This is totally in the weeds and the sort of thing that will be interesting to a small subset of my readers, but here’s a response to a Department of Transportation complaint that was shared with me.
Note that I did not file such a complaint, but I do find the response interesting nonetheless, in so far as it sheds light on current DOT thinking about mistake fares and the interpretation of their current regulations which require airlines to honor tickets that they sell without raising the price of those tickets after the fact in most circumstances.
Passed along without further comment:
This is in regard to your complaint against United Airlines (UAL) about certain Mileage Plus Award tickets to, from, or via Hong Kong that could be acquired on UAL’s website between July 14 and July 15, 2012. Information that we have obtained to date from affected consumers and the airline, including screen shots taken from various steps in the booking process, reflects a discrepancy in the mileage amounts required to be paid for these tickets. More specifically, the mileage amounts, as they appeared on the website’s mileage award tables, itinerary selection page and at the top of the itinerary purchase page, were significantly higher (e.g., 320,000 miles plus taxes and fees for a roundtrip ticket) than the amount displayed as the “total price” on the itinerary purchase page (i.e., four miles plus taxes and fees). In short, it is unclear what full price was offered. We will continue to investigate this matter to determine the full price of these tickets, whether that full price was, in fact, paid by the consumers, whether the airline issued tickets upon full payment, and whether the carrier raised the price after full payment was made and the tickets were issued.
As you may be aware, the Department recently issued a regulation, 14 CFR 399.88, that is intended to prevent airlines from unfairly and deceptively raising the price of a ticket after a consumer has paid in full and purchased that ticket. As stated in the regulation, such conduct would constitute a prohibited unfair and deceptive practice under a statute enacted by Congress, 49 USC 41712. The goal of our investigation is to determine whether UAL has acted unfairly or deceptively to consumers who acquired Mileage Plus Awards tickets as described above. 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.
Aviation Industry Analyst
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
Office of the General Counsel
US Department of Transportation