United survives DoT scrutiny on the 4 mile Hong Kong “sale”

Looks like United Airlines is going to get away with cancelling most of the 4 mile award tickets to Hong Kong. They have managed to convince the DoT that the "sale" was ambiguous enough throughout the process that customers shouldn’t have been able to depend on the numbers being displayed. Complainants have started to receive emails with the following text:

We have completed our review of United’s conduct regarding its recent Frequent Flyer fare sale to Hong Kong from the United States on its website. Our review found that the actual price of the advertised fare was never clearly stated during the booking process, thereby creating ambiguous circumstances in which it could be reasonably interpreted that the actual price of the fare was significantly more than the amount consumers paid at the time they attempted to purchase the fare, e.g., $40 plus 4 frequent flyer miles. Therefore, we are not able to establish that consumers, in fact, paid the full amount of the offered fare at the time of purchase. Accordingly, the evidence does not support a finding that United engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of the relevant statute. Please note that, regardless of the outcome of our investigation, consumers are free to pursue claims (e.g., a breach of contract claim) against the airline in an appropriate civil court for monetary damages and other remedies particular to their situation.

It is certainly an interesting analysis though not a particularly surprising one to me in the end. Such is life…on to the next deal.

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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. lesson for airlines- make your fares confusing so as to be “creating ambiguous circumstances in which it could be reasonably interpreted that the actual price of the fare was significantly more”. Not sure how this standard helps anyone DOT, but hey it let’s United off the hook.

  2. That’s a reasonable ruling. Seeing a price change resulting in a positive or negative variance should result in a canceled sale. Just as if Travelocity cannot book a ticket if a fare class is no longer bookable during the purchase process.

  3. While I actually agree with this ruling given that the correct price (in miles) was displayed throughout, I do hope the DOT doesn’t have a similar ruling in favor of Swiss re the recent Ragoon mistake fare!

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