American Offering $450 Fares to China or $1500 Off Business Class as Mistake Fare Mea Culpa

Reader Robert G. passed along an email he received from American Airlines, and I found it fascinating.

Back in March American had a ~ $450 all-in mistake fare roundtrip between Washington DC and China in business class. They honored the fare.


American Boeing 787 Business Class (Serving Dallas – Beijing)

Many people had merely held – and not ticketed – their reservation. For the most part those held reservations were cancelled (passengers were not allowed to purchase those tickets).

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 contended 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. If the mistake had occurred with United or Delta, consumers would have bought the tickets and been able to refund within 24 hours. But they were dealing with American, who does not offer the post-purchase refund (that’s one reason many people like to buy American tickets from online travel agencies like Orbitz instead).

The DOT rule is a prohibition on post-purchase price increases and in the case of held reservations no purchase has occurred. American is not obliged to allow customers to purchase mistakenly filed fares.

This was all two months before the DOT said they would stop enforcing their own rules which required airlines to honor mistake fares. (There’s actually a simple solution to mistake fares that would be fair to all sides…)

Now seven months later American has reached out to customers that had held reservations with this mistake fare. They’re making an offer:

  • Fly in coach for the mistake fare price. That is, a $0 base fare plus taxes and fees including fuel surcharges. The tickets won’t earn miles, and won’t be upgrade-able.

  • Take $1500 off business class. The tickets won’t earn miles, and won’t be upgrade-able.

That’s a generous offer, and coming out of the blue after so many months leads me to think there was at least something of a concern that the DOT would be sympathetic to consumers whose held reservations were cancelled (although I do not think they should have been).

I also doubt very many people will take them up on the offer. This was a great deal because it was cheap business class, not just cheap travel. Many even booked it because it earned elite qualifying miles and was upgradeable to American’s first class (which is a good business class product).


American Boeing 777-200 Flagship First Class (Serving Chicago – Beijing)

Here’s the email from American:

October 26, 2015
Dear Robert:
In March of this year, you placed on hold a reservation for travel with us to China. The reservation you placed on hold was for an extremely low fare offered by American in error, and the mistaken fare was offered for only a few hours. Because the fare was offered in error, we cancelled those reservations, such as yours, that had been made but not ticketed.

In our view, given the fact that the fares American offered for China travel in those few hours were so low that it was obvious they were offered in error (a fact widely acknowledged in the social media posts which prompted many of those who reserved the fares to do so), we were justified in cancelling those reservations that were made but not ticketed. However, we will offer you two options for reduced rate travel to China, one for business class and one for coach class. The two options are as follows:

Option A – Business Class: We offer you a $1,500 discount on any roundtrip business cabin fare to Shanghai or Beijing.

· Reservation must be booked by AA and operated entirely by AA (including AA’s regional partners).

· Travel may not be upgraded, by upgrade certificate, AAdvantage status, or any other means, to a higher class of service.

· Travel will not be eligible to earn AAdvantage miles or Elite Qualifying Miles or points, and will not count as Elite Qualifying segments in the AAdvantage program.

· Travel may be ticketed immediately and must be completed within one year of the date of this letter.

· Travel to PEK or PVG should originate and end in the same U.S. airport(s) as in the original PNR with the same passenger(s) (or subset of passengers) traveling as were listed in the cancelled PNR.

· Must be ticketed within six weeks of the date of this letter.

Option B – Main Cabin: We offer you the opportunity to receive a $0 fare basis main cabin fare to Shanghai or Beijing, subject to taxes and fees of approximately $450 (varies slightly by routing)..

· Reservation must be booked by AA for any Q or O class fare to PEK or PVG, and operated entirely by AA (including AA’s regional partners).

· Travel may not be upgraded, by upgrade certificate, AAdvantage status, or any other means, to a higher class of service.

· Travel will not be eligible to earn AAdvantage miles or Elite Qualifying Miles or points, and will not count as Elite Qualifying segments in the AAdvantage program.

· This offer is subject to Q or O class inventory availability for travel outbound starting Sep 1, 2015.

· Travel must be completed within one year of the date this letter.

· Travel to PEK or PVG should originate and end in the same U.S. airport(s) as in the original PNR with the same passenger(s) (or subset of passengers) traveling as were listed in the cancelled PNR.

· Must be ticketed within six weeks of the date this letter.

If you would like to accept one of these offers, please contact American Airlines at the following number to make your flight reservation. Please note the operating hours of this special reservations desk.

800-433-1790 Seven Days Week 0600-Midnight Central Time

Please let the American Airlines agent know that you have received a letter authorizing a special discount on fares from the USA to China and provide the following information:

Reference Number: [redacted]

Origin: DCA

Destination: PEK

Passenger Name: [redacted]

This offer is non-transferable, applies only to passengers identified in the original reservation, and only in the origin and destination of the original booking. Please note the reservation process may take up to 72 hours for confirmation of your itinerary. After your eligibility for this special discount has been confirmed, a reservation agent will contact you to complete ticketing of your travel itinerary.

Once your travel itinerary is confirmed and ticketed, all applicable fare rules (including change fees and penalties) apply for voluntary changes.

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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Comments

  1. It just talks about no miles in the advantage program. AS isn’t part of the advantage program nor are other OW carriers. So seems like just credit to a partner

  2. If I had held a reservation and they gave EQMs, I’d certainly be inclined to take either offer. Without those EQMs, I’m fairly unimpressed. If you can credit to another Airline (e.g., Alaskan), it would seem the value of those many miles would be high.

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