Hurry! Jump on These $0, $2, and $6 Fares! The Airline Won’t Even Claim They’re a Mistake.

Against a backdrop of airlines handling mistake fares badly — cancelling tickets after months rather than hours — the DOT issued rules in 2012 that explicitly required airlines to honor mistake fares.

That’s because DOT prohibited ‘post purchase price increases’ of any kind — cancelling a ticket and requiring that a consumer buy a new ticket at then-prevalent rates would constitute raising the price of travel for that consumer after they had made a purchase.

Somehow the DOT was shocked that requiring airlines to honor mistake fares would mean that consumers would ‘take advantage’ of mistake fares.

DOT published a notice of proposed rulemaking asking for comment on how it ought to revise its rules. Without publication of a new rule, they basically decided to ignore their rules in the case of United tickets issued in Danish Kroner a couple of months ago.

Now DOT has announced that they’ve simply decided to ignore their published rules (.pdf) on mistake fares, provided airlines make customers whole for non-refundable purchases made in conjunction with their tickets.

Here’s the thing.

Reader Jennifer L. points me to the low low sale prices that aren’t mistakes being offered by an airline right now.

Cambodia Angkor Air flies Airbus A321 and ATR 72 aircraft.

They actually advertise fares as low as $0 plus taxes and fees.

They’re advertising base fares as low as $6 for international travel!

In fact, this flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia has a base fare of less than $2 (US$57.30 with all taxes and fees).

I don’t love that they classify fuel surcharges under ‘taxes’ when they’re not government-mandated. But at these prices, who cares?

Go visit Angkor Thom, labor is cheap and I’m willing to bet that even at these prices service is better than what most US passengers experience most of the time.

Are $0, $2, and $6 base fares — all-in prices under $60 — always a mistake for international travel? Clearly not.

Here’s how the DOT should handle mistake fares to be fair to both airlines and protect consumers.

For now though the DOT is on record saying that airlines don’t have to honor mistake fares, but they do have to make consumers whole who rely on those fares in incurring other costs.

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. “labor is cheap”

    so, we’ve dropped all pretenses about caring for our fellow human beings, have we then?

    Eh, who gives a shit if they can’t make enough money to eat….labor is cheap and we can basically fly for free!!!

    Of course, you love the Maldives so ….we all know where your priorities lay, don’t we?


  2. @icicle
    “who gives a shit if they can’t make enough money to eat”

    Labor is cheap precisely because at lower prices they can make enough money to eat.

    As a freelancer, I used to get upset at overseas providers charging what I considered starvation rates, but some traveling around and a little research showed that, even though I would barely be able to feed myself in the US at rates that some of my overseas competitors could charge, they were doing well for themselves.

  3. @icicle You KNOW I didn’t say that at all. It’s an element of their business model, though goodness knows this is a very good job for the region. It’s an observation about per capita gdp.

    Now go wash your mouth out with soap.

  4. If you earn more than 34k a year you are in the global 1%. And you are probably “exploiting” someone.

    Trade is good and traveling somewhere and using their services creates more jobs and raises their standard of living. This has done more to alleviate poverty than international aid.

  5. I recently took 3 flights on Air Asia. They were: SIN-LGK, LGK-KUL, and KUL-REP. I booked them during one of their frequent promotions and prepaid checked baggage and exit row seats . It was less than $200USD all in for all 3 flights.

  6. Icicle’s still angry because Gary failed to find an eastern european woman that would date him.

  7. Flew Cambodian Angkor about a year ago. Excellent flight and service between REP and SGN. I’d have no qualms flying them again and again. And, FWIW, the standard price for beers in REP is $1. Even a bit less in Hoi An, VN.

  8. CAA is OK. They’re owned by Vietnam Air mostly. They do cancel flights at a drop of a hat though. Life sucks on the ATR, take the Airbus. Flights to Bangkok are cheaper on Air Asia and PNH-REP is like $25 (ai) on Bayon. Most of these flights are not a good deal at all.

  9. Gary-

    Let me get this straight. You think the government should have a staff and incur expenses to make airlines honor mistake fares, but you oppose interventionist big government.

    Maybe big government that does stuff we like is ok.

  10. I agree with Gary – in today’s competitive travel world, advertisements with low price tickets are common. You regularly have tickets with base fares of less than $10 across Asia and Europe. A customer can’t reasonably determine whether a low price is a marketing move (meant to be a loss-leader) or is a mistake!
    Any business can and should put in the necessary processes and systems to avoid pricing mistakes. If they are not (to save money), they need to live with the consequences. Not honoring contracts because of a “mistake” the seller made is not acceptable in any other industry – why should it be in air travel? Can you imagine Walmart telling their customers after Black Friday – sorry, that $99 TV you bought was a pricing mistake – please give it back??

  11. @Rupert – Believe it or not, Sony did that recently with a price mistake on their high-end cameras. They sent the delivery company back to people’s houses to recover the box if it was still outside or to ask for it if had already been received. 🙂

  12. @Sam nope. I think airline price mistakes are no different than any other product price mistakes, and shouldn’t be treated differently. It shouldn’t actually be dealt with by DOT at all. However, for historical reasons that’s not a realistic option. Given that the DOT *has* jurisdiction and will maintain that jurisdiction, I lay out in the post I linked to what standards ought to be used [and that includes allowing airlines to renege on genuine mistakes].

    Sounds like you didn’t read the post on how mistakes should be handled?

  13. @Preston didn’t mean to, as I was headed to bed I tried to update the post that it was no longer available, looks like I screwed that up

  14. That’s pretty much a typical cost for flying LCCs on the Siem Reap Bangkok route. The gimmicky thing here is calling the fare “fuel surcharge” and advertsing a so called base fare of zero or whatever.Air Asia will charge you the same and honestly call it a fare.

  15. I know “mistake fare” is a commonly understood term but maybe we should stop calling them that. It’s a fare. Just say EY has a great fare for $200 to AUH. Why try to get into the mind of the airline?

  16. WTH is Icicle talking about? Yes a lot of the blogs if only “followed” by folks who never actually participate, you know “Wallflowers” tend to make you think that everybody’s always just jetting off across the planet to some swanky spot in Tahiti, the Maldives, etc.

    NONE Of this has anything to whatsoever with labor unions or the cost of employing anybody at a 7 eleven.

    Yes I find some of the crazy maniacal points addicts annoying as well but what in the sam hell is icicle talking about?

  17. not expecting anymore “mistake” fares anyway so if you’re a true economics pro, you do what economics tells you to do.

    If you don’t, and you are ensnared, then that’s on you folks.

    Not my f’in problemo paco

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