Media Coverage of Department of Transportation’s Mistake Fare Ruling

Nicholas Kralev continues to show that he’s the most well-informed and lucid of travel writers. His column this week in the Washington Times is on the Department of Transportation’s ruling to require British Airways to make customers whole to the extent they incurred costs as a result of BA cancelling a ‘mistake fare’ from the US to India.

Kralev understands and points out what the rest of the media which have covered the India mistake fare story failed to understand — that the $40 base fare actually generated $370 in fuel surcharges, which with tax meant a ~ $550 ticket, only a few hundred dollars less than the next best available fare at the time.

I’ve commented before that when I know there’s an airfare mistake, I iwll buy it, and then wait and see whether an airline decides to honor. If they do, great, I get a wonderful trip out of it. And if they don’t, wel, you don’t get ’em all and that’s fine.

But a $550 ticket is hardly an obvious mistake, and I do believe British Airways ought to have honored it in this case.

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, 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. Again, its a good start, but it really isn’t anything more than a slap on the wrist…WAY too easy for BA to back out of repaying anything.

  2. The latest BA penalty is a joke. It is barely a slap on the hand and only a very small percentage of consumers hurt by BA’s action are given appropriate relief.

  3. I would have preferred to see BA get a much more severe penalty, for two reasons – first to just reinforce the idea that contract law is a two-way street and applies to airlines like everyone else, but more importantly because it would be a strong incentive to stop using the “surcharge” system with all its distortions.

    If the fuel surcharge had not been there, the fare would have been so low that BA would be able to claim relief from the contract under the “reasonable man” doctrine – $40 R/T plus taxes to India is not reasonable. But with the surcharge, the total with taxes (as Gary has been pointing out all along), while low, was not unreasonable compared to other routes, other prices to India, and the current state of travel demand.

    The fuel surcharges were understandable during the oil price crisis – they allowed airlines to protect themselves from dramatic oil price swings without having to refile the whole tariff structure every few days. But it’s time for them to end.

  4. Though Aeroflot has a $192 round-trip base fare NYC-DEL right now (+ $513 in taxes/fees/surcharges) that is not a mistake fare. BA can choose to do what they want, but there is no longer any such thing as an “obvious” mistake (if $192 r/t is not a mistake, why is $40 obviously a mistake?)

    I’d prefer if they just fessed up and stopped blaming consumers. (Though I agree with Gary – sometimes you win on mistake fares, and sometimes you lose. People should stop complaining about it.)

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