American Will Honor $450 Business Class Tickets to China!

American has publicly stated that they will honor the business class mistake fares between Washington DC and both Shanghai and Beijing that were posted on Tuesday.

We already knew they’d honor some of the tickets. They hadn’t made a public statement, but internally seemed to be saying they would honor the tickets that were ~ $20 plus taxes and fuel surcharges, but not the tickets that were $0 plus taxes and fuel surcharges.

No such distinctions here. All purchased mistake fare tickets on this deal will be honored. Congratulations to everyone that purchased these.

They seem to still be taking the position, however, that tickets which had merely been ‘held’ and not purchased will not be honored. (That’s the reference to ‘fully purchased’.)

Some people used American’s 24 hour hold feature, and had American cancel out their reservations prior to ticketing. The rule of thumb has always been that anything not ticketed won’t be honored. Failing to immediately ticket a deal like this, in my view, doesn’t leave one with much of a claim to the deal even when it’s being honored.

However, folks with held reservations contend that since American offers the hold feature as their way of complying with DOT rules (instead of allowing free cancellation and refund for 24 hours, on reservations for travel more than a week or more out) that they should have to honor these bookings.

I assume that they have consulted with the Department of Transportation prior to making a public statement and if their position is that they won’t honor unticketed reservations, that got DOT signoff.

And that seems fair to me. The DOT rule is a prohibition on post-purchase price increases and in the case of held reservations no purchase has occurred.

Ultimately I don’t think airlines should be forced to honor these fares, but if they’re going to be honored I think it’s ok to want to be one of the people that gets to travel on a deal like this.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Like I argued after the United error, the loophole was left open so long and so many tickets were purchased that the DoT were never going to force them to honour. United’s own incompetence to ticket so many purchases saved their bacon. If only a couple of hundred tickets got through the loop I bet the DoT would have put more pressure on them.

  2. Gary,

    I completely agree with your take that held reservations generally deserve not to be honored. My only comment is that they don’t have any other avenue of a “24 hr cancel” that the Dot requires. As that is their sole avenue for that law, they should be required to honor the fare for holds.

  3. @Andy – I disagree.

    (1) They are required to offer a 24 hour hold or 24 hour cancel. But once held they are not required to ticket mistakes.

    (2) The rule that requires them to honor these tickets is the prohibition on post-purchase price increases. That rule only applies post-purchase.

    I agree it would be more convenient in a mistake fare situation if AA had the refund rather than hold option in place! But that’s not how it’s set up, and that allows them to cancel the holds without penalty because DOT does not require them to ticket mistakes.

    They’ve absolutely consulted with DOT on this..

  4. @stvr – when this fare came over to me via email I was at dinner with my wife. I stayed at dinner with my wife, and did not book any. I’ll be in China in a couple of months anyway.

  5. This is so great. I am excited. I managed to get tix for my family and we will be visiting at the end of April. Pity I’m a United flyer normally! I have zero status with American.

  6. Gary, I find your logic bizarre here. The entire purpose of the 24-hour hold is to guarantee you the ability to ticket reservations at the fare quoted — AS REQUIRED BY LAW. Other airlines comply with the law by allowing you to cancel a ticketed reservation within 24 hours. AA does not allow that (as is their right). The intent is exactly the same, though: consumers get 24 hours to complete their ticket purchases. The rule is not designed to protect airlines, from mistake fares or otherwise; it’s a consumer protection law. We all know that airlines get to make up whatever change rules they want after the 24 hours, so the 24-hour window doesn’t seem terribly “unfair” to airlines.

    I have problems with the way the DOT treats mistake airfares. I think they should be more forgiving of mistakes by airlines, perhaps giving the airlines 24 hours to cancel reservations where they can provide genuine evidence of mistake. But that’s an argument for another day. Right now, I think the DOT would be very wrong to determine that the 24 hour fare guarantee — which is very prominently stated on AA’s website when you go to complete your purchase — actually guarantees nothing.

  7. @iahphx these are separate areas of law.

    American has to offer either the hold option or the refund option. They offer the hold option.

    But they are not required to ticket a mistake fare. HOLDING a mistake fare doesn’t trigger the post-purchase price increase prohibitions because there was no purchase.

    I get how the two issues are muddied, how if American offered refund instead of holds people would have ticketed these, how they aren’t able to take advantage of both DOT provisions in this case because of American’s choice to offer holds instead of refunds.

    Under normal circumstances (non-mistake) they have to honor the hold. But the DOT doesn’t require them to issue tickets and take money when there’s a mistake — they simply require them to honor the mistake if they have already taken the money.

  8. @Gary Leff — So AA offers a 24-hour fare guarantee because the DOT requires it, but that guarantee is void if AA published the fare by mistake? (AA’s website says nothing about such an exception, by the way). But AA isn’t allowed to cancel ticketed reservations during that 24-hour period, because such ticketed reservations are somehow more sacrosanct than the ones where they just guaranteed the fare?

    I still think that’s a bizarre outcome, and certainly not one that the DOT ever intended through its regulations. The DOT mistake fare rules are certainly screwed up, but this interpretation would be the most bizarre to date.

  9. @iahphx it may be bizarre but it is exactly what the DOT intended because the DOT has been quite clear they never intended (though it was entirely predictable) that airlines have to honor mistakes that consumers realized were mistakes.

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