28 Responses

  1. Taylor
    Taylor at |

    I agree with your points. UA wasn’t being unfair or deceptive by offering this fare, they just made a mistake, at their own expense.

    If it ended up being honored, then everyone who booked it should chalk it up to a victory of sorts, and should maximize their enjoyment on that itinerary.

    If not, the points go back, the money gets refunded, and everyone is “made whole” again, no worse off than they were before.

    I think that any person who makes a big stink about this is wearing their butt on their shoulders, and doing so quite obviously. The DoT need not get involved with this particular situation. Anyone who ponied up the eight miles for an Asian itinerary knew from the start that there was a chance (and probably a very strong chance) that the award wouldn’t be honored. Anyone who says differently just isn’t thinking in their right mind.

  2. Kris Ziel
    Kris Ziel at |

    In one word: yes.

  3. Joe
    Joe at |

    We more or less paid for our fat finger mistakes on United before. Our team (3 people) alone wasted around $2k last year on united with all sorts of “fees” because of mistakes and/or unforeseeable situations.
    Now that united made some mistakes,I sort of want to see United man up and pay for their own mistakes or at least pay some change “fees”. Is this too much to expect?

  4. mike
    mike at |

    everyone knew it was a mistake except for The Frugal Guy. lol

  5. Matt
    Matt at |

    If I make a mistake booking a flight and want to change it, they charge me a fee to do that… these consumer protections make it fair.

  6. Phil
    Phil at |

    The point about regular punters paying for it eventually through higher fares is mis-placed. Competition will see to it that they cannot recover it that way. If they are forced to honor, which I suspect they will, they may well look to recover the costs through the FF program. But sounds to me like they have already pissed off all those frequent flyers anyway, so they just make a bad situation awful and we all move on. We may regret in years to come when MP becomes the new SkyMiles. But frankly I think we should take our wins when we get them. Your other point (in other posts) about the rules being so stacked against the consumer all the time (not just with UAL but with any large corporation) that it’s important to take the few chances you get to take advantage of stringent protections.

  7. Darren
    Darren at |

    The point that I see missed in most of this discussion is not that a error of epic proportions was made, but rather where do you draw the line?

    Rules on whether a mistake should be able to be clawed back need to be drawn in the sand like they apparently are, so that one day, far in to the future, some airline doesn’t say.. “you know, we really shouldn’t have sold those $99 fares. It was a mistake. They should have really been $149!”

    I think that is the sort of thing that consumers need protection against, and unfortunately, to make it clear what the rules are, issues like United is facing right now will arise from time to time. But at the end of the day, consumers are better off.

  8. HikerT
    HikerT at |

    If they are forced to honor cost should be made up in terms of miles forfeited in cancelled accounts. I for one hope they have the guts to do it if it comes to that.

  9. lexstyles
    lexstyles at |

    HikerT, why such a hater? Who does that benefit? Why would you want miles forfeited and accounts closed? If UA decides to honor these tickets let them enjoy their trip in peace.

  10. CDKing
    CDKing at |

    They could always create a “mistake fare prevention fee” ala Spirit’s “unintended consequence of DOT fee”

  11. Noah Kimmel
    Noah Kimmel at |

    I had an economics professor who once asked the class how we feel about safety in the trucking industry. After everyone said we wanted higher safety, even if it costs more, he asked what if we were shipping gravel, would we feel the same way?

    I say this because consumers want different things. I know if I buy a ticket on Spirit, I am not getting a good seat or any conveniences, and typically, I am saving a ton of money. I know if I buy a ticket on Jetblue or Southwest, I am getting a lot included. I know if I want to sit with my family, I should select a seat when I purchase the ticket, and try to use airlines that offer free seating. But if that isn’t important to me (if Im shipping gravel) why should I spend the extra money for a service I do not want? Why does the DOT pretend to know my preferences?

    I would rather the DOT spend its time educating consumers about the differences between airlines, rather than trying to run all the airlines as if they were the same.

    By forcing all of these regulations (3 hr, family sitting together, fare increases for mistakes…) airlines are forced to raise prices. I interned in an Ops center, and during one storm, I saw the effects of the 3 hour rule, 4 flights were cancelled, as well as their return from the out-station. Hundreds more people were stranded than necessary. Airlines with good service would find a way to appease customers using market forces, smaller airlines might strand customers for days waiting for open seats.

    lastly, I like that I have 24 hours to cancel a reservation, but doesn’t United get the same courtesy for this obvious mistake?

  12. Noah Kimmel
    Noah Kimmel at |

    I think that United should be forced to honor all reservations for flights within 24 hours, then they should be given 24 hours to reconcile (refund) any other fares just as you the consumer has the same rights.

    For 24 hours, the consumer likely isnt going to be blindsided and face a market that has different prices. This way, both sides have the same fair chance and it avoids the 99 vs 149 issues.

    But ultimately, this is also a consumer service excercise, and if United continues to hit its frequent flyers, people will leave…

  13. Noah Kimmel
    Noah Kimmel at |

    I still cant believe how long UA kept it online, and how long it took to respond.

    Anyone that has one of these reservations, have you personally heard from UA yet? Because FT is good, but there are certainly a lot of people who dont read it…

  14. RandyH
    RandyH at |

    Speaking strictly from an IT perspective, if a company puts so much faith in an automated system to book and ticket any reservation (writing and signing a contract on the company’s behalf) with no surveillance system in place (either human or automated) to look for something in the ticket (contract) that doesn’t fit “normal” parameters, flagging odd ones for human review before sending a confirmation email, they should have to eat the loss and honor the contract that they allowed an automated system to issue on their behalf. And then they need to invest in some real QA/test procedures.

    This was completely preventable and they took hours to figure out that some very bad code had made it into production (probably from reading blogs) because it was not adequately tested. And they obviously had no automated review of the tickets (contracts) moving from reservation stage to ticketing stage in place to catch this massive error. For this reason alone, without even considering any other factors, they should have to eat the loss.

    Just my 2 cents. And no, I did not participate in this feeding frenzy. But I did watch it occur, wondering why United is taking so long to even notice what they were allowing to happen.

  15. Max
    Max at |

    Mike again… Expected. Everywhere. Pathetic boy.

  16. Gary
    Gary at |

    I would have loved it if United decided to give away first class flights to or through Hong Kong.

    The government should not make them do so.

  17. palefire
    palefire at |

    What if United cancels the tickets and zeros out all award availability on dates and routes that were booked? Perhaps this might not be a post-purchase price increase because the item wouldn’t be available for re-purchase, if an award ticket can be considered a separate class of item. (But of course United’s IT probably doesn’t have the ability to do this….)

  18. Mike
    Mike at |

    Max, are you saying I cant express my thoughts? And why are you stalking me? You are the pathetic one. Max, guy with a dogs name, go plat fetch. Lol

  19. TopGunner
    TopGunner at |

    Seth, intentionally or not, I think you are missing some important considerations:

    1. Who was best placed to mitigate this error? Obviously United benefits greatly from the online res and ticketing system generating substantial scale and return. The robustness and QA/QC of system is in their purview, they failed here. I imagine this loss is overcome by the benefits best derived.

    2. The people that bought acted rationally and in a sense enabled the market to come back to equilibrium, regardless of the morality.

    3. Why does UA get sympathy on this when the general trend by airlines has been to give no quarter for a service that even the best intentions can be ruined by life? The 24hr cancellation rule that ive seen cited, a false equivalence at that, as why the DOT no-cancel rule is rather unfair was a response to the ridgedness that was pervading air travel to the consumers detriment to the point a policy response, albeit a limited one, was put in place.

    4. How many people have searched airfare and during the booking process the fare is gone or has changed?

    5. the cat And mouse game airlines play with their customers has come home to roost, morality went out the window with things like TOD upgrades.

    6. The right level of protection for consumers depends on what policies the airlines continue to pursue, as they are in a position of strength relative to a single consumer with no real bargaining able to happen.

    Finally, in a balanced world United would acknowledge they built the system, wouldn’t, but for DOT rules, necessarily be accommodating to passengers in similar situations, and will suffer a substantial cost especially for partner flights, and therefore offer (a) roundtrip anywhere in north America in economy with top privilege for complimentary upgrade to be used in next 18months in exchange for partner flights, (b) for those on all united itineraries it’s honored but no changes, unless you agree to take it in economy over next 12mths with a guaranteed standby upgrade to the next highest available class, or (c) 30k miles.

  20. Kerwin
    Kerwin at |

    Firstly, in full disclosure let me say that I used to work for CO (now UA). My responsibility would be to make your butts happy during this type of situation.

    Look, its clearly a mistake as you say and I find it really sad, that they are being held to it. The people who bought the ticket all know that the fare was incorrect as they know the cost of such a journey. Sometimes I have to wonder the things that are slated in the name of consumer protection.

    I never understand why some consumers want something for nothing. Its pretty clear that its more than 4 Miles to get to Hong Kong. Really now.

    In the past, the company has honored fare errors, but looks like they are now taking a stand; you know what times have changed. I think there was another airline (http://www.elliott.org/blog/sorry-those-40-fares-on-british-airways-werent-for-real/) that had an error and refused to honor the tickets as well, so this is not uncharted territory.

    The same flyers that the company goes out of their way to help are now dragging them through the mud, the irony.


    And Matt, if you make a legitimate error while booking a ticket 9 times out of 10 they will allow you to make the change if it indeed was a legitimate error. Just call and talk to an agent they can look at the transaction and make a determination.

    Oftentimes, people do a lot of devious things so its hard to determine when a customer is telling the truth about making an error. But most times they will be given the benefit of the doubt. its just good customer service.

    A deal is not a deal when you get it at the expense of someone.

  21. Rapid Travel Chai
    Rapid Travel Chai at |

    What is being lost in this is that United made an extremely tiny error, of all the possible tickets bookable on their website, only this one was found to have a weakness, which under normal circumstances would have only impacted a handful of customers legitimately intending to book travel to Hong Kong. It was customers that found this minute error and exploited it to the extreme, fully intending to put United in this difficult situation of either to honor the tickets and take the cost loss or to get raked across the coals in public relations. This is more a customer-led sting operation than something of United’s doing, and the intent from the participants is purely self-serving. Airlines with their 24/7 online booking tools are particularly susceptible to this, plus they are the big companies that so many love to hate. I am still trying to find an analogous example where people think similar activity is defensible.

  22. PanAm
    PanAm at |

    I think the rules will eventually evolve. They are not perfect, nothing is. It is a good step to have some protection because there can be deliberate bad actions. I would make it so.that both airline and customer have the same 24 hrs to cancel, or be locked in unless they pay a fee to the other.party.

  23. Chris
    Chris at |

    Not exactly an analogy but imagine if you were to participate in this (essentially) scam on a much smaller business. The sort of size where such a mistake would essentially mean the business would go bankrupt should they be forced to make good on their mistake. Now imagine if the owner of this business called you personally to ask if you’d do the right thing and voluntarily cancel the ticket you knew full well from the beginning was gotten by simply taking advantage of an obvious glitch in the system. How many of these ill-gotten ticket holders would say “no” and justify their greedy behavior by pointing to some blanket statement by the DOT? Hopefully no one. Yet when the size of the business in question is one that could probably absorb such a scenario, the standard of behavior completely changes.
    I personally had 6 tickets all set to go and priced out at the mistake 4 miles per person cost but couldn’t bring myself to click the purchase button. I had to admit to myself thtake eying to get something of extreme value for free at the expense of someone else’s unfortunate and innocent and glaringly obvious mistake doesn’t meet my standard of personal integrity. Even if the biz I’m trying to take advantage of could theoretically absorb the costs. My integrity doesn’t vary depending upon the size the business I’m dealing with.

  24. pilotb757
    pilotb757 at |

    whatever happened to people,s integrity, all this nonesense from deadbeats who want to fly first class for 4 miles? You knew it is a mistake before you booked, sure airlines charge you fees when you cancel etc but it is always disclosed , part of their business model. Sure we all want free miles, free travel etc, but there are legitimate ways to go about it , bankrupting an airline will cause thousands to lose their jobs, or fares to go up for all paying passengers, just because someone thinks they have the right to fly 1st class for 4 miles. And the worst part about this incident is those who booked and took off same day, excuse me? what do you do for a living? probably on welfare? United should ahve cancelled their return tickets , let them stay in Kong Kong for a while. I apologize if i upset some people, but i got tired hearing about people thinking they were taken for a ride and want compensation

  25. DaveS
    DaveS at |

    Of course everybody knew it was a completely unrealistic mistake. In fact, there was never any attempt to United to deceive, there was no publicity or promotion, and indeed on the screen where the points were deducted, there was also a listing of the correct mileage that should have been. I have no objection to going with gusto for all the miles and points that are out there, but some people seem to have an enormous sense of entitlement. And I agree that DoT’s micromanaging may sometimes benefit some consumers, but often at the expense of others, and often in needlessly meddlesome ways.

  26. DaveS
    DaveS at |

    Noah, I guarantee that every last one of the people who booked that 4-mile fare has heard all of the follow-up too. There were no naive innocents among that bunch.

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