I have a confession to make — my favorite part of mistakes fare is the adventure of it all, and not the actual fare.
A couple of nights ago American published a ~$450 roundtrip business class fare between Washington and Beijing. Most people probably surmised it was a mistake. But the DOT does have a prohibition on post-purchase price increases, which on the surface seems to protect consumers even in the case of mistake fares.
Is the spirit of the DOT regulation to “protect” consumers in the case of “obvious” mistake fares? Of course not. But in practice it seems to, at least as of now. Why? Because when you create laws, you have to draw a line somewhere, and that line can sometimes be very pro-consumer.
So what I enjoy the most about these mistake fares is the dialogue that comes out of them. And I think this fare has been an especially interesting one, because it was about as straightforward as we’ve ever seen. You went directly to the airline’s website, and the fare displayed. There was no “trickery” involved.
With that in mind, I figured I’d (as objectively as possible) sum up the three general sentiments people have when it comes to mistake fares:
“Screw the airlines, I’m filing a DOT complaint”
The first line of thinking, which seems to be the most popular, is somewhere along these lines (this is a comment a reader left yesterday):
“I’ll book it, but not fight it”
This group of people will gladly book any mistake fare, partly for the fun of it. If it’s honored, awesome. If it isn’t honored, that’s fine as well. At the end of the day they recognize the fare was a mistake and that they’re not “entitled” to it.
I guess to some degree this group can be summed up by this comment that a reader left yesterday:
I love a bargain as much as the next guy..but lets be honest here. Anyone seeing a $500 business fare that is UNADVERTISED (that is, AA isn’t running full-page ads saying “come and get it!”)…KNOWS its a mistake. By booking it you are taking advantage of a situation and frankly you will be lucky if they honor it.
Accusing AA (or United, etc) of fraud or bad faith, etc is really self-serving. Next time you make an error in writing a check or overpaying and the vendor keeps your extra money then is that ok? If you operate a restaurant and your cashier charges $4 for a steak dinner instead of $40 are you ok with that? If you see someone drop $20 by mistake will you pick it up and not tell them?
I’m sick of people feeling they are entitled to take advantage of other peoples errors. The person who mistakenly entered that $500 fare…should they lose their job over this?
I don’t think the comment sums up the enjoyment there still is just in participating in a “deal,” but I do think it sums up the general mentality. These people don’t feel “entitled” to taking advantage of someone else’s mistake, and they’re not going to file a government complaint if it’s not honored.
So I don’t know if Olaf would be the right spokesperson for this group, but he is sort of happy-go-lucky.
“Even booking mistake fares is unethical”
This group is a small minority, though there are some out there that think it’s unethical to even book a mistake fare, regardless of whether you’re going to fight to have it honored or not. This group generally takes the extreme of the “treat other people the way you want to be treated” mentality.
If someone overpaid you, would you only give the money back if they asked, or would you do so proactively?
Where I stand on mistake fares
Let me start off by saying that I booked several of these tickets. Let me further say that I think mileage running in international first class is a very comfortable way to travel. And I’d love to earn miles for less than a penny each, while easily requalifying for Executive Platinum status.
So where do I stand? I’m probably the closest to being in group two, in a non-judgmental way. I don’t fault people that file DOT complaints, and I don’t fault people that are ethically opposed to booking mistake fares.
My approach is that I enjoy the “quest,” so partly I book these fares for the camaraderie and thrill of it all. If the airline wants to honor the fare, that’s awesome. It could potentially generate a lot of goodwill and publicity for them, so in theory it could even be a net positive for the airline. In theory…
But I also won’t file a DOT complaint if they don’t honor. Because I don’t think I’m entitled to taking advantage of someone else’s mistake.
Technically are we entitled to the fare based on the DOT regulations? Based on my interpretation, yes. Is being protected by the DOT in the case of obvious mistake fares within the spirit of the “consumer protection” regulations? I don’t think so.
Which isn’t to say that one approach is wrong. Some people care about the technicalities of rules, some people care about the spirit of rules. If you’re going one mile over the speed limit are you technically committing a crime? Yes. Will most cops stop you? No.
One point that’s tough to argue with is how damn greedy airlines are. Along with cable and cell phone companies, I don’t think there’s a more hated private sector industry in the US. Airlines’ pricing is irrational, their fees are ridiculous, and they provide an all around lackluster experience.
So there’s some merit to the quote above — “people are defending a massive corporation who would bend everyone of us over and take our money if they legally were able to.” And on one hand I can’t argue with that.
But let’s also remember that those of us that are in this hobby love the airlines, perhaps in a backwards way. If you’re playing the game right, you’re getting a lot more out of the airlines than you’re putting in.
Sign-up for two credit cards and complete minimum spend and then you get a free roundtrip business class ticket to Asia or Europe? Deal! Are the airlines a pain to deal with? Absolutely. But anyone playing this game right would surely agree that they’re getting more out than they’re putting in (if not I have to wonder why they’d “play” the game).
All of this is simply to say that I don’t hold any contempt towards the airlines. Do they at times have ridiculous policies that are extremely anti-consumer and frustrating? Absolutely. But it doesn’t change the fact that we voluntarily take part in this hobby for a reason.
Sorry for the rambling, but I figured I’d share my approach towards mistake fares. I guess to sum it up in a sentence, I’ll gladly book mistake fares, though also don’t feel entitled to them.
Are the DOT regulations technically in our favor? Yes. But if American does fully honor these fares, I would be surprised if they don’t rally the DOT to change rules. As is often the case in this hobby, I think we might be winning the battle but losing the war, so to speak.
Where do you stand on mistake fares? Which of the above groups do you fall in?