How American and United are Cracking Down on Mistake Fares

Apr 8, 2015

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In February, United Airlines offered amazing deals after an apparent computer error caused some first class fares to show up at rock bottom prices, including flights between London Heathrow and the US as low as $50. The deal was shut down after only a few hours, but many readers were able to act quickly and snag these premium seats.

While those fares ultimately weren’t honored, we’ve seen many other mistakes in the past that were honored, including the recent American Airlines fares in business class between Washington D.C. and Beijing for as low as $462 round-trip. However, it seems that in an effort to minimize losses from such mistakes, airlines are designing new procedures to prevent them from happening in the first place.

What United is doing 

Per Brian Sumers, United is going to crack down on mistake fares by implementing a new Digital Operations Center, which will monitor the types of fares the airline sells by using sophisticated software and a video wall to “detect commercial impacts, fraudulent activity and end user manipulations.” Basically, United has decided it’s worth having more eyes (both human and digital) on prices to prevent losses.

What American Airlines is doing

American is taking a different approach, and will try to discourage consumers from purchasing mistake fares by adding this new line to the terms and conditions of its recent Double Elite Qualifying Points promotion:

“Airline tickets issued as a result of airfare offered inadvertently or by mistake will not be eligible for elite-qualifying points.”

Rather than protect itself by attempting to wipe mistake fares from the system, American is simply recouping (some of) the losses those fares incur by saying that if you do take advantage of a mistake, you won’t earn elite qualifying points. It’s an interesting tactic, but one that I don’t envision being that effective. Ultimately, the value you lose by not earning elite points on a mistake fare is pretty small compared to how much you stand to save on the ticket.

On another note, it troubles me that American has left so much wiggle room in its interpretation of which fares qualify as inadvertent, or by mistake. Though I don’t believe American’s intention is to cheat customers who simply score a good deal, I see the potential for abuse.

What do you think about how United and American are cracking down on mistake fares?

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