With the 4 mile award redemption deal to or from China consuming many folks this afternoon I’m not all that in to pontificating on whether the tickets will be honored or not. I’m actually rather more entertained by the way the situation has been fixed, at least temporarily. This popped up on a Sunday when most folks aren’t in the office working and when it is unlikely that they would be able to figure out quickly what caused the hole. There are basically two options in such a situation: keep selling and hope not too many get booked or shut everything down. United Airlines has chosen the latter in this case. They’ve effectively removed Hong Kong from their award booking engine, even though there are flights in the system with seats available.
Looking out in late December there aren’t many seats for sale at all. Lots of flights look like this (the red ones are the award buckets):
No inventory there so no surprise that the site is choking if you try to book one. But looking further out, say March 2013, there actually are flights with award inventory showing:
Put those dates in to the award search page and you get back this awesome error:
Other award searches, even to other cities in China where the deal was also available, are still working but Hong Kong has been pulled completely out of their systems while they sort this one out. That’s a pretty aggressive move to close up the bug. Not all that surprising given the potential revenue losses if this stayed open much longer, but it is a very dramatic move on their part.
As for whether the tickets will be honored or not, it will be interesting to see it the DoT has to get involved. Lots of folks eventually were charged the real price, even though they were quoted only 4 points during the transaction. Folks without sufficient miles seem to have been charged only the lower number; those will be the more interesting ones to watch. And, should anyone be taking bets on how or why this happened, I’m guessing it was a data field mapping error somewhere in the systems which had the engine do something silly like calculate the number of points to quote/deduct by looking at the code for the meal service type. Whoopsie.
I’m looking forward to the entertainment value which I know will come with watching this unfold in the next few weeks.
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