Today One Airline Deserves More Respect Than Any Other

Hong Kong Airlines offered $560+ roundtrip business class fare to Asia from Los Angeles this week. You could fly to Shanghai or Bangkok, Bali or Vietnam, at unheard of prices.

And Hong Kong Airlines came out right away to say they would be honoring the tickets.

And here’s their Chief Marketing Officer,

For some readers booking a $28 ticket to Paris presents a moral challenge: should you take advantage of something you know is a mistake? My own view is that I’m happy to book it, airlines will choose to honor it or they won’t, but if they’re going to fly people to Paris for $28 I’d like to be one of those people.

I’ve never been a fan of suing to try to enforce these fares. Nor have I been a fan of the Department of Transportation requiring that they’re honored. But I also think airlines and consumers should be treated the same — airlines shouldn’t be able to cancel mistakes on better terms than consumers (who are generally permitted under DOT rules to cancel for 24 hours after purchase if it’s more than a week out from travel).

  • Mistake fares are less common than they used to be. Better tools are in place to prevent ‘fat finger’ errors, dropping zeros for instance and selling tickets for orders of magnitude less than usual.
  • The US government went through a period where they required airlines to honor mistake fares. Then they stopped doing that. And now airlines seem less likely to honor these fares than before the DOT got involved in the first place.
  • Now most such fares that exist, and that are honored, are offered by non-U.S. airlines.

Still when United sold $1100 business class tickets Los Angeles – Auckland via Sydney in 2007, their spokesperson called honoring the tickets “the right thing to do.”

Virgin Atlantic has promised to honor mistake fares. I’m not sure I actually believe them, but at least they’re on record.

There is something to standing behind the fares that you offer. There’s something to treating consumers at least on equal footing with large corporations. That’s not how airlines usually behave and when they do they deserve admiration and respect. Today that’s Hong Kong Airlines.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. I don’t see anything particularly noble about a company honoring its mistake fares. Honestly, I think it’s more wonderful to not make mistakes. Sure, it’s a nice gesture to honor your mistake fares, but let’s get real: the number of folks who will now buy “regular” tickets on Hong Kong Airlines because they’ve gotten a cheapo mistake fare is almost zero. The folks who buy these fares aren’t their real customers. They’re gamers, who are very unlikely to be future full fare customers.
    If I see an obvious mistake price on Amazon and they cancel my order, I don’t think less of Amazon. Businesses. like people, sometimes make mistakes. If you make a mistake, of course, you have to correct it quickly. I would say 3 days is reasonable for an airline. Anything longer than a week is outrageous. That’s the standard we should hold airlines to.
    All this said, congrats to everyone who’s going to get a nice and comfortable trip to Asia. Had the fares existed from my hometown, I would have bought one too. They’re nothing wrong with playing the game, and hoping for the best.

  2. Gary–I’m confused:

    “I’ve never been a fan of suing to try to enforce these fares. Nor have I been a fan of the Department of Transportation requiring that they’re honored. But I also think airlines and consumers should be treated the same — airlines shouldn’t be able to cancel mistakes on better terms than consumers (who are generally permitted under DOT rules to cancel for 24 hours after purchase if it’s more than a week out from travel).”

    You’re not a fan of the DOT requiring that the fares be honored, but who do you think should require that airlines honor the fares after 24 hours? The tooth fairy?

  3. It would be great if consumer and businesses are treated the same, I used to travel a lot and once in a while mistakes came up and I was penalized for it. We are human and we make mistakes, but airlines penalize the consumers by charging heavy fees. I have not trouble paying for my mistake IF and ONLY IF the airlines do the same. If I can get reimburse with similar fee WHENEVER airline cancel or delay my flight I will eat the change fees anytime. The opposite is true, airlines allowed themselves to do what they want with their own flights and schedule but penalize consumers for being human and makes mistakes on their reservation.
    American airline is my home hub, so I am pointing my fingers at them all the time but all airlines share the same problems. I just wish FAA or DOT can protect consumers with tighter law on airlines.

  4. Thanks to a timely alert from Scottscheapflights.com, I was able to grab one of these fares and refund another more costly premium economy ticket. Even with the refund penalty, I’ve come out ahead cost-wise and way ahead from a “comfort in travel” perspective. I also get the opportunity to try out HK Air’s service (aka Hainan Air) which may indeed make me a repeat flyer contrary to the comment above. Kudos to the airline’s leadership in being transparent (a rarity these days) and openly reassuring customers they can look forward to the service they purchased.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *