Should Airlines Honor Fares That Are Obvious Mistakes
In first class.
"I jumped on the deal," said Smith, an assistant art professor at
He shouldn't have believed it.
Four days later, an
"Can an airline step out of such an error so freely when it holds its passengers to such rigid rules regarding cancellations, overweight baggage, and late arrival to the airport?" he asked.
The airline believes it can.
"We fully believe customers should have recognized the fare that was very briefly offered as being an obvious error that is simply too good to be true versus the normal price of approximately
But this is not a story about whether a travel company should honor an erroneous price. I've already written that article, and I have the burn marks to prove it. Instead, I wondered whether there was anything a passenger like Smith might have done to spot this fare error before he began to entertain thoughts of crossing the Pacific in style.
I looked up the fare from
That would make sense -- if travel prices made sense. But they don't. When carriers such as
Is there a better way to know? Maybe.
Among them are sites such as Slick Deals and Fat Wallet, where users or editors often vet bargains. He also frequents such travel-specific sites as TripAdvisor and Flyertalk, a popular discussion board for business travelers.
But these Web sites are a mixed blessing, at least in my experience.
Although they can identify honest-to-goodness sales, they're sometimes also breeding grounds for malcontents. I've run across travelers who feel that a company should honor any fare error, no matter how outrageous, and who don't think twice about booking blocks of rooms or several tickets at a wrong price.
Not only do I find that ethically problematic, but it also makes matters more difficult for passengers like Smith, who only buy one ticket. A travel company with a bona fide fare slip-up is far less likely to make good on its mistake when it believes that customers are trying to take advantage of it.
Put differently, don't believe everything you read on the forums. And don't be too quick to join other participants in an e-mail campaign to persuade a company to honor an erroneous fare or rate. You may not be in the best company.
In the end, the one tool that you can truly rely on is your own common sense. If your gut tells you that there's something wrong with a price, chances are there is. Sadly, common sense is in short supply on some online forums, where travelers devour every deal faster than a cloud of hungry locusts descending on a hapless farmer's crops.
One more thing: When pricing errors happen, there are no winners.
Smith, for his part, is rethinking his loyalty to
"As a professor, I traveled over 200,000 miles with American last year, took students on three international trips on American, and had planned to use American for future travel needs," he told me. "If they are making these decisions from a purely economic point of view, it would seem that they are threatening a much larger pool of current and future income than by simply admitting their mistake and letting me fly in the cabin I booked."
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(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott
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