You could fly from the UK to pretty much anywhere in the world in business or first class at price hovering around $100 or less.
This wasn’t a United-specific glitch, but United.com was the most common place to buy these tickets. That’s because:
- United.com lets you choose your country and thus currency in which to be charged, so it allowed booking UK-originating tickets in Danish Kroner
- It was possible to book there with a US-issued credit card.
- Not all Danish sites were offering this pricing. For instance, Expedia.dk seemed to price much higher.
United’s twitter team was just as excited about this as frequent flyers were:
“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.”
United has posted their statement online as well.
Several thousand individuals.
In a unique twist to the story, Bloomberg phoned the airline for comment on the tickets while they were still available.
I have several thoughts on this:
- I don’t have a problem with United’s decision. They acted quickly, rather than leaving flyers hanging out there making plans or with uncertainty.
- The does appear to have been a mistake, and I don’t think United should be on the hook for it.
- The only wrinkle is Department of Transportation pricing rules which prohibit price increases after tickets have been paid for. Cancelling tickets, and leaving flyers to buy them again if they wish to travel, is precisely the scenario that the DOT considered post-purchase price increase.
- I’ll be interested to see the final legal analysis. I’m confident that United must have consulted with DOT on how to handle this today.
- The DOT doesn’t like the rules they put in place just a few years ago. It was 100% predictable that the rules would require airlines to honor mistake fares, but the DOT views that as an unintended consequence and wants to revise the rules.
It’s interesting that so many mistakes have been honored, including in reliance on these DOT rules, but United has been aggressive in some recent cases refusing to honor — such as with United’s 4 mile award tickets to and through Hong Kong and with a systems issue that let flyers book awards with insufficient miles in their accounts.
Hopefully we won’t see too many threats of DOT complaints and lawsuits, although I’m confident we will.
Until next time…
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