The Department of Transportation received thousands of complaints, apparently, and they sided with United. I think it was the right moral result, but I also believe it was inconsistent with DOT rules, and they went through some significant backflips in order to get the result they clearly wanted.
While the DOT promulgated a rule requiring airlines to honor tickets that have been purchased regardless of price, they don’t like that airlines have to honor tickets regardless of price — they want consumers unaware of a glitch to have tickets honored, but don’t want consumers to be able to take advantage when they’re aware of glitches.
DOT has been in the process of amending their rules to prevent requiring airlines from honoring mistake fares.
So I found it interesting when South African Airways decided not to honor its $72 roundtrip Johannesburg – Abu Dhabi business class fare. Of course it didn’t touch the U.S., so DOT rules aren’t implicated. But with all of South African’s financial problems, you’d think they could use the $72..!
“If a price as displayed contains an inadvertent and obvious error, the supplier is not bound by it after correcting the error in the displayed price; and taking reasonable steps . to inform consumers to whom the erroneous price may have been displayed of the error and the correct price.”
CPA attorney Janusz Luterek explained: “The purpose of the CPA is to protect consumers from exploitation, such as bait marketing, but an error of the magnitude described here cannot be seen as bait marketing. It’s clearly a glaring error.
An interesting twist though is a consumer who apparently called the airline, recorded the call, and the carrier didn’t blink at the price and re-confirmed the itinerary. That would seem to mitigate the ‘obvious mistake’ claim on the part of the airline.
When Expedia had the Tokyo and Osaka Hilton properties for $2 ($3 for Executive Floor) some folks making reservations were emailing Expedia to confirm their bookings. Some people even did that while the deal was still live. (I did it once the rate was pulled.)
It turns out that for the most part only those who had re-confirmed and been assured the bookings were valid were allowed to keep their reservations. (Expedia claimed they were cancelling reservations to prevent re-selling though their terms and conditions precluded name changes on the bookings to begin with.)
Because the mistake was for a hotel in Japan, the stay was fascinating — at check-in I received an apology letter from the hotel for their having made a mistake. I booked 7 days, though I only stayed 4, and they were apologetic again that on a prepaid Expedia booking they could not refund my $9.
In the case of the South African fare there’s at least an avenue to pursue for those who confirmed the fare with the airline (my suggestion is only to do so once the fare has been pulled – hah!).