of that mistake without telling United, from a legal perspective, there was never an agreement to begin with, which means that the DOT probably wouldn’t overrule basic common law contract principles.

  54. Take out the specifics of this situation. Imagine if the fare was $1 any ticket on United.com. It would be devastating to United if they had to honor. So, they should implement backup catches and/or insure themselves as necessary. The burden is on the seller. No doubt.

  55. @chasgoose – I understand what you are saying but the DoT rules are there to protect people. Again, not saying this is eithcal or not, who can decide what it or isn’t a mistake? Who is responsible for that and what are the parameters? How if these fares were $1,000? or $500? or $50? How can you tell if it is a promotional fare or not? Also, don’t forget that United is not claiming there was a mistake. They clearly said “we filed the appropriate fares”. So if there was no mistake, how can they use your argument?
    Also, for all the people talking about the billing country: a) United has no way to track who changed the country or not; b) it is listed in the checkout page to prevent unauthorized CC abuse and c) charges went through. Also, please note that at least 1 person reported in FT today that he was able to buy 1 ticket today using his US address with Denmark as the country and the transaction went through. Do you think if he call United in 2 days and says “Hey, I used Denmark as my billing country, can you go ahead and refund my reservation?” they would do it? Cheers!

  56. Lucky, I think you are totally spot-on with your comments! I couldn’t agree more . It would have been fun for those who booked, but, except for Danish customers, folks must have known this was a gamble if it was dependent on currency conversion.
    No harm was done, and there is no basis for a complaint. Incidentally, I was really glad you didn’t post about this – of course it was dead within minutes of the first major blog posting – a bit of a “bait-and-switch” if you ask me. Those bloggers are saying “come see my blog for an amazing deal – oh, too bad, you lose”. Thanks for your post on this.

  57. Lucky says:
    “If we ultimately want legal protection when low fares are filed, I think fighting this will do more harm than good.”

    Nonsense. The only reason why you would need protection is because airlines make mistakes. If an airline intends to sell you a ticket at a very low price, and you want to buy it at that very low price, why would you need protection? You would need protection only in the case that an airline makes a mistake and sells you something at a price they never intended to. If you have ever supported that kind of “protection” before, you have no ground on which to stand in this instance.

    No, you need protection because airlines (or their third-party vendors or whatever scapegoats) make errors, and when they make these errors you want them to honor the erroneous fares. This was a clear-cut case of an airline making a mistake. People booked the fare. If the protection principle doesn’t apply in this case, then you would want it to not apply in any case at all. Which is a fair position, mind you. But not one anybody in the travel blogosphere espouses.

  58. Two observations:

    * United is responsible for the actions of its third-party software providers, so if they incorrectly stated the exchange rate, that’s United’s problem.

    * On the other hand, if United’s Danish website has a requirement that users have a Danish billing address in the website terms of use, then United is within its rights to not honour sales…but what about purchases by actual Danish residents? That would depend on Danish or E.U. law, and actual Danes may be able to pursue legal action.

    (The fares being filed by UA is irrelevant, since customers were buying directly from UA on their website.)

    I would prefer to see United honour the fares, at least for Danish residents, and then sue their vendor to recover their losses, as that’s the party that actually committed the mistake…but then again, United is ultimately responsible for what shows up on their websites. I think DOT will allow the cancellation on the grounds that the vast majority of purchasers were lowing misrepresenting themselves in violation of the website’s TOS, but won’t use this to revisit the existing rules given the unique nature of this case.

  59. I think many people are missing the point – which is that the regulations are there to prevent airlines from arbitrarily increasing a fare after purchase. That is one of the few consumer protections that exist in the airline industry. There is certainly nothing fraudulent about using another country’s website, nor using a billing address that is of yet another country. If the ticket is issued, and the card is charged, the contract is there. If the fare had been $7000, you wouldn’t see United canceling the ticket wherever it was purchased.

    As I said in an earlier post, when I missed a flight with United having misread my ticket, they told me I needed to pay them a change fee, plus the difference to the last minute walk up fare. It was an honest mistake, and they didn’t care. I sucked it up, and in this instance, so should they.

    What if it was a real base fare ($40) and they simply dropped the fuel surcharge? That makes sense to me – would they not have to honor it? We can’t go down the path of letting multinationals decide when their mistake is my mistake.

  60. Thanks Lucky, we consumers who follow travel blogs and websites need more people like you, with moral and fairness on toughts and suggestions. I always had a high regard of you and even more today.

  61. A lot of these comments remind me why I have gotten paid and will continue to be paid stupid money as a lawyer, consultant or manager.

    1. Just because you had to click a few buttons this way and that way, doesn’t mean there was a fraudulent act.
    2. Should it be considered fraudulent if you use a Chinese Travel Agent to buy a domestic Chinese air ticket vs buying it from Expedia.com in you home country? Because doing the former opens up all manner of inventory and different prices.
    3. Is it unethical to purchase two tickets back to back ORD-DUB and DUB-SIN instead of ORD-SIN because the former yields a lower total cost than the latter?
    4. If the EU is a single market, as established by law and jurisprudence, buying a UK fare in Denmark should not result in different rights or obligations.
    5. Lucky and others suggesting people should’ve known because the price was too low, you are failing to open your minds beyond your own biases, ITA was showing these prices for all airlines. In the context of a time where the Swiss Central bank can abandon a currency peg without warning and it results in appreciation of 20%+, why is it unreasonable that another country like Denmark that maintains a similar peg would not have taken some kind of monetary policy that triggered a drastic currency move.

    United’s cancellation and statement clearly state their reasoning as an issue with a third party data provider. Nowhere on their sites do they indicate to a customer that their ticket is not yet valid until they confirm FX rates, and in no event do they come back to customers if FX rates move favorably for a customer. I am not aware of any provision that allows them to blame a third party and have passengers suffer without recourse, could they cancel your ticket if their refueler didn’t deliver fuel and tell you to go buy another ticket? Conversely, could i then cancel a purchased ticket if I claimed my bank failed to alert me that I was broke and couldn’t afford the ticket?

    The booking system is all setup and managed by UA, their tickets and related terms are contracts of adhesion (you take it or leave it), and they are best placed to manage or mitigate risks. The functionality that is biting them in the ass now exists for their favor, its a way of them to try and garner benefits of FX movements, only that this time they were undermined by the complexity of the system and as well their poor QA/QC for the system. Other airlines do not accept this risk for the benefit and have systems that work differently.

    I am not in the room with UA Execs and legal, but I can see why they said what they did because it is a fuzz enough rational that will hopefully discourage any challenges by the majority of purchasers. Once you eliminate the first group just by cancellation, you now work on how to respond to the fighters, but even if you lose there you will have avoided millions in foregone revenue (i purposefully don’t speak of losses because not all these seats would be sold and we don’t know what kind of reimbursement is achieved by redemptions or non-rev flyers). They know they are playing with fire if they went the fraud or unfair route.

  62. Sheer madness. I think the consumer will not win from this, but you can’t stop the blowhard idiots and this will burn the hobby methinks.

  63. When a ticket is purchased and paid for, an offer had been made, the offer had been accepted and payment of consideration had been received.

    The contract therefore is valid and cannot be made null and void. It is that simple.

    Suck it up airlines. That is why you employ teams of system analyst to perform testing prior to release. If those teams fail in their duty then your KPI and management of those teams are inadequate or inappropriate. Suck it up and try again in the future.

  64. I love all the comments saying “you had to lie to get the deal.” Ever call recon for a CC app and they ask why you want the card? If you said anything other than “to get the sign up bonus”, you lied. Ever follow the bloggers’ advice to book an award ticket and open with a fake “Hi, I have the routing from the previous agent”? That’s a lie too. You should never call an airline’s foreign call center either, because that is akin to selecting Denmark from the drop down menu. And don’t even get me started on MS.

  65. @Angel: Your point about how the billing address figures (or doesn’t figure) in all this is also really interesting and may actually bear on how all this works out — i.e., may make the whole fraud concern not much of a concern at all.

    @Mike: Yes, not being an airline regulatory lawyer is kind of an issue. United has those and has clearly been advised that they have at least one leg to stand on. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes not.

    Some of the other comments here by people pretending to be lawyers, or who are maybe really new lawyers or even still in law school, are simply absurd. As are comments by people who “don’t understand” how anyone could think United might not be slapped down.

    It will be really interesting to see how all this works out and what kind of precedent (if any) it sets given the new wrinkle or two here. I wonder if airlines might start adding stuff to their T&Cs to address possible future repeats? Or if the FAA might propose a new rule or at least a new interpretation of an old rule?

  66. There are multiple legitimate reasons why United could and did void the fares – everyone loves a free ride, me included especially when it is in First but I doubted this was going to get honored from the start. The only people who might have a claim (as others have pointed out) are Danish residents.
    Dry your eyes, move on and forget about that booking to the US where you took your whole family LON-SFO for $50pp First. It doesn’t even cover the UK APD………Wideroe will come to the rescue sometime soon hopefully….my Norwegian is getting pretty good now.

  67. It’s cheaper for them to cancel tickets and fight it in court. It also sets a precedent that mistake fares will not be honoured, instead it’s just a possible ticket on a years long class action lawsuit that might net you a few bucks in UA credit.

  68. Did people really have to put in Denmark as their country when filling in the credit card information?
    I may be the only one to be concerned about the REAL issue here, but clearly there is a great lapse in fraud prevention and security in the fact that when the information was put through, the credit card companies didn’t realised that the information provided and the registered address on the credit card didn’t match. The charge should have been flagged as fraudulent at that point and never gone through.

  69. @italdeaign
    >You should never call an airline’s foreign call center either, because that is akin to selecting Denmark from the drop down menu.

    Sorry, I wasn’t aware that I was contractually obligated to reside in a certain country to use a particular contract center. And if I WERE contractually obligated to resident in a specific country and tried calling them up anyway, I wouldn’t be pissing and moaning about them hanging up on me.

  70. TopGunner, you appear to be blissfully unaware that the buyers who did not live in Denmark deliberately stated that their billing address was in Denmark. It wouldn’t work any other way. This is a violation of United’s terms of use of their web site.

  71. Angel, you ask “How can you tell if it is a promotional fare or not?”. Uh, you can tell when the fare in your local currency is $8000 but when you deliberately change the country to see the Danish site and you deliberately indicate that your billing address is Denmark the fare amounts to $60. That’s how you can tell that it’s not a promotional fare.

    The excuses here and on other sites are truly absurd.

  72. I still think we need to fight this. Do DOT regulations not mean anything anymore? If we do not stand up for our rights and fight this tooth and nail you can probably kiss any future mistake fares goodbye. We will be sending the message that it is okay for airlines to whimsically choose to follow DOT rules only when it is convenient and profitable for them. What about all the other mistake fares that people have fought for in the past? I understand the talking points of the posters who are against fighting for this but I think it is wrong headed to give up without a fight.

  73. @Tara
    You are wrong, no one put Denmark on the billing address, it was a default. Basically, no one changed the country on the payment page, payments went through so it’s not a field they need to authorize payment.

  74. Do whatever you want people, UA is not going to re-honor these tickets.
    Do you really think UA hasn’t thought this through before they started cancelling the tickets?
    It’s an insult to humanity when I see people coming up with all sort of ridiculous reasons for UA to honor the fares. (DOT my @$$)
    You’ll probably eat dog sh!t for a free first class ticket when someone says he’ll give you the free ticket if you eat it.
    If you invest the time and passion fighting this error fare for your actual career, you will be able to afford first class tickets the normal way.

  75. Hey Ben. U are just disappointed that you didn’t get in on this. You know if you had that you would be fighting mad.

    Plus, how many times has an airline made A mistake and dumped First or Business inventory in accidently? Your have even blogged about it. Should those ticked have been voided?

    You are one big hypocrite.

  76. @Tara, I wasn’t been blissfully unaware, rather I ignored the red herring of the country field. Nobody changed anything there, once you select Denmark for the UA site or UA auto detects Denmark when your VPN happens to use a Danish server, Denmark is prefilled as the country. If this were a particular issue, payment would be rejected and a correction required, however it appears UA only uses the country designation for determining forex not payment authorization and processing.

    I didn’t even have to go into hyperbole or pass judgment on people’s actions, rather I considered a plausible scenario without having to speculate on state of mind. Things like fraud or misrepresentation that require a specific intent aren’t as clear cut as is being made out in these comments.

  77. The 3rd party excuse is bullshit. As a consumer I’m not aware nor should be expected to be aware of anyone but United when dealing with United. As someone said on FT, UA has 3rd party maintenance companies, baggage handlers etc. If an accident were to happen or a bag were to get lost would UA blame the 3rd party operation? No. It’s all under the umbrella of United Airlines.

  78. Also it’s common knowledge that using a local airlines website generally results in lower airline tickets. Domestic Air New Zealand flights can be had for much cheaper on the NZ site than on the USA site. Also works with OTA’s. United is reaching and I gots a feeling they are going to have to honor. This was just a chance to get rid of all tickets and then have those who are crazy enough like us claw them back.

  79. I got nothing to lose! I booked four fares and complained to DOT. If it doesn’t happen I have a good story. If it does, then I’m flying around the world in first four times for $1545 each……

  80. I can’t agree more. I actually posted a similar viewpoint earlier in a forum and I think it is not “reasonable” to EXPECT the fare to be honoured, let alone fight for it.

  81. Who cares if it was an obvious mistake or not. Doctrine of Unilateral Mistake does not apply in this case. DOT regulations override this. Why do you think so many past mistake fares were honored?

    Point of sale is not a residency requirement so who cares if i did not use the US site and pay in USD.

    “Please select your location or where you receive credit card billing statements to see pricing in your local currency.” sounds to me like they are telling you what to do if you want to get pricing in your home currency. If i don’t want to pay in my local currency, nothing illegal about that. If i wanted to pay with Vietnamese Dong or Myanmar Kyat so be it. So is anyone who uses Skyscanner committing fraud when it pushes you to a foreign OTA and you pay in Euro instead of USD?

    United can put whatever it wants in its Website TOS or Contract of Carriage but that doesn’t mean its enforceable.

  82. Lucky, I know you have something against UA (or vice versa) these days, but… Would you not have gone for it if the mistake were on AA? Imagine the miles you’d accrue for first class, especially with their fare class bonuses this year.

  83. I am a dane Living in Denmark and I bought a ticket (LHR – SFO – LHR ) for me and my girlfriend. Obviously I knew something was off when I Saw that the price for at first class ticket was 124kr (minus the fees), but I still bought it. To some extend I think they should honour tickets bought by Danish citizens because I just went to the UA site and it was automatically in DKK. But I knew it had to be a mistake so I am ambivalent about it. i hope they honour it but I dont think they will differentiate between danes and other ppl when they decide.

  84. The bottom line is, if you purchased a ticket or two during this United fare sale it is in your best interest to file a DOT complaint about United failing to honor the ticket. If enough ticket holders file complaints you may find yourself flying on your ticket. The choice is yours.

  85. Completely agree with you Ben. My view is that people get too greedy. Airlines also need to run a business and there are a lot of us who make a living from that industry.

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