The gist of it is:
-On 04/25/11 the DoT prohibited airlines from increasing the price of a ticket after it was confirmed.
-On 06/15/12 the DoT clarified that mistake fares are subject to those same rules, once a consumer’s credit card is charged and a confirmation is sent, the ticket must be honored.
-On 05/23/14 the DoT sought comments regarding consumer taking advantage of price mistakes.
-In February 2015 the DoT declined to force United to honor the price mistakes on their Danish website.
-On 05/08/15 the DoT has decided that they will no longer force airlines to honor mistake fares as long as they can prove that the fare was a mistake. However airlines will have to “reimburse all consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase, in addition to refunding the purchase price of the ticket. These expenses include, but are not limited to, non-refundable hotel reservations, destination tour packages or activities, cancellation fees for non-refundable connecting air travel and visa or other international travel fees. The airline may ask the consumer requesting out-of-pocket expenses to provide evidence (i.e. receipts or proof of cancellations) of actual costs incurred by the consumer. In essence, the airline or seller of air transportation is required to make the consumer “whole” by restoring the consumer to the position he or she was in prior to the purchase of the mistaken fare.”
The 05/08 memo isn’t a final ruling on price mistake fares, that will be published in the future.
The real question is what determines a mistake? When Wideroe Air sold tickets on United to Israel for under $300 we all thought it was a mistake. Until it turned out that Wideroe intentionally leaked the fare onto forums.
At any rate, it’s been a fun run these past few years.
Perhaps the most memorable was the Delta glitch where thousands of people booked first class tickets to LA and Hawaii from $50.
Delta even went above and beyond the letter of the law by honoring the tickets of people who didn’t have paid and confirmed reservations. Talk about goodwill!
El Al took $336 tickets in stride by offering people the ability to upgrade to nonstop flights for $150. They filled seats in the low winter season that otherwise would have gone out empty.
USAirways responded to a hidden city ticket to Israel by not giving miles to people who didn’t take the final leg of the ticket to Toronto.
What will the future hold?
I’m sure some airlines will continue to honor glitches out of goodwill or not wanting to pay for people’s non-refundable hotel reservations. But for the most part this may well be the end of an era. Ethicists will cheer. Bargain hunters will have to evolve to find other ways of flying on the dirt cheap. But hey, isn’t that what miles are for?