A fake mistake??

For about eight hours today United supposedly was not charging fuel surcharges on a number of domestic routes. What is particularly interesting about this is that the carrier actually issued a comment about the event, calling it a “clerical error.” And there is also the fact that many people were not seeing the fuel surcharge missing on any fares. I looked a bit and everything I was seeing was the same price as always, so either the systems really were broken or they were doing something to try to drive sales by pretending that there was a special sale going on, when in reality it was just business as usual. My conspiracy theory loses a bit of credibility since some are claiming to be finding the cheaper fares, and also since the error was “discovered” by a data mining company that has a pretty good reputation, including finding the CDN$39 fare (in business class!) that we took to Cyprus a couple years ago. And Bloomberg is covering it as well, though without much original content.

The issue also highlights an interesting side bit of the travel industry. Because of the way things operate the fares can only be updated at specific times during the day. That meant that this mistake fare was available for several hours after UA discovered it, and there was very little they could do to remove it.

Either way I couldn’t make use of this deal, but hopefully others did. With fares much higher these days than in recent history any small discount is a welcome change.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I was able to price out several purely domestic roundtrips on the big 3 online booking sites for several hours. United.com fixed the problem pretty quick and so if you were searching there you probably wouldn’t have seen the price differences for long.

  2. Indeed, it does seem that it was a legit “mistake” that was out there for some time. Still, the circumstances around it – including the multiple responses from the carrier – were pretty strange.

    I’ll just chalk up my inability to find a deal on tough luck on my part…

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