It turns out that by posting DON’T CALL THE AIRLINE a frequent flyer let an airline off the hook for honoring a mistake fare. And it didn’t help that another declared, “I feel so alive inside.”
Last week I wrote that – out of the blue – American was reaching out to folks who held reservations (but did not ticket) for a business mistake fare to China back in March and who had their reservations cancelled.
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.
I thought that American’s position was quite reasonable, that 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.
The DOT sided with flyers who had their mistake fares cancelled, sort of.
This all happened two months before the DOT said they would stop enforcing their own rules which required airlines to honor mistake fares. So American was still bound by having to honor mistake fares; this one happened two months too early. And DOT thinks cancelling held reservations was a violation.
American was reaching out to flyers with an offer to fly in coach for the mistake fare price with no miles and no upgrades or take $1500 off business class with no miles and no upgrades.
This was good enough for DOT — rather than honoring the business class fares offered — because consumers were trying to take advantage of American. Here’s the DOT order (.pdf), flagged for me by at least half a dozen readers.
The DOT semi-lets American off the hook because of comments flyers made in frequent flyer forums and on blogs.
From the footnotes to the DOT order:
So it’s kind of your fault for not being more circumspect. If you call a mistake fare a mistake fare, you acknowledge you know it’s a mistake and buying it is taking advantage of the situation. But if you think it’s just a good deal the DOT still wants to protect you.