Attack of the airfare thieves

By | February 4th, 2013


Who could have predicted the furious reaction to the recent story about a woman who booked a cheap airline ticket from Myanmar to Canada, and my characterization of her as an airfare thief?

Not me. But I’m circling back to her case, and the broader issue of fare errors, because many commenters asked me to.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve written about the ethics of taking advantage of a price mistake. I covered the issue in 2010, when a British Airways fare error affected hundreds of travelers. I also refused to mediate a Korean Air fare mistake once I learned that many passengers had knowingly — some would say fraudulently — booked the erroneously-priced tickets.

Although a bulk of the indignant comments came directly from the blogs and online discussion groups where fare mistakes are openly promoted and celebrated, some did not. A few readers seemed genuinely perplexed that I would equate buying a cheap ticket with theft. Even a former editor asked me via Twitter, “How can this be stealing?”

Technically it isn’t.

There’s no legal term that adequately describes what a reader named Lauren did when she purchased a business-class, transpacific airfare for $586 — a price she knew was thousands of dollars less than it should have been. Nor is there a fitting term for what Expedia’s German site did when it suddenly canceled her ticket.

At best, it’s an unconscionable contract, or an agreement that’s grossly unfair or unjust. But some companies think of that kind of activity as stealing, such as the Virginia Chevy dealership that inadvertently sold an SUV to a customer for $5,600 below the actual price. The business called the cops on the driver and had him arrested, even though it appears he wasn’t immediately aware he’d scored such a great deal.

In other words, the consumer had no motive to defraud the dealership by exploiting its pricing mistake. And motives matter. In the end, the dealership apologized to the customer.

I’ll have more on Lauren’s motives in a second.

Related story:   Why is customer service and morale so bad in the airline industry?

The case of the stolen Zodiac

When I mentioned this case to my better half, her first reaction was: “It’s the Zodiac all over again!”

She’d worked for a dive shop down in the Florida Keys many years ago, and one of her colleagues had mispriced a Zodiac inflatable boat, sticking a $599 pricetag on it instead of $5,995. Oops.

An eagle-eyed customer visited the store one day, bought the boat, and by the time police caught up with him, he’d already sold the vessel. The employee lost her job.

“Do you think the customer knew about the wrong price?” I asked her.

“Without a doubt.”

“What did you think?”

“If that isn’t stealing,” she said, “then I don’t know what is.”

Now strictly speaking, stealing is taking someone’s property — and the business honored the price on the Zodiac, even though it was wrong. But there is probably no better word to describe what happened to the dive shop, or to Lauren’s airline. It’s like stealing.

Lauren disagrees.

“I do not believe I stole from the airlines,” she said after my first story posted. “I purchased a confirmed ticket in business class at the published fare in effect at the time of booking.”

“Worse than stealing”

Some readers took a personal interest in Lauren’s case, and one airline insider agreed with the majority of commenters. No, this wasn’t stealing, the reader concluded. “It was worse than stealing,” said the fare sleuth, who asked to remain anonymous.

The insider determined the likely identity of Lauren, which wasn’t too difficult, and reviewed her posts, and others who had purchased the Myanmar fare online. The reader turned up even more evidence that Lauren knew she was booking a mistake fare. Not only had it been prominently labeled as an error in various forums, but once you reviewed the pricing, no reasonable passenger could have concluded it was anything but a mistake.

The probable fare actually cost just $13.

Related story:   Yes, I have a "do not mediate" list - here it is

“Yes, $13,” said my fare sleuth. “That’s before the fuel surcharge and tax.”

Let me repeat that: Before taxes, these fare opportunists were probably paying $13 for their tickets, according to my insider.

The real price? $9,470.

Lauren told me she knew she was booking a mistake fare, a fact I had made clear in the original story, and a fact many readers chose to disregard. But she felt justified in doing so. After all the things the airlines had done to her, they had it coming. As I mentioned in the previous post, I understand that sentiment and I sympathize with it.

But that’s not the whole story.

By taking advantage of the mistake, the fare thieves were stealing in another way, too. The first flight, from Rangoon to Tokyo, was new service operated by All Nippon Air on a Boeing 737 with an all-business class configuration. That’s just 38 seats on a flight that operated only three times a week.

“ANA’s intention was to fly Japanese executives back and forth between Tokyo and Rangoon,” the insider says. “These executives’ mission is to invest and create factories over in Myanmar so people there can have badly-needed jobs. Because there are only a few seats and mostly in business class, the fare to Rangoon, or vice versa, is quite expensive.”

According to their online posts, people taking advantage of the fare error went out of their way to protect themselves from a possible cancellation. This included booking a stopover in the United States to take advantage of American consumer-protection laws and handling the sale through Expedia’s German site, which for some reason displayed the mistake fare long after the U.S. sites had removed it.

“So if you ask me what else was stolen by the thieves, it is that they interfered with the business mission that Myanmar badly needs,” the insider told me. “Instead of the space going to real executives who could create jobs, the space went to FlyerTalk idiots. That is beyond stealing for me.”

Related story:   Why you should never walk away from a hit-and-run in your rental

So, to recap: these fare geniuses knew exactly what they were doing. And when they got caught, they reflexively turned to their playbook, trying to drum up negative publicity against ANA and Expedia.

I understand their rage

I know the anger many readers feel against airlines. The aviation industry created a sophisticated pricing scheme designed to squeeze the most money out of each passenger, and when it loses control of the system, we shouldn’t let it off the hook, they insist.

In fact, given the horrible things airlines have done in the name of turning a profit, shouldn’t it be our obligation as informed consumers to take advantage of every mistake an airline makes?

But that line of reasoning makes my moral compass spin out of control, and so should yours. It’s wrong to level the playing field with business that engages in practices you believe to be unethical by becoming unethical.

And that brings me to the comments, which I found a little disappointing. Some readers obsessed over the dictionary definition of “stealing” while ignoring the shady circumstances of Lauren’s reservation. They applied false analogies (“if the tables were turned, we’d have to pay up”) and misinterpreted federal and state laws in a silly attempt to prove that it’s morally right to knowingly take advantage of a pricing mistake.

A fair amount of feedback was nothing more than amusing ad-hominem attacks. I wasn’t surprised by their lack of substantive criticism or impressed by the insults. I’ve been called much worse, my friends.

I suspect I know what accounted for the volume of venomous personal attacks. It’s probably because the story struck a raw nerve. Some of you, dear readers, have taken advantage of an obvious pricing error, and you were looking to this consumer advocate for absolution.

I’m sorry I can’t offer you any.

Is it OK to book an airfare you know is wrong?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

  • technomage1

    If you knowingly take advantage of a price error, then yes, that is stealing. There is intent involved. I bought a PS3 back when they first came out. The purchase price was almost $500. When I got to the register, it rang up as $39.95. Of course, I notified the store of the mistake. When we investigated, it turned out there were 2 bar codes on it. One rang up properly, the other as a BBQ grill.

    I’m not going to lose my integrity or cost someone their job over a mistake like that.

  • backprop

    “ANA’s intention was to fly Japanese executives back and forth between
    Tokyo and Rangoon,” the insider says. “These executives’ mission is to
    invest and create factories over in Myanmar so people there can have
    badly-needed jobs. Because there are only a few seats and mostly in
    business class, the fare to Rangoon, or vice versa, is quite expensive.”

    I guess this is the yin-yang equivalent of “I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income who survived cancer and was on the way to be with my autistic grandson at his mother’s funeral”

  • Gebinsk

    My God, what kind of corporate welfare is this? Companies are free to make whatever blunders their stakeholders will tolerate. If an airline wants to price itself out of business, it has a right to do so; if a blogger wants to lose face by libelling someone for no reason at all, well, ICANN will be thrilled to have his domain name back.

  • EdB

    You link to the SUV was broken when I tried. I did find this link:–buyer-ARRESTED-theft.html#axzz2JvfeoQxg

    But what you failed to mention in your story was that the salesperson tried using the cops to fix a mistake they made and as a result, the dealership is now looking at over $2.2 million+ in lawsuits. To be honest, I’m surprised the person making the report hasn’t had criminal charges filed for filing a false police report.

  • Thanks. I fixed the link.

  • Chris Johnson

    I voted no here. But if you don’t somebody else will. Not justifying anything, just a fact of life.

    On another note, I’m confused here. Did Lauren pay $13 or did she pay $586 to go to Myanmar? For $13, of course I’d assume it was a mistake, too good to be true and assume the airline would catch up to its mistake sooner or later. But for $586, however cheap that may be to go to Myanmar, the onus shouldn’t be on me to know whether the airline made a mistake, or was just was trying to clear out its inventory of seats that might have otherwise gone empty. I’m not an expert on airline pricing and we all know that it is almost impossible for the general public to figure out.

  • Jennifer M.

    I think what was meant is that if one paid $586, only $13 of that would be “fare” and the other $573 would be taxes and fees

  • Richard Trilling

    The airlines knowingly take adavantage of mistakes by their passengers when they book fares.

    Turn around is just fare (pun intended) play..

  • BillCCC

    If someone knowingly buys an item at a price that they know is a mistake then I would consider it stealing. Once you are notified you should either be willing to pay full price or cancel with a quick refund of the price paid. This applies to any item.

  • $16635417

    I worked with people who felt that it was OK to take CD’s out of cars if the windows were mistakenly left open. The truly believed it wasn’t the same as stealing.

    I was surprised that so many had that attitude. It will be hard to convince people that purchasing a $13 transpacific business class fare, when the airline mistakenly “left the window open”, is not ethical.

  • $16635417

    It was a $13 one way FROM Myanmar, the remainder of the $573 was taxes. Also, while YOU may not have been aware if it was a mistake or not, Lauren did know it was.

  • katestr

    Two wrongs have never made a right. That is a very old proverb that stands the test of time. If a person decides to be unethical, no matter the justification, then he or she must accept being painted with the stench of dishonesty.

  • Blackadar

    Your question above is different than your post. In your post, you again try to make the case that this is “stealing”. Again, it’s not. It does not meet the legal or generally accepted definition(s) of stealing.

    But to answer your question above, no, it’s not ok to book an obviously incorrect airfare. Just like it’s not ok for airlines to leave you stranded, rental companies to try to bill you for false damages or hotels to ignore your reservation and leave you without a room.

    You need to be consistent. If you consider the above stealing, then the next time an airline leaves a passenger without a flight because of their bureaucratic bungling, then I expect you to talk about how the airline “stole” the passenger’s time and money, regardless of the Contract of Carriage.

  • Nikki

    2 wrongs never, ever make a right. Especially in a world where we all hear and preach the same damn thing: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. That applies to many, many things and situations in our own daily lives.

    The problem I have with it is that inevitably, the mistake costs someone their job… thanks in part to the opportunists that argue like crazy, after knowingly booking a too-good-to-be-true rate. Legal, generally accepted definitions, whatever. It’s stealing – pure and simple.

  • Charlie Funk

    If it is okay to book a fare one knows to be wrong then it might be argued that those who are hoodwinked by scam artists that post super low prices for travel, among other things, deserve what they got because they knew the “deal” was too good to be true but they thought they were getting over on the hapless merchant.

  • technomage1

    The difference in in SUV case is intent. The buyer did not intend to deceive nor could have reasonably been expected to realize that a mistake had occurred. Even if they had gotten ahold of him right away, he would have been within his rights to refuse to sign a new contract. Having him arrested was totally out of line and will likely result in a large cash settlement (and possibly put the dealer out of business).

  • Adam1222

    What if you know you were supposed to be charged a $150 change fee on a reservation, and you weren’t? Is that stealing? What if you know the rules said you should pay that fee, you pay it, and then contact a “consumer advocate” to get you a refund? Stealing, right? It seems hypocritical if you say otherwise.

  • Kevin Mathews

    I agree that booking a fare that you know to be absurdly low is stealing. I liken it to finding a wallet on the sidewalk with cash in it and a drivers liscense. You have the information to give the wallet back, cash fully intact or you can take the cash out and throw out the wallet. “Finders Keepers” right? Same sense of moral fiber would apply to finding an erronious fare online.
    The question for those of us who don’t don’t fly regularly enough to know better, is how can you tell if the deal is just a good deal vs stealing? What is the cut-off? Because sometimes, in today’s world, there really ARE fares that good.
    Also, if it’s stealing for the consumer to book an erronious fare, how is it not stealing when the customer screws up and you “bully” the airline into giving them a refund on a non-refundable ticket? I understand that you are a consumer advocate, but here you are argueing that EVERYONE needs to follow the rules, yet many times we’ve seen you argue cases against the stated rules all in the name of Customer Service.
    At what point in time do businesses and people simply need to own up to their mistakes, learn from them, and move on?

  • john4868

    Sorry… but I think I’m about the biggest pro business guy here and I’m not buying what you’re selling Chris. For me, the benefit of the doubt always goes to the consumer. If I walk up to the register with a beef tenderloin but the price tag says chicken, ok … maybe there’s an issue there but in almost all of these situations its not that obvious.

    Rarely in a retail environment will the consumer know the retailer’s cost. When you compound that with retailers using “loss leaders” to get people in the door, I don’t see how you can put the onus on the customer for the retailer’s mistake or knowing what a “reasonable” price is. Reasonable is a price that he’s willing to sell it my for and I’m willing to buy it. If its that confusing in the world of MSRPs, it gets even worse when it comes to the world of dynamic airline fare pricing.

    Can we all agree the airline fares make little sense logically? Otherwise, why would it be cheaper for me to fly DAY-CVG-LAX than CVG-LAX (for those that don’t know DAY is 90 min from CVG and this was a true condition back when CVG was DLs biggest hub)? After all, the airline has to pay to fly me twice instead of once. When you compound that with very small airfares on big carriers (I paid £1 before taxes once to fly BA from EDI to LHR), how can anyone put the onus on the consumer to prove that the fare they paid is legit?

    Sorry but the moment the airline accepts payment in full for my non-refundable airfare, they should be on the hook just like I am. I don’t get to go back to fix errors and neither should they. If airlines can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to monitor twitter in real time, they can do the same for FT and other boards like it. They can pay to have developers write code to watch for spikes in the purchase of tickets along certain routes. All of these can mitigate the damage but ultimately, it should be the airline and not the consumer paying for the mistake…

    At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it….

  • Kevin Mathews

    I’m trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with buying a vehicle for $5,600 under the asking price. I’ve never paid the asking price for any vehicle I bought at a dealership because 90% of the time, the asking price is the MSRP price that very few people ever pay…

  • BillCCC

    Exactly. I agree with this 100%.

  • LadySiren

    I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – if we want airlines and other travel-related businesses to play fair with travelers, then travelers have to do the same with travel corporations.

    This is stealing, plain and simple. Forget the fuzzy logic of whether it’s okay to take advantage of such a mistake because the airlines are greedy, hate their pax, whatever. The truth is Lauren was cheating the airline and then tried to justify it to friends, fellow travelers, and the world at large. Shame on her and those of her ilk whose shaky ethics means it’s fine to steal, whether it’s by breaking and entering into someone’s house or knowingly taking advantage of an honest mistake. Either way, someone is victimized and no, it’s not okay that that someone happens to be a large corporation.

    As for the “amusing” ad-hominem attacks you mention, I don’t find them amusing at all. I’ll probably get roasted by these same vitriolic blowhards but in my opinion, there’s been a decline in the quality of the comments that corresponds to the rise in awareness and popularity of your blog, Chris. It’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and make hyperbolic accusations but I suspect many of these posters wouldn’t have the guts to say the same to your face. I personally don’t bother commenting much anymore simply because provocative comments tend to act as lightning rods for the kooks.

    Ignore the windbags and keep on keepin’ on, I say.

  • DeVon Thomas

    I agree it is a form of stealing. If you go to a bank to cash a check…and they accidentally give you back more money than they should. You knew they made a mistake. You didn’t take the money out of someone’s purse or wallet, but the bank cashier gave it to you. You go out to spend that money that you were not entitled too…is that not stealing? Chris is many people would take advantage of the they would argue it isn’t stealing.because good church going folks don’t do that. Really….$586 for a ticket that should be priced near $10000. No one is going to intentionally discount a nearly $10000 fare for < $600 just like you won't ever get the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton for $100.

  • Kevin Mathews


    I agree with you on the stealing. My biggest concern here is that Chris is advocating fairness all around, but will turn around and criticize the same airlines if they don’t waive some fee in a certain circumstance.

    He is expecting the passengers to play fair here, but these are the same passengers that when caught by one of the airlines’ many published rules will run to Chris for help in getting out of paying the particular fine/fee because of X reason.
    Fairness needs to work both ways. If the customer buys a Non-Refundable ticket, then if something happens they need to expect to NOT get a refund. Period. Unless the airlines screws up, there should be zero discussion here because in the world of fairness, the customer should accept responsibility for their actions that led to the fee. The problem is, that is not what happens here. People run to Chris crying foul and he takes it up with the Airlines, Hotel, etc… Even when the customer is clearly in the wrong.

  • LadySiren

    I think you make a good point but I do think that sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances that warrant his assistance. But for those travelers that are clearly in the wrong? IMO, they get the outcome they deserve.

  • “The aviation industry created a sophisticated pricing scheme designed to squeeze the most money out of each passenger, and when it loses control of the system, we shouldn’t let it off the hook…”

    To me this is the heart of the issue. Those FlyerTalk people were practicing yield management. Airlines love their one-way contracts, but hate it when their own tactics are used against them.

  • So…if a traveler makes an honest mistake when booking a fare through one of those weaselly websites, he is them morally entitled to a do-over?

    Fair enough, in my estimation. Now try to get some airlines to actually agree to this.

  • Kevin Mathews

    I agree that there are circumstances that warrent assistance.
    But we’ve seen some here that Chris has advocated for that really don’t deserve anything at all.
    But also, at the end of the day, if a customer is in breach of the contract and subject to a particular fee, isn’t it in the spirit of fairness that they pay the clearly disclosed fee? Most fees that people complain about are not the ones hidden beneath 20 pages of contract. They are the ones that are clearly displayed and almost everyone knows about…

  • LadySiren

    Absolutely. I’d say the airline should offer the traveler a chance to correct the mistake. Note the use of “should” – it may or may not happen. But just because the airline doesn’t always do what it should does not mean that it’s right to compromise my own personal ethics. My own sense of right and wrong tells me that knowingly taking advantage of an erroneous fare is stealing, hence my comments.

    Edit: fixed a typo that completely changed the tone of my reply. :D

  • J D

    I’m a little torn on answering this one. I feel like if a retailer makes a mistake, they make a mistake. You have to take responsibility for your actions. But if you purchase something that you know was a mistake and then are caught doing it ,the same rule applies. She bought something she KNEW was priced wrong…suffer the consequences and don’t waste Chris’s time. Yeah, they should have notified her before she got to the airport…but who knows if that was the airline or Expedia’s fault.

  • crash025

    Mistake fares are mistake fares. If you claim that a mistake fare is stealing, then how do you view price drops due to competition? Is that extortion? The airlines are unwilling to pay out for top notch systems that run their pricing systems. Why should we be responsible for testing their systems?

  • LadySiren

    There might be one or two cases where you’re correct but everyone is prone to making mistakes, no? On the subject of customers expecting relief even when they know they’re in the wrong (your fee example, for instance) I’m not against them asking – not demanding – for some consideration by the airline or whatever business. It never hurts to ask; it is however, bad to demand or expect, though.

  • Chris Johnson

    Okay, I get it. Makes sense now.

  • TonyA_says

    What kind of welfare is this when some people (who abuse the system) can fly business for $13 or first class for slightly more (before tax)?

  • jerryatric

    We were meeting friends at a Caribbean resort. The airlines first said oops, mechanical problems, & as it grew in delayed time – it suddenly became a weather issue so the airline cancelled the whole trip to the next day. No hotel or any other compensation! Our friends missed 1 day of paid resort costs, & the airline gets away free! Mechanical problem – airline would have to compensate – weather they don’t have to pay. So don’t lecture us on “stealing” The airline industry has done the travelling public wrong in so many ways, so many times, that people will do anything to get back at them. Very understandable from someone who’s been abused by the airlines on many occasions.

  • mszabo

    I’ll certainly vote no, however I see this issue as rarely being this clear. How exactly do I know that the fare is wrong? I recall asking several times the first time this thread came up at what price difference is it obviously wrong? In that thread I found several coach class fares from Vancouver to Myanmar in the 700-1000 dollar range. Seems like a traveler could easily not notice the seating class and have booked that fare mistakenly thinking it was a good but not outrageously good deal.

    In that case the airline would have royally screwed the passenger by canceling the booking months later leaving the traveler to scramble to get a flight and likely paying above the normal pricing for a last minute fare.

  • ATLfrequentflier

    I applaud your calling it theft. It seems that mroe and more that people have a sense of entitlement these days when it comes to air travel.They want to pay as little as possible to get from point A to point B safely, on-time, etc. and expect the world; they balk at the unbundled services they pay extra for if needed. This is the end-state of deregulated airfare. The cost to fly is still considerably less than it was 30 years ago, when adjusted for inflation. In my opinion, business class airfares seem to have remained the same ($6,000 for Europe up to $10,000 for Asia) to me over the years all while service, in my opinion, has improved in the front of the plane.
    Bottom line… people need to remember the Golden Rule. If it were their business and a price eror cost them thousands of dollars, they would be up in arms too, and rightfully so.

  • “But if you don’t somebody else will.”

    My response — that may be true, but the ‘somebody’ won’t be me. I don’t care if the world around thinks something is fine; if it goes against my moral code, I have a duty to myself (and my God, though YMMV) to uphold my own standard.

  • tomjuno

    I don’t travel outside North America enough to be aware of what constitutes a good price in the rest of the world and what makes that good price an outrageous steal. And given the way airline prices seem so whimsically up and down, I’ll probably never know. But if I see what I deem to be an acceptable price, I’ll expect the airline to honour my booking, as well as any others who book at that mad-buy price – at least until the airline discovers its mistake and corrects it. That’s the price it should pay for its sloppiness.

    Incidentally, I think some of the analogies mentioned above, to other, presumably similar ethical situations, are rather far-fetched. For example, equating an airfare error with swiping CDs out of cars with open windows? Puh-leeze!

  • TonyA_says

    In regards to these Burmese Ticket cancellations, you might find it delightfully refreshing that the US DOT and Canadian CTA did NOT side with the “airfare thieves”.

  • TonyA_says

    Who stranded Lauren in Rangoon? Wasn’t RGN the origin city of her ticket? How can an airline strand you in your ORIGIN?

  • I didn’t have a chance to comment the last time before it got out of control, so I’ll do so here. No, I don’t think it’s right to knowingly take advantage of a mistake, such as by trolling the FT boards. And I think it’s doubly wrong to then attempt to shame the supplier into accepting the price once caught. But I do have issues with your approach on this, which I’ll detail below.

    First is your characterization that people who get deals that are “too good to be true” are automatically guilty of something, and therefore, deserve what they get. Ok, I’ll concede that for those who intentionally attempt to profit from a known mistake, but my question is, in today’s world of dynamic pricing, how do you ever KNOW what the difference is between an error and just a good deal? You and some other commenters seem to imply that the onus is on the consumer to research a price several times and through multiple sources to confirm the validity. I have scored several very good deals in the last few years, including a midsize rental car for $24, taxes included, at the Denver airport, and cruise tickets for $600 off the normal price (about 30%). Both were legitimate deals. Does the cruise line now have the right to demand more money from me at the port on the basis that I shouldn’t have gotten a deal that good? If $586 for a business class ticket to Myanmar is automatically too good to be true, then what if it were $3,000? That’s 1/3 the normal price, but for a good part of last year, AA would sell you domestic first class tickets for about twice the price of coach on their website – a discount of between half and 2/3 off the normal price. I think it’s manifestly unfair to expect consumers to have to jump through 8 levels of verification every time they spot a deal because it “might” be a mistake. In any event, I think there should be some degree of a reasonableness standard involved if a supplier tries to claw back a purchase on the basis that it was a mistake. A day or two after purchase, fine, most likely no one’s been harmed and you can make alternative arrangements without much trouble. But is it OK for an airline to wait weeks or even months to tell you “sorry, we shouldn’t have sold it to you for that price, either pay up or we’re canceling your ticket”?

    And FYI, your analogy to the SUV story really is a poor one. $5,600 off sticker price for a new car isn’t particularly unusual, depending on the circumstances. But it goes to illustrate my point even further – how are you ever supposed to know what’s legit and what isn’t these days, without risk of being labeled a thief for getting a “too good to be true” deal?

  • mszabo

    As an unrelated example, I was recently looking to book a vacation to Mexico. I was on booking airfare and they inserted an ad into the flight selection page for jetblue getaways. Clicking this ad, brings you to their vaction site and I was able to add a hotel ending up with a reasonable price. I brought this home to my wife to talk about and since I knew about jetblue getaways I just started there. This came up with a different price (more expensive by about $500). I retraced the steps I used earlier and again received the cheaper price.

    Is one of these fares a mistake, probably, although certainly many websites are capable of using who brought you to the site for different pricing (in the same way that Chris probably gets a penny when we click that ad on the right). However which price is/was the mistake? Both prices weren’t out of line ($5500 vs $6000). I emailed JetBlue and never heard back. Pricing that trip out this week shows the price is now about $8000 making that first difference trivial.

  • $16635417

    Again, in this case, Lauren KNEW it was a mistake. This is not someone who stumbled upon something and booked it in good faith. It is well documented by her posts that she was fully aware of the mistake.

  • EdB

    It would seem my email replies are not making it back to the forum so if they eventually make it, please forgive the duplicate response.

    I was responding to a link Chris posted that was broken and provided a link to the same story so people could see what happened. I don’t think this was a good example for Chris to try to use as I think it hurts his argument more than helps it.

  • TonyA_says

    Thanks for bringing this up. I wonder how many lowly, hourly paid, agents in Expedia or other OTAs will lose their jobs because of a fare mistake loaded by someone else. We will never really hear about these real victims.

  • EdB

    I agree with you. I was just responding to a broken link in the original story and provided a working link that shows that example doesn’t really help Chris’ argument.

  • Rose

    Yes, these executives clearly are on a charitable mission to create jobs in Myanmar, out of the goodness of their hearts. They NEED their business-class seats because they are working so hard to help the poor. /sarcasm

  • ploughmud

    years ago in Greece my DH bought me a beautiful expensive ring. Since the cost was in Greek monies, we were not aware that we had pd only a portion of the actual cost. When we left the store I recalculated the cost and realized the mistake. We immediately returned to the merchant and had him recalculate and he then realized he had made a huge mistake. He was very grateful we had returned. We pd the right amount for the ring and went on our way. We felt good for doing the right thing aand I proudly wear my ring without any guilt. It is not right to take advantage when you know you have done something wrong.

  • TonyA_says

    Except in this case, the OP just did not just stumble upon a Myanmar mistake fare. She admits learning about the mistake fare in flyertalk. Just reading a few pages on that site should convince anyone that they are going to buy a mistake fare.

  • Mark Fei

    This is more complicated than a simple “Is it stealing?” question reflects. It’s clearly not “stealing”, but it may well be unethical; there is a difference. I recently had a conversation with someone who had booked a rental car for a weeklong holiday in Ireland. He booked and received confirmation for what he believed to be a great deal. He did not know it was a mistake. There is, after all, a bewildering array of available car rental rates available at any given time. When this guy was contacted, a couple of weeks later, to inform him the rental rate was in error, he had already factored it into his overall vacation budget, but he was still prepared to eat the difference. A very ethical guy, indeed, but not obligated to pay for someone else’s mistake.

    Travel service operators make it their business to design and promote pricing that will garner them maximum market share. Usually they do so with some, however slight, profit margin. Sometimes they deliberately price below cost for marketing reasons. Consumers cannot possibly be held responsible for divining the intent behind any particular fare, and whether “fare hunter Lauren” knew or not in this case isn’t relevant. Are we now to become mind readers?

    Businesses sometimes make mistakes and it’s incumbent on them to have internal safeguards to prevent this. When they happen, they are part of the cost of doing business.

  • EdB

    Your analogy of the bank cashing a check is not valid in this example. In your bank example, the *EXACT* amount is *KNOW* and can be verified. What is the *EXACT* amount of the airline ticket? As some of the travel professionals on this board has pointed out, the airlines have departments who’s sole purpose is to figure out the price of the ticket. So if the airline’s own sales rep can’t figure out the price, how can anyone expect the consumer to know?

    A better situation for your example would be is if you went to cash a check for $100 but they gave you $120. The exact amounts of the transaction are known so it can be verified at that time.

  • Andrew F

    “It’s wrong to level the playing field with business that engages in practices you believe to be unethical by becoming unethical.” I would agree with this statement only if the customer had a choice. If there were a legitimate “ethical” competitor, the customer should just go with it. Good example: Apple’s iPhone vs. Google’s Android. Here’s a completely unethical heavy-handed super-hyped company, whose late leader started by selling “blue boxes” (gizmos to illegally make free long-distance phone calls) to fellow students for $170. Now they are hoarding meaningless patents and suing the bejesus out of competitors. Should we, as customers, rob their stores? No — we should just go with an ethical competitor, who offers a lot of cheaper and more open products.

    Unfortunately, it does not work this way with airlines. All of them engage in pricing games; all of them nickel-and-dime you for trivial stuff. Also, although formally “flying is not a right”, the reality is that sometimes you HAVE to fly — be it for business or to see your family overseas. So the only discourse available is “turning the tables” and becoming unethical. That’s life.

  • john4868

    Here’s the difference in your example… The MSRP of the item was known so you could realize that you we’re paying less than 10% of the retail price. I’m also going to assume since you knew that the other price was for a Grill that the RMS displayed a Grill and not a PS3. Since you hadn’t paid yet, I’m completely fine with the store going … “there’s been a mistake. The actual price is $500.” If you intentionally switched the price tag with the grill price tag, now you are stealing. On the other hand, if the clerk and you both missed that the amount was off and the RMS displayed something different (multiple error proofing steps that the airlines have opted to leave out for $ reasons), the store shouldn’t be able to cancel the sale once you leave.

  • mszabo

    I wouldn’t go quite that far, after all the airlines now must allow travelers to cancel those non-refundable fares for 24 hours after booking. This also seems reasonable for an airline. Those stories Chris mentioned the SUV and the Zodiac both had the seller realize their mistake quickly. The biggest issue with Lauren’s case to me was the airline taking months to cancel the fare. At that point I am half tempted to say they should be completely eating the cost of their mistake.

  • TonyA_says

    I think you have two main questions:
    (1) How do you know when you are stealing a mistake fare
    (2) Why did the airlines wait so long to fix it or cancel flights.

    On Stealing, that’s easy. You know you are stealing if you know it is a mistake fare and you went ahead and bought a ticket.

    On “delayed” airline actions, more questions need to be asked – when did they know about it and what did they do about it? By scanning FT, I came to the conclusion that some FTers were actually able to fully take advantage of the mistake fare (in first class) during the early stages of the fiasco. But as more and more folks piled on, the airlines probably began to notice.
    I would not be surprised if someone in the revenue audit department saw the prorate amounts out of whack – maybe a few dollars for first class coupon. And when more and more coupons hit audit desk, they got alarmed and began investigating. Then the sh*t hit the fan and there were massive cancellations and downgrades. Also, I would be surprised that their legal departments still had to consult with authorities before they cancelled tickets. So, to me, this explains why so many mistake fare ticket holders were on limbo for a while.

  • mszabo

    I’d be tempted to say well of course don’t consider Lauren’s case as the answer their is she was obviously in the wrong, and we are debating the more interesting question of “How do we know it is a mistake”, but from the poll question responses for 44% of us I guess it isn’t as obvious as I would have thought.

  • LivedinItaly

    I have issues with two comments by your insider.

    First – “These executives’ mission is to invest and create factories over in Myanmar so people there can have badly-needed jobs” and second “So if you ask me what else was stolen by the thieves, it is that they interfered with the business mission that Myanmar badly needs. Instead of the space going to real executives who could create jobs, the space went to FlyerTalk idiots.”

    If, as the insider stated, the true reason for this particular route is to support job creation in Myanmar then why did ANA select a 737 instead of a larger aircraft? It would seem that if ANA was truly invested in ensuring this endeavor was successful they would not use a small aircraft nor limit flights to just three times a week.

  • Blackadar

    Tony, I said when the airlines leave “a passenger”, not “THIS passenger”.

  • TonyA_says

    Blackadar, how many people ACTUALLY got stranded (in Burma) because of this mistake fare? Do you know?

  • Carchar

    Like Backdrop, I feel that why these flights were instituted is extraneous information. For all we know, these investors are on their way to exploit the people of Myanmar by hiring ultra-cheap labor in factories that have sealed fire exits. Lauren may have actually been prevented from delaying a workers demise. However, I voted, “No.”

  • TonyA_says

    John, but when does an airline actually know it lost money or didn’t make the right amount of money on your ticket? My thinking is AFTER YOU FLY, when your (ticket) coupon gets presented for proration or claim with the airline that issued the ticket. Not necessarily when a third party issues the ticket. That’s why it takes time for airlines to find out there is a leak, unless they see a puddle.

  • Stewart

    The airlines are guilty of the same thing there is no other wa Yao describe “fuel surcharges” as a way for the airlines to steal from us. There is no explanation of how they arrive at a fuel surcharge, and it never seems to go down when fuel costs go down

  • Mel65

    Couple of years ago, we went to buy a car. I wrote the dealer a check for $7K for the down payment. The next morning I got a frantic call, saying “I know you gave me a check but I can’t find it… ” When I looked thru our paperwork, sure enough it was stuck in there between pages of the loan documents he handed to us. When I took it back, the dealer thanked me effusively, because I could have simply said, “Nope, I gave it to you and never saw it again,” and have had no recourse and would have been stuck swallowing the money for his mistake in “losing” my check since I paid in good faith. I don’t get the idea of knowingly profiting off of someone’s error; my integrity is worth so much more than that.

  • TonyA_says

    mszabo, if YOU don’t know it is a mistake then you are NOT STEALING. I agree that for many people they will NOT KNOW whether a fare is a mistake or not.

    Elliott’s article is about those people who INTENTIONALLY buy a mistake fare because they know it is a mistake. They know it is mistake because they have the expertise to know a mistake fare from a correct one.

  • Blackadar

    Tony, I have no interest in debating your rather obvious attempt to mischaracterize what is clearly written. Have a nice day!

  • jk

    A while ago my partner and I were buying a rug at IKEA. It scanned at $350, which was about half the usual price. We ran to the car with it because we thought it was a mistake and that we’d be stopped and asked to pay the full price. It turns out that the rug was on sale (we didn’t feel right about it, so we went back and asked). But the running is what gave away the fact that we knew something was wrong. If you feel like running after you pay for an airline ticket, maybe it’s worth a second look. The worst outcome, in my opinion, is what happened to Lauren – she was able to make part of her trip but got stranded because the airline figured out the error and cancelled the return ticket. That would suck, but I would feel like it was partly my own fault. I don’t like uncertainty when I travel, so I have to say that avoiding it would probably be my main motivation in not booking a fare that I wasn’t sure was valid. I completely understand feeling like the airlines owe us travelers better treatment and that if they make a mistake, it’s their problem. But I can also see Chris’s argument that sometimes people make mistakes, and they shouldn’t necessarily be held to them. I wouldn’t have any problem with this argument if we were talking about a small business, but I’m more conflicted when it comes to the airlines.

  • SoBeSparky

    The “moral majority” is winning. Hurray.

    Now let’s just get this straight. There are ethics and standards. Some of them arise in our Judaic-Christian heritage, such as “Do unto others…” Others are more modern, like, “Pay it forward.” Karma comes from Buddhism. None of these condone thievery of the “strictly legal” or illegal kind.

    As for those who don’t know, I say, “Bah humbug.” A business class fare halfway around the world costs around $10K in anyone’s book. Buying a bottle of genuine Chanel No. 5 for $9.99 has a decimal point error. There are such things as smart buys and others as unethical acts. If you don’t know the difference, you are in a moral swamp. Good luck getting out before the gators get you.

  • TonyA_says

    Great post Sparky! But I’ve gotta believe that the “moral swamp” must be really captivating. Please read this Huffington Post article about a journalist and travel expert’s experience when he bought a $119 first class fare from Rangoon to Toronto (ticket total $~800 after tax). Would you say that he was apparently caught in the same moral swamp?

    Note: you may have to google translate the Swiss article.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Yes, there is a difference between stumbling onto a mistake fare and unknowingly booking it as opposed to having somebody tell you “hey, there’s a mistake fare over here you can exploit.” And in this case the OP admitted to knowing it was a mistake at the time of booking. I don’t know if I’ll go so far as to call it “stealing” in a case like that, but it definitely raises to the level where I’m not going to feel sympathy for the OP if the airline catches on and denies the fare. Try to get away with a fast one and sometimes you’ll get caught.

  • $16635417

    I don’t usually comment on the poll questions, as Chris has made clear, they are not always related to the case and meant to spur discussion. I honestly now just skim down to the comments without reading the polls and leave my comments to the individual cases. If the poll question were something like: “Since Lauren knew the fare was a mistake prior to booking, should I help her?”, I’d probably vote “no” in that case.

  • TonyA_says

    Next time buy (the correct) travel insurance so you don’t need to blame the airline or feel abused by them.

  • bodega3

    What really gets me is that ‘Lauren’ knew what she was doing and then had the gall to write Chris for help.

  • TonyA_says

    Let me try to understand your logic. Suppose you get screwed every time you fly domestic USA. Ok I understand that, many people feel that way. So to get even, you buy a mistake fare in MYANMAR from an airline that has nothing to do with your screwy flights in the USA? I cannot see the connection.

  • Charles

    “And that brings me to the comments, which I found a little disappointing.” I read many of those comments. Yes, many were as you describe. But, there is one fundamental argument I’ve seen that you are overlooking: We live in a capitalist system. Things are offered for sale and we can purchase them. They can choose to put any price on a product that they like and we decide to purchase it. If they make a mistake, it is their mistake, not mine. I sold something once on eBay and underestimated the shipping. I lost money on that deal. Did consider it reasonable to contact the buyer and tell them that I made a mistake, sorry, you have to pay more? Of course not. I ate the loss.

    The airlines offered a product for sale at the wrong price. They messed up. Every company messes up sometimes. I’m sure Walmart has many pricing errors in every store. Do they track you down if you buy something at the wrong price? No, they consider it part of shrinkage. Airlines may lose a lot more per sale in these incidents, but it is probably a much lower overall percentage than Walmart’s shrinkage. They made the mistake; they should eat it and go on. And, they should learn enough to avoid these types of mistakes. Heck, some reasonable software could probably scan their inventory and prevent this type of thing, but why bother if they are just going to grab the money back from the customers? Why don’t the airlines pay one person to sit around and read flyertalk and find these silly mistakes?

    And, I am a bit frustrated that an extreme example is being used to paint everyone with a broad brush. I’ve purchased two hotel stays recently where I’m pretty sure (get that: not certain) that the prices were a mistake. That mistake dropped my price by only about 20% in one case and 10% in the other, but that put these trips in my budget, where they would not have been otherwise. One I only suspected afterwards, the other I suspected up front. But, I was offered a complete vacation package on Expedia in one case and Travelocity in the other and I agreed to their price and they took my money. If they decide there was a mistake, I think they should consider it part of the cost of doing business.

    Fundamentally: they offer you a price; you agree to that price. There should be no backsies. The airlines should police their own mistakes; don’t ask people to police them by buying the ticket.

  • crash025

    Thats still not thievery. All of the airlines have a real time auction based pricing system. They benefit when more people buy tickets. If something goes wrong with that, its their fault.End of story. They have the resources to hire someone full time to make sure that the mistakes don’t happen.

    It all depends on how the airline handles it. For example the Hong Kong deal with United this past summer: United respected the bookings for the upcoming days [and the return] and canceled the iteraries after a certain day.

  • John Keahey

    I agreed with you when you first posted the story, Chris, and I agree with you now. Even if someone can justify booking a ridiculously low fare posted by mistake, it is not worth the hassle when the airline discovers the problem. Legally, Lauren and those of her ilk are not “stealing,” but they are certainly operating with a diminished moral compass — like some of the politicians they probably complain about.

  • dourdan

    I will not judge anyone who wants to book an incorrect airfare, but after reading this site- stealing or not– i would be scared of the airline canceling my ticket and stranding me in a foreign country.

    so if expedia showed me–


    i would not be picking the 25 dollar airfare.

  • naoma

    I would say “stealing.” Dishonest to do.

  • TonyA_says

    No we don’t have to be a mind reader, we just have to read the article closely. Lauren said she knew she was buying a mistake fare she saw in FT.
    This is a case of bad intentions.

  • The zombie apocalypse has ended. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. My webmaster hit the wrong button.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Stories like yours give me a great more faith in Chris Elliott’s readership than the poll results do. Thank you.

  • TonyA_says

    So if one intentionally buys an airline ticket that one knew was a mistake would you just call that good luck? What happens to one’s good luck when the airline cancels the ticket? Bad luck?

    My moral compass tells me that it is WRONG to buy something that I know is priced so low that it is obviously a mistake and someone might get hurt (like lose their job) if I take advantage of it.

    Too often the consumer thinks that he or she is the only victim.

  • $16635417

    If I recall, the problem was not in the pricing or yield management tactics used by airlines, but rather the lag time from the devaluation of the Myanmar currency to catch up with fares that were published.

  • TonyA_says

    Actually on the 2nd page of the FT thread, there was a post comparing business class fares:

    KE $428
    AA & CX $7,518
    CI $8,421
    BR $8,494
    US $13,316

    Anyone picking the KE $428 would probably be asking a lot of questions first, unless they knew exactly what they were doing.

  • I wish to remain anonymous


    You mention that readers are obsessed by dictionary definitions. I need to let you know that that’s ok, that’s what we reference for word definitions. We don’t reference Chris’ personal morality dictionary. Please, step down a peg or two.

    What if someone took a airfare without knowing that this was an error and was not deliberately exploiting it. Should they expect public judging by yourself that they are a thief?

    For reference of your readers, perhaps you can clarify where the line is. Perhaps, is something was 10c under charged you would let me off and not accuse me of stealing? I apprecaite your clarification.

    Chris, this topic has you appear as if you are a personal mission. You mix facts with emotions which not only dilutes the point but dilutes your blog. History shows that you are heavy on facts – you need to be. Please stick to this.



  • Daddydo

    WRONG! Who is to say that this is an incorrect fare? My brain always peaks when it is too good to be true. 5.6 billion dollars in cheapskate charges created a profit for the airlines that should not be there. I bought a TV on Black Friday for 175.00 because it was on sale, was that stealing? If not, who can predict the absolute stupidity of airline pricing / sales? If you see it there, I would go to any travel agency that can print an ARC ticket receipt and buy the ticket; pay the service charge, and take have legal proof of reservation and ticketing. I really feel that you Chris, are overlooking the fact the fact that the ARC receipt is absolute!

    What Lauren has not explained is what happened after the cancelled flight, The airlines had every legal responsibility to get her transportation to her destination. What is priced on the ticket has no berring on the airlines regulations.

  • crash025

    If you believe that it the price is wrong, then report it. IMO: If the ticket has not been used yet, then the airline is able to cancel a mistake fare. If the ticket has been used before the mistake fare is caught and the airline cancels the ticket, then thats a violation of contract and the airline is extorting the person who took advantage of the mistake fare.

    You also have to keep in mind about mistake fare’s: You won’t be able to change the ticket after its confirmed.

  • TonyA_says

    crash025, who is extorting who for a $13 basic fare in business class from Burma to Canada? You have got to be kidding.

    Who will report to the airline a mistake fare? A FT member? You have got to be kidding, again.

  • TonyA_says

    In a perfect world (maybe the way you describe it), the airlines will audit each and every ticket sold (millions) by the end of the day and return your money (or reverse credit card charge) if it spotted a discrepancy. But this is not the way the system works.

    If you notice, not one of the mistake fare tickets were bought DIRECTLY from an airline or by walking in and buying from a brick and mortar Travel Agency. 100% of the reported problems were tickets issued by a third-party OTA and mostly outside the USA. Why? Because an airline and a travel agency manned by humans would have spotted the price anomaly immediately and not continue with the transaction. But the OTA’s work differently. It’s vending machines that simply put together flights using their own logic (something they call a matrix) so they can immediately display the search results. Their system is not designed to do what a human being can do – look at the fare and if it does not make sense, call all the airlines involve before you issue a ticket.

    I read some of the FT pages on this fiasco and I realized some OTAs were issuing tickets validated on airlines that did not even ply the Myanmar routes. For example, many tickets were issued on USAir stock. How USAir got involved in flight from Burma is quite interesting. It had to do with IATA Flex Fares. It must have been a shock to USAirways that they issued a ticket with a base fare of ~$100 for something that normally costs more about $10K. I certainly would not call USAir negligent. I would call them a victim.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Off topic, but your post hits on a couple of things I’ve never understood: 1) I don’t get why you’d sign a post like it was a letter. 2) I’m even more confused by signing a post with something completely different than your user name. Why isn’t some variation of “S” in your user name if it is that important?

  • Just Somebody

    It’s not stealing. They made a mistake. Then they fixed it. In between, they lost revenue. Life goes on. And yes – I booked a round trip from Honolulu to Paris for $225. Great trip. Two regrets. One, for $50 more I could have had First Class. ;) Two, on the way back the airline offered a free night in San Francisco and a First Class ticket and $600 in credit to give up a seat. I ran as fast as I could but a family of six beat me to the counter. They play games, we play games…

  • TonyA_says

    I agree. Nice to know there are people like ploughmud.
    In some stores, the sales person is required to pay for their mistakes.
    Imagine how their poor families will suffer because of a mistake.

  • TonyA_says

    A 12700% devaluation. Minor issue :-)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    In high school, I worked at a fast food place where I was required to make up the difference between what the register showed as sales and what the cash drawer contained. My income from that job, minimum wage though it was, went to buy groceries, as my mother’s income wasn’t sufficient to pay the bills. Mistakes literally took food from our mouths.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Chris stated: “Lauren told me she knew she was booking a mistake fare, a fact I had made clear in the original story, and a fact many readers chose to disregard. ”

    I’m not seeing anywhere in the story where Chris says that someone booking a really good deal deal without knowing that the fare was in error is a thief. I believe that you’re engaging in the debate tactic of misdirection.

  • bodega3

    How about the issue of coming to Chris to get help on the canceled reservation that she knew was wrong to begin with? She is a real prize!

  • TonyA_says

    You are making me cry. I can never forget the $2 I lost in early grade school. My mother gave it to me to pay for a school function but I lost it in the playground. When I went home she told me how hard it was to make two bucks for folks who came back or went to work after WW2.

    I also find disturbing some comments here about Asian sweatshops. I go to Asia rather frequently and I see poverty up close. So even a sweatshop job can mean providing food on the table for the rest of the family left in a village somewhere. Many Americans have no clue what real poverty is.

  • $16635417

    Who is to say this is an incorrect fare? Lauren said it was an incorrect fare. She knew it when she booked it.

  • TonyA_says

    I am not sure the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will agree with your statement about jobs. Have you any clue how poor people are in Burma?
    She said

    “Please don’t think about how much benefit will come to those who are investing. I understand investors invest because they hope to profit from ventures – I agree with that – but our country must benefit as much as those who invest.
    “I want this commitment to mean quite simply jobs – as many jobs as possible.”

    Please read

  • TonyA_says

    My Cathay Pacific fuel surcharge just went down effective 01FEB.
    So I am paying for my ticket today (instead of last week).

  • john4868

    @TonyA_says:disqus It may be a case of not understanding the dataflow behind the scenes but the airline should know how many fares of which class are sold for each aircraft and how much they sold them for. That is the whole basis of yield management. They can manipulate the value of a ticket based on demand.

    In the above example, the store had one last check to make sure the price was right and that is the clerk ringing up the item. In the airline world, they could error minimize this by having someone eyeball every sale before they e-ticket (remember that Chris’s argument is that these should be obvious to anyone looking at the fare). The airlines have chosen not to take this step due to cost… I’m fine with that but they then are responsible for the errors that occur not the consumer.

  • Carchar

    Although the reason for the flights of Japanese investors may be totally beneficial to Myanmar, I don’t feel it matters in relation to the discussion of “stealing” from airlines.

  • Andrew F

    No one made that connection. The statement was more general than Lauren’s case. I quoted the statement I do not agree with. Basically, if I’m FORCED to deal with an unethical business, I may commit actions that I would otherwise consider unethical.

    As far as Lauren’s case goes, I do not agree that she was “stealing”, but she certainly was dishonest. Her complaints to Chris were downright stupid. She is a player, she knows the rules. Sue the airline, whatever. Chris helps honest people get a resolution when often there is no legal recourse; a resolution that’s “fair”, although it may be beyond the “legal” obligation of the company. If you are playing unfairly to begin with, being stranded in the middle of nowhere IS fair.

  • MarkKelling

    So if I then purchase one of those seats at the correct price, am I also guilty of denying a Japanese business person of being able to do their job? And I should never purchase a business or 1st class ticket because I would be denying someone who DESERVES that seat more than I do? Yeah. Right.

  • ploughmud

    So all you unethical people would you tell a person if you saw him drop a 20$ bill or would you pick it up and keep it? You know who it belongs to, will you be honest or not?

  • TonyA_says

    I am surprised at your comment (as a Travel Agent).
    If I am not mistaken, Lauren bought her tickets OUTSIDE the USA.
    As far as I know tickets bought outside the USA use IATA BSP and not ARC. I would dare you to go to your GDS and see if you can autoprice itineraries for these fares they are talking about and see if you are willing to ticket them. Next time please do a little more research.

  • Marco

    One key issue here. Stealing is a very strong word and I would not use it. In Australia in the retail sector there was/is a simple rule- when you go into a supermarket all items have a price marked. The supermarket is obliged to charge you the price marked on the item. This can go both ways- sometimes mistakes are made in favour of the supermarket other times for the client. The law is clear- the price marked on the item is the one to be charged. The supermarket cannot say at the cashier- sorry we made a mistake we need to charge you higher price- otherwise they could do this with everything.

    So for me the fault is in the airline. If they have no monitoring and checking process it means they are not good at their business. A careful business owner should always be doing checks. To make such a huge mistake shows me the airline has a huge problem. This will teach them a hard lesson that they may need to implement some rules such that it does not happen again.

    I had an airline lied to me- they tried to tell me that myself and 11 other members of a sporting team we had not paid our tickets on the return leg of our journey. We had all the proofs we paid but the airline kept insisting we had not. Then we noticed many other passengers having the same problem and eventually the story came out. One flight was cancelled and they had to merge two flights into one and the airline pretended they did not know this and were accusing passengers of not paying their ticket and were about to block some of us from boarding as they had suddenly too many passengers for one flight. The airline was MALEV (Hungarian Airlines). I have never flown with this airline again. I have many other stories with other airlines. The point is this- I feel no sympathy for airlines.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t understand your logic. I used to do international planning for an airline. When we introduced a new city, we usually start with the smallest capacity possible and then increase it when the demand ramps up. In that respect, maybe ANA thought that the demand between Burma and Japan was quite small (as the article suggests mostly business people on a mission). Why would they fly a larger aircraft? To waste space? Oh I get it. You want the airline to provide a lot more space so they can fly more $13 revenue passengers. Duh :-)

  • john4868

    One … I don’t think that I’m unethical to hold a business to a price they agreed to sell an item to me for..
    Two … I have stopped a guy that dropped a bill to return it. I have also alerted a business when something was clearly mismarked (my example below when a Chicken price label ended up on beef tenderloin).

  • Lou

    I disagree that accepting an advertised fare is stealing. Companies (especially airlines) do all sorts of bizarre things when they are pricing product, and it cannot and should not be the consumer’s responsibilty to validate a published price. The real problem is that companies think it is OK to be sloppy and make mistakes (I know … we all make mistakes, but, when I make a mistake, I have to live with the consequences) and then just slough it off by saying “that price was a mistake so it has no validity”. Own up to a mistake and live with it rather than punishing your customers!

  • mythsayer

    There is a difference between booking an obviously wrong fare and a “good” fare. For example, I once tried to book a flight from Osaka to North Carolina and then to California. Just a flight from Japan to California was costing around $3000 with every airline for some reason. The North Carolina stop didn’t really change the price much. I kept checking and checking and finally found a flight on Delta (after DAYS of checking and rechecking) for around $1700. Now, I’ve flown from Japan for around $800 to California before and I’ve also seen the $3000 flights, so $1700 for the flight was, I thought, a normal and reasonable price. Actually, considering the $800 flights at times, $1700 is still pricey. But it is within reason. I personally think a $3000 economy ticket just to California is NOT reasonable, so I figured Delta had just come down to a normal price. I tried to book that flight every which way, but kept getting an error. Not a “this is the wrong price” error, but it just wouldn’t book for whatever reason, so I called Delta directly. They were able to recreate the exact price I found. It turned out that it WAS an error, but because they also saw the price, they honored it and they actually even offered me a $200 credit because it took 2.5 hours to solve the issue. I didn’t force them to honor the price… I was just trying to book the price I saw and if they’d told me they wouldn’t honor it, I would have been upset (keep in mind it wasn’t a $500 ticket! It was still $1700!) but I wouldn’t have sued Delta or anything. I think what Delta did for me was really classy, honestly. I appreciated it because my husband was deploying from North Carolina (we were all stationed in Japan, but he had to go to NC before the deployment) and it was my last chance to see him for like 8 months. I’m sure that factored in to the Delta manager’s desire to help me (it took 2 hours so we had a LONG TIME to just chat), but I thought it was excellent customer service. I almost always fly Delta… I have about 150,000 FF miles with them, Silver status right now (soon to be gone, lol), and find they have good fares. This experience just made me want to keep flying with Delta.

    Anyway, the point I’m making is that I knew the fare was possibly wrong, because everyone else still had the $3000 fare, but the “new” fare was still a reasonable (and still expensive) fare and was found after days of checking and waiting for fares to drop (if they would, and I was praying they would, of course). I CALLED Delta and they gave me the fare because they saw the mistake on their own website (and probably also because it was still not an unreasonable fare). I didn’t game the system… I just called and they gave it to me. I don’t consider what I did stealing. I more or less showed them what I saw and hoped they would honor the price, which they did.

    It’s a totally different story when you see a fare that is obviously wrong. If that same flight I booked had been like $250, that clearly would have been an incorrect price. You can’t even fly from CA to NC roundtrip for that usually, so obviously flying from Japan to NC to CA wouldn’t have been that price and I KNOW Delta wouldn’t honor it. There are legal cases that are on this exact subject. If a merchant makes an honest mistake, they don’t have to honor the price (usually). An advertisement is considered an OFFER which a buyer ACCEPTS. If the price is clearly wrong, the merchant made a MISTAKE when extending that offer, and thus the offer can be withdrawn as it wasn’t made with the merchant’s full knowledge of the facts.

    What “Lauren” did falls into the latter category. It’s one thing to ask a merchant to honor a reasonable pricing error. It’s entirely another to force them to honor a clearly incorrect error.

  • mythsayer

    I agree more or less Tony, but MeanMosh has a point when he talks about dynamic pricing. That’s exactly what happened to me (I just posted above)… all flights from Japan to US were 3k at one point and I waited and eventually Delta’s website showed a $1700 price. It WAS an error (I called Delta to book the ticket because the website wouldn’t let me book, but I figured there was no harm in calling Delta), but they honored the price (thank god, and I appreciated that a LOT). I figured that 3k IS NOT REASONABLE and that Delta had just come down to a reasonable price finally. I know you book tickets to Asia all the time, but I’ve seen prices from $800 with taxes all the way up to that $3000 time (when everyone was 3k for some reason), so $1700 is not UNREASONABLE. Had the website let me book that price, I wouldn’t have ever known it was a website error… I would have just booked what I considered to be a reasonably priced ticket. When Delta told me the fare was incorrect when I called, my heart sank… I didn’t want to pay 3k. But I didn’t yell or get upset or anything…. I just said “oh… that sucks” but DELTA offered me the price because they SAW the error themselves. It was great customer service. But, the point is, not every error is an unreasonable price (just like the people saying $5600 off a car isn’t going to raise massive red flags). In general though, I do agree with you when a price is clearly a mistake.

  • mythsayer

    I would give it back, of course… I’ve done it before. If someone saw another person drop $20, who wouldn’t return it?

  • Andrew F

    “I certainly would not call USAir negligent”. Disagree. I am not a travel agent, and I don’t know what “Flex Fares” are — but that matters not. I’m in the finance industry. We can’t blame a bad risk model and make ourselves “victims” if our client’s portfolio tanks. The customer, the client — they don’t care about the company’s inner workings, like systems failures and vendors’ goofs. There should be an audit system that catches problems within a reasonable period. Ideally, this period should coincide with the legal cancellation period for other travel reservations — cruises, hotels, car rentals — to make sure the customer can be made whole if the airline cancels.

    This does not concern Lauren, however. She knowingly took advantage of a mistake, and she knew the risks.

  • TonyA_says

    Again John this is not as simple as systems are not integrated throughout the airline industry.

    Many of the mistake fares were based on IATA Flex (YY) Fares.

    In theory, this should be the MOST EXPENSIVE fare to travel from Origin to Destination over different INTERLINED carriers. Since IATA Fares are booked on the highest priced booking classes (or special classes) that are often not as capacity constrained, airlines do not normally have to check itineraries closely.

    In fact if you read the IATA Resolution 111AT on Flex Fares, typically, it states that:

    (1) The Interline Premium (usually 15%) of this Resolution shall be applied to the ‘Average Fare’ to establish the Flex Fare

    (2) The resultant Flex Fare level shall not be less than the highest fare used in establishing the ‘Average Fare’

    (3) A ‘Maximum Spread’ will be established by multiplying the ‘Standard Deviation’ by 1.25. The resultant amount will be added to and subtracted from the average to create a range. Fares outside the range are excluded.

    (4) Where resultant Flex Fare level is lower than the level for the lower cabin, the level shall be established equal to the higher level.

    That said, no airline would think for a second that tickets based on IATA Flex Fares would be disastrous to their bottom line. The IATA fare, mathematically, was ALWAYS going to be more than the most expensive fare each airline had filed for themselves. That said, no airline will reject an IATA Fare, correct :-)

    But IATA made a mistake when they filed their FLEX FARES. As late as SEPT 2012, IATA had a fare from Rangoon to Montreal for $115 in First Class oneway and $165 roundtrip.

    It’s like god making a mistake. End of Story.

  • TonyA_says

    Yeah gimme all those seats for $13. Gimme the whole aircraft.
    Me and my FT pals can afford it :-)
    Oh did I forget to tell you my fares are FULLY REFUNDABLE.
    So it does not matter if I buy 6 or 8 tickets since I can cancel at anytime and they will refund my money. Damn what a good deal.
    I found the (mistake) fare and I deserve all its benefits.
    Who cares about those Japanese businessmen?

  • ZAL

    Reasons I disagree with Chris’s claim and reasoning:

    1. The mistake fare was up for days. As he mentions, it was publicized in numerous forums. If an airline makes a mistake, but chooses not to correct it, at what point does it cease to be a mistake?

    2. The Zodiac comparison is irrelevant for two reasons. First, an airline seat is a perishable good. What percentage of these seats would have actually been sold? Second, in that example a person specifically intended to profit from the purchase.

    3. The idea that these people are taking away from the mission of Japanese executive to create jobs for the people of Myanmar. Come on, their mission is to make money. That’s just being ridiculous.

  • ZAL

    Well stated Mark

  • TonyA_says

    Shannon, I just paid ~$1100 for my roundtrip ticket (coach) to SE Asia today (ticketed 15 minutes ago). In addition I paid ~$900 for a ticket from SE Asia to Japan. (It was cheaper for me to buy 2 separate tickets for what I was doing.) Sometimes I pay about $2,700 for the same international ticket (depending on the season). It’s not uncommon for me to see prices upwards of $3K.

    If I see an $800 Business Class ticket ONEWAY from Asia to the US, I will assume it is a mistake fare. I say that because I sell airline tickets to/from Asia and I get to see the fares daily. Will I buy the mistake fare? NO. Because I know someone (the travel agency) will pay dearly for that mistake.

  • travel rob

    I know in many cases ,airlines offer real sales that seem to good to be true. I’ve bought many of them. I guess for promotion or other reasons.It looks like in this case the lady knowingly bought a mistake fare..In most cases though it’s impossible to tell.But I think Chris failed to see the big picture.What about the person thinking it’s just a bargain.?Shouldn’t they be notified before flight day that the ticket is no good.? They might of prepaid for hotels etc,and are on a limited budget.

  • Charles

    I absolutely call USAir negligent! If they “issued a ticket with a base fare of ~$100 for something that normally costs more about $10K” that was their mistake. If they made it possible for someone to buy that ticket and they issued that ticket, they made a mistake in their system somewhere. That is their fault. They are not a victim. I would be inclined to call this incompetent. It is not the OTA’s fault if they sell something for an airline that the airline has told them sells for that price. If the OTA sold something they should not have sold, it’s their problem, not USAir’s and there is no reason USAir would issue a ticket if they don’t get paid for it.

    In a perfect world either a) the airlines would not make mistakes in their pricing. or b) they would recognize that the mistakes are rare and a tiny percentage of their income and just accept they made a mistake and go on, maybe devoting resources to preventing this type of mistake in the future.

    And, I don’t know that all of these cases are using OTA’s. I thought most of the time people were booking directly with the airline when they found a mistake fare. I don’t see how you think booking on will get any more scrutiny than booking on

  • TonyA_says

    Hi Shannon,

    First of all I and others here appreciate your husband’s service to our country. I am not sure if you are also in the service, but nevertheless we empathize with what y’all have to do to keep family together when one has to serve overseas.

    I meant to ask you if you tried asking Delta (or AA and UA) for a oneway MILITARY fare from KIX to LAX or CLT via HNL or SEA. The oneway MIL base fare KIX-LAX is only $470 and KIX-CLT is $ 751. I’m not sure what the fuel surcharge and taxes are.

    Anyway the prices you saw online are definitely within the range of fares that would be considered usual and customary between Japan and the USA in coach.

    I’m sorry but I cannot see any comparison between your case and Lauren’s. I don’t think you are the type of person who goes to flyertalk to look for a mistake fare.

  • TonyA_says

    According to posts in FT, the US DOT did not fault USAirways for those cancelled tickets from Burma to Canada. So how can you call USAir negligent?

    As far as USAir getting paid, I’ve gotta believe USAir won’t cancel the flight or ticket if they believe they were correctly being paid.
    The cancelled because they were NOT going to be paid fairly.

    As far as Myanmar mistake ticketing, I don’t believe Lauren (or for that matter any FTer) bought a mistake fare from It seems all or most of them bought tickets from OTAs. If I am not mistaken, Lauren bought hers from Expedia GERMANY. So I let the records stand for themselves. The airlines were not keen to issue tickets for the mistake fares on their OWN sites. If you have any data on the contrary I would like to see it.

  • TonyA_says

    Hi travel rob. Welcome. If you are the same guy who used to post in Frommers, then I can ascertain that you are a good guy searching for a bargain.
    I think the dividing line (between good and evil) is when one actually knows they are buying a mistake fare. KNOWINGLY buying a mistake fare is below the line. With Lauren’s case it is simple. She admitted she knew she was buying a mistake fare. So she suffered the consequences.
    Limited budget??? Then why are these folks traveling in business or first class? Doesn’t make sense to me.
    If I remember correctly the travel rob I know has a son studying in Japan. So, if that is you, you probably know that $800 business or first class to SE ASIA got to be a wrong fare. It ain’t a bargain, it’s a mistake.

  • TonyA_says

    Talking about the finance industry. Weren’t there times when the stock market exchange stopped trading and REVERSED trades.
    Same here. The OTAs issued tickets on airline stocks and the airline cancelled them.

  • EdB

    Exactly the point I was making. This example given by Chris does not support his argument.

  • EdB

    I agree with you. I was responding to a link Chris posted that was broken and provided one that worked to show that it really wasn’t a good example to support Chris’ argument.

  • EdB

    Your bank example does not really apply in this situation. In your bank example, you *KNOW* how much you asked for and can validate the correct amount. In the purchase of an airline ticket, what is the cost suppose to be? We have had travel experts on this forum explain how airlines have a department for calculating the cost. So if the airlines own sales rep can answer what the price should be, how can the consumer?

    A better situation that fits your example would be you agree to pay $100 for the ticket but they only charge you $80.

  • TonyA_says

    Hey Jeanne, did you read the comments in linkedin?

    I think Christopher hit a nerve (a morality nerve). It’s nice to know a lot of people can still see the difference between right and wrong.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Oh. My. Goodness. These people are posting with their real names. I know that Chris talked about LinkedIn and questionable ethics and the stupidity while under your own name of saying that knowingly taking advantage of an obvious mistake is justified . I just can’t believe people would continue to do so. I sure wouldn’t want to do business with many of those commenting. I sure wouldn’t want to hire/promote those people if I were an employer.

    I am very pleased with the number of people who said they wouldn’t take advantage of an obvious error.

  • TonyA_says

    Look at our own poll. 44% of the voters say they will buy a mistake fare even if they know it (is a mistake). I hope they don’t expect taxpayers money to be used to protect their “rights” to do the wrong thing.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I was telling Mr. Jeanne_in_NE about today’s post. He says for me to say:

    “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” – Jesus Christ or George Harrison, you pick.

  • bodega3

    This isn’t an apples to apple comparison. This woman knew the itinerary was pricing wrong and even when to an out of the country website to get the ticket. Now had she called the carrier and they quoted the price, then she bought it that way, we would have a closer comparison. She played a game and lost and contacted Chris to fix it. What a piece of work she is! She gamed the system and lost…good!

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m with you. Agree 100%.

  • BobChi

    I don’t think it’s wrong to book the fare if you know it’s a mistake. Airlines will sometimes honor them. However, If the fare is obviously a mistake, and it is not honored by the airline, it is wrong to go to government agencies and threaten lawsuits to try to enforce it. “Stealing” is an illegal act. Hoping to get a price break is not.

  • Legally, it’s not stealing, it’s fraud.

  • TonyA_says


    I think there is something going on here that many folks do not seem to understand. They cannot tell the difference between the status of their reservation (PNR) versus the status of their e-ticket.

    Let’s say Lauren books with Expedia [xp].de. She gets a PNR from whatever GDS is using. If tickets, she gets the eticket # from the validating airline.
    She can also get each airlines RLOCs so she can check the status of her reservation with each airline. Fast forward, the airline sees something funny with the pricing. What will most airlines do? They will cancel the eticket or change the status (or the flights) of the eticket coupon that corresponds to their own flights (assuming this is interlined and they can take control of the ticket). When this (changes) is done the eticket becomes null and void. You cannot fly. But your reservation might still look good for a while. In fact, unless your reservation is scrubbed by a program that attempts to check last ticketing dates, your flight segments might remain intact in HK status until departure date.

    When people say they are kept in the dark of changes, what are they looking at? Maybe they are checking only their reservations and not eticket status. Maybe if they checked their etickets, they would have known much earlier that they were not flying.

  • Miami510

    Yes, it is dishonest. Let me draw a parallel: A clerk at a cash register mistakenly gives you a ten dollar bill instead of a one. Most people realize the clerk will be held responsible at the end of the day when the receipts are $9 short. Most people would agree that saying nothing is stealing from the clerk.
    Yet when the looser is a business, 44% of the people think it’s O.K. to steal from the business. Wrong is wrong… shame on the 44%.

  • Michael__K

    Notice that she wasn’t hiding anything. She was up front with Chris that she knew it was a mistake fare.

    I disagree with her, but if she rigidly subscribes to the “contract is a contract” philosophy, then in her mind she had a grievance because she followed the letter of the rules and the travel vendor didn’t.

    I agree with Chris that it’s completely unethical to purposely take advantage of clearly honest mistakes by the other party. Of course, if you really believe that too then it should cut both ways…

  • travel rob

    Hi TonyA,

    Hope you are doing well.

    I post on Frommers Google Plus community page now.

    I was thinking of the big picture.Just because a fare seems too good to be true, doesn’t make it a mistake fare.I could give you a lot of examples .And I understand that airlines or Travel Agents can make honest mistakes.My point is they shouldn’t wait until the last minute to notify the customer. Not all cases are going to be like the one above.

  • bodega3

    No she wasn’t hiding anything. She knew it was a mistake and took great pains to find it outside of the US, then took Chris’ time in asking for help. As my kids say, ‘She has a pair’.

  • bodega3

    Hey Chris, this isn’t my post!

  • tomjuno

    What this thread has shown me is the distrust many of us have for airlines, and the human urge to exact payback from them. Understandable. If airlines are going to show zero tolerance for the innocent missteps of some of their customers – often caused by the slip of a thumb on a keyboard – then it must expect zero tolerance in return. If airlines make a mistake on their pricing, customers will jump all over that mistake – until it’s corrected. It makes little difference whether the customers know or not that it was a human slip of the thumb on a keyboard somewhere. Quid pro quo.

  • chickadee

    Chris almost always goes after the airlines for that — he often critiques the C of C and the way it puts the customer at a disadvantage.

  • TonyA_says

    I agree Rob, there are real fare sales that are just amazing. They are not mistake fares because the seller (the airline) promotes them as such. It is not the “UNBELIEVABLE-ness” of a fare that makes it a mistake fare. It is the understanding of a fact that a mistake has been done that make it a mistake fare.

    In other words, it requires a certain level of sophistication to know a mistake fare. This is where FT comes in. Some folks there are fare ‘hackers’ and readers can learn how to ‘hack’ fares. They don’t just discuss mistake fares, they do things like fuel dumping and other tricks

    Consider Round One and Two (as FT calls them) RGN Mistake Fares. They were caused because of a sudden devaluation of the Myanmar Kyat (MMK) currency by 12700% last 14 APR 2012. Airlines who had fares in MMK were caught off guard and some fares were left there till 02MAY. Were the fares left in the old MMK amounts a mistake – sure they were. They were not only unbelievably cheap they were also a mistake.

    Consider Round Three – IATA YY fares from RGN to Canada (SEP 2012). IATA uploaded an incorrect fare. Why is it incorrect? Read my post regarding IATA Resolution 111AT. That fare violates the IATA Reso. Therefore it is in FACT a mistake.

    Many people in this site will not know a mistake fare when they see it because they do not have the know how or tools to research it. Therefore, if they buy a mistake fare there will be absence of malice. But that is NOT what Chris Elliott is talking about. His post is about a person who knowingly bought a mistake fare and wanted his help to go after the vendor. Had Lauren not come to Chris, there would not be anything here to talk about.

    As far as the airlines waiting long to do something about it. For me that’s normal. Doesn’t it take 2-3 months to get a refund? Cheers.

  • TonyA_says

    Lauren went to Chris because she felt Expedia and ANA stranded her in Myanmar. She probably got her cancelled fare (ticket) back as a refund just like many FTers did. But she was pissed she had to use 140K FQTV miles and some hotel money just to get back home.

    The problem is Lauren could not see the connection of her being stranded and buying a mistake fare FROM Myanmar (the ticket back home). Maybe her thinking was that if they told her they were gonna cancel her ticket earlier, then she would not have gone to Myanmar at all. For most non-Asian Americans, getting stranded in Asia is scary. That said, they really should not be attempting to do this kind of risky travel.

    Finally, if you recall from the previous article and FT posts, Lauren admits to arguing with the Asian airline agents (at the counter) citing DOT regulations. Hmm, do you think anyone in ASIA cares about DOT regs? Funny, does anyone travel to ASIA taking a copy of DOT regs with them?

    TIP: While is ASIA do not argue! You are going to piss off the wrong people. Maybe they can help you.

    I remember I was departing Manila airport and there was a crowd of Americans complaining about the Departure Tax. Manila is one airport that does not include the tax in your airline ticket. The Americans were protesting that their airlines never told them they had to pay tax before exiting the country. One of the immigration offices got out of his booth and shouted “I don’t give a damn what George Bush says, you will pay your tax or you won’t depart”. I tried to control my laughter.

  • TonyA_says

    LOL so it is only stealing if you get caught. It’s a price break it you get away with it. Marvelous.

  • bodega3

    Lauren reminds me of a teenager who blames everyone else when caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I would only give her sympathy is she had dealt directly with the carrier. She openly admits what she did, but doens’t like the consequences. Oh well! Yeah, buy a ticket on a nonAmerican carrier, on a nonAmerican website and quote the US DOT. Lauren, you are a fool and I guess by wrting Chris, we can all share in the silliness of your games.

  • TonyA_says

    ZAL, Re your #2 point. I actually read in FT where a post said it possible that so many FTers could be reserving seats in FC and displacing a real revenue passenger willing to pay more than $10K for a seat in FC. So suppose there are only 6 seats in FC and all are taken by $115 mistake fares. Will that pay off the $10K or more lost revenue? I don’t think so.

  • TonyA_says

    I do feel some sympathy for Lauren. She must have gotten carried away with the FT mania for mistake fares. Bear in mind, even a travel expert / journalist who posts in Huffington Post bought a ticket . In a high stakes game like this, only the folks who are ahead of the line, the early players, usually get away with the loot. At some point the airline will figure out the game and drop the gauntlet at the rest of amateurs still wanting to play the game. I’m glad she made it home in one piece. Burma is a little too backward for a ole guy like me. They can have all the fun with their mistake fares :-)

  • TonyA_says

    Why would you fly an airline (or airlines) you distrust or despise?
    Aren’t you concerned you are putting your life at the hands of their pilots and mechanics? Because you hate them so much, you will fly from Rangoon to wherever to seek revenge? Something must be wrong with our educational system.

  • jbuttel

    If you accuse airlines of stealing when they refuse to return money owed to customers in a timely fashion, or lie to customers about what they are owed when they are bumped on an overbooked flight, then yes, customers who book obviously incorrect fares are stealing. But you never ever accuse the airlines of stealing when they use their clout to take advantage of customers. Why not? I’m not saying that if the airlines are wrong customers are entitled to be just as wrong. I’m just annoyed that you use the word stealing with customers but not with airlines.

  • ZAL

    TonyA my point #2 is that Chris’s Zodiac comparison isn’t an accurate one to make. Regarding your point, I’m not saying its not possible that airlines lost out on some full fare F passengers, but really what percentage of seats are taken up by people paying the full fare?

  • SP Jones

    Tony your emotions are getting the better of you. BobChi specifically says this is not stealing in any case. It is a mistake that may or may not get honored. His point is that if the fare gets cancelled he understands and would not threaten to sue the airline.

  • TonyA_says

    His point was it only takes one displaced $10K paying pax. Only the airline can accurately answer your question. FYI, both my parents have been paid business class intl pax for decades. They dont travel reward or upgrade. So they (real paying pax) do exist.

  • TonyA_says

    I was being sarcastic. My BP is not yet that high :-)

  • SPJones

    I would like to share my perspective, as someone who purchased an ex-RGN ticket.

    When I first learned about it (on a forum or blog) it had been going on for several days. Obviously I knew it wasn’t the airline’s plan to be selling the ticket at the price they did. However, it was also my understanding that IATA had warned airlines of the devaluation in the MMK. Some airlines had acted on that information, and others didn’t. In my opinion, this was not a typo where someone puts a decimal point in the wrong place, but a situation that was the airline’s responsiblity.

    I purchased the ticket, but also felt that should the airline determine an error had been made, refunded the ticket, and notified me in a reasonable amount of time, I would accept it and move on. My definition of reasonable time was preferably 24 hours (the amount of time the airlines give the consumer to refund), but I would wait 3 business days before making plans in Myanmar.

    Interestingly enough, 10 days later I was advised that the tickets were being cancelled. While I was mulling over what to do, the OTA came back and advised that the airline was resinstating the tickets, and I did end up travelling.

    I share this just to give a perspective of what happened in this particular case. I know that Chris’s article is essentially just a sham piece to get people riled up and thus to read his stuff and drive traffic to his site. That’s fine if that’s what he wishes to do. I just wanted to share an explanation of thought process separated from emotions.


  • Michael__K

    It takes a pair to get on the “personal responsibility: you screwed up, you must suck it up and pay the expensive lesson because a contract is a contract” soap box when a traveler makes an honest name error……

    …and then jump to the moral outrage soap box when an unethical traveler tries to exploit a vendor’s screw up (and then gloat with approval from that soap box when the vendor responds by waiting until the last possible moment to break the [now it’s not so sacred] contract).

  • travel rob

    My argument with Expedia and the airlines is not that they rejected the fare,it’s when they rejected it.Imagine a different case other than Lauren’s.Somebody buys a non refundable bargain fare.And the airline claims it’s a mistake fare the day of travel. Maybe the person pre-paid,hotel ,trains,other airlines etc.If the airline rejects them the day of travel,I don’t think that’s fair at all.Now I realize it wasn’t the case this time, but that’s the big picture.

  • TonyA_says

    Yes that could be a big problem. There’s always innocent people that will get hurt. That is where Elliott comes in to help. But I would not expect airlines to bend over to the FT gang. My advice is to buy a super cheap ticket directly from an airline or a very reputable travel agent since they will tell you if the fare looks too good to be true. I repeat, no sane travel agent would have sold these BC and FC Myanmar tickets. My partner has a buddy who is a travel agent from Myanmar. If this was such a big deal for the Asian market, we would have heard about it from the TA community here in NYC. Nothing. So all this is about crazy folks who want to travel in FC from some remote place in Asia because it is dirt cheap to do it.

  • bodega3

    An airline can break a contract at any time by giving back the full amount of your ticket. I had it happen to me, but with enough time to get another flight with another carrier. It is not clear when the airline canceled Lauren’s reservation. Just when she found out. She was traveling and could have been contacted, but didn’t check for messages. This detail really wasn’t well presented in the first article….maybe for good reason by Lauren??? I do believe that if a business has a price, online, by phone or in a store and someone make a purchse to get that price, it should be honored. However, it is up to the company to back that price and how it was purchased could be a deciding factor in honoring it. Lauren went about getting it in a not an up and up fashion, so I really can’t feel sorry for her situation, especially after reading her own posts and acknowledgement to Chris. Also, she purchased this fare not from the carrier, so even an agency can get called on the purchase and has to answer to the carrier.

  • technomage1

    Actually, I was the one that pointed out the mistake. I figured it out quickly when she announced the total. The sales clerk didn’t know the price was wrong. I did. If I’d have not said anything, then morally if not legally I would have been in the wrong at that point.

  • artemisia jones

    Generally state laws require merchants to honor sticker prices – this protects consumers from convincing people to buy at a low price and then charging them a high price. Believe it or not, big merchants will get away with anything they can to make a buck – they usually aren’t the ones in need of protection.

    I would call it “knowingly taking advantage of a merchant’s mistake” which is morally gray.

  • artemisia jones

    Umm, consumer didn’t have the option to not “play fair” before the internet and did airlines play fair then?

    Yeah, didn’t think so.

    Lauren was taking advantage of an airline mistake. Whatever.

  • artemisia jones

    Seriously, I’ve never worked in a business where there weren’t internal controls, both systems and human, for this type of thing.

    I guess clawback is cheaper for the airlines. :(

  • artemisia jones

    A company sucks pretty bad when you have to buy insurance to protect yourself against their misdoings.

  • TonyA_says

    There are good and bad airlines. Pick the good ones and avoid the bad ones. Do not shop by price alone or you will be asking for trouble.

  • Michael__K

    It is not clear when the airline canceled Lauren’s reservation.

    Chris’ reporting (corroborated by Tony’s earlier sleuthing) is clear on this point. Expedia (not the airline) canceled her reservation without notification– a few days before her flight (and apparently several months after ticketing).

    Her online travel agency, Expedia, canceled her ticket only a few days before her scheduled flight from Myanmar to Vancouver on ANA without saying anything, forcing her to buy another seat at the last minute.

    Lauren *doesn’t* deserve our sympathy. But if they can pull this on her, they can pull this on anyone who purchases a ticket with honest intentions.

  • LadySiren

    To me, that doesn’t matter. Two wrongs don’t make a right. My personal ethics say that knowingly taking advantage of a pricing error is wrong. In my book, it equates to stealing. Your sense of right and wrong differs with mine, which is fine.

  • Andrew F

    Absolutely. But this happened in a reasonable amount of time — minutes or hours. A system where one side may get out of a erroneous contract weeks or months after signing it, while the other side only has 24 hours… a little “one-sided”, don’t you think? :-)

  • TonyA_says

    If you are talking legality, then you need to figure which country or countries laws apply. I have been reading about passenger airline laws for quite a time and I do not think there is a law requiring airlines to cancel within 24 hours for mistake fares.
    Where else can you find such an intricate system like interlining. You can get a ticket issued by an American airline to use on a totally remote country’s airline. Heck I cannot use Wendys coupons in McDs. Airline systems are much more complex than trades which are settled immediately. People have no clue how airline systems work. They think it is as easy as putting up a webpage.
    Don’t forget that some airlines still accept paper tickets. How do you cancel or refund those without surrendering the original coupons?

  • David Kazarian

    I have mixed emotions about this story. Some airlines offer 5 dollar tickets. You know that can’t be right but they offer the fare. Others have 39 dollar each way. So you know that’s a bargain but is it wrong? When airlines start pricing seats rationally rather than like used car dealers to get a person through the door then try to get more money out of them, then I’d agree. But this Rube Goldberg pricing scheme that the airlines use, hitting people hard when they need to book at the last minute, fosters a sense of they got me, so maybe i can get them. How do you know if a fare is truly priced wrong, or is a promotional fare? I’d like to price my products like the airlines. I’m a pharmacist, so how about, if you pick up your prescription in 14 days it’s $10.00, but if you want it today it’s $50.00.

  • befuddled

    I’m confused? I recently needed to fly from calgary to toronto with my husband after attending a funeral. When I went to the Air Canada website (signing in as a single traveller just to check availability) there were two seats together at the back of the plane for the flight we needed to be on. However, when I returned to the site a few moments later to book the tickets (signing in for two travellers) I found only one seat available at the second-tier price. I then called AC to ask them about the availability. I was told that only one of those two seats (beside each other at the back of the plane) was available for the the tier-two pricing level, and the other was going to cost almost $1000.00 more than the first ticket. Needless to say, we did not book this flight. How on earth is that any less of a “scam” then paying for an actual advertised price (even if it was mis-quoted)? If the same seat can arbitrarily be worth $1000 or more than the seat beside it, then I have no idea what “appropriate” airline pricing is…

  • pauletteb

    I would be heartily disappointed by the number of “yes” votes if I didn’t know they were mostly from FlyerTalk subscribers and other bottom feeders.

  • pauletteb

    You’ve GOT to be kidding!

  • Bill___A

    I see all kinds of arguments here. If there is a fare that’s obviously wrong, then check with the vendor. If they say it is wrong, don’t book it. If they say it is all right to book, then go ahead. Going around, looking for loopholes and mistakes is wrong. Getting a price you are entitled to is fine.

  • bodega3

    I find it hard to believe that Expedia didn’t notify the OP. And a few days out is rather vague. FYI, the ticket is property of the carrier and the agency has to do what the carrier tells us to do. Why are we not hearing about a contact with Expedia on what took place? I wonder if some of the facts might be different?

  • bodega3


  • Michael__K

    Tony already linked to Lauren’s alleged FT posts, including a quoted written response from ANA where they disavowed a role in cancelling the ticket (5 days before departure, 3 months after purchase).

    Added: BTW, not only did Expedia not notify her, but they weren’t even reporting the booking as cancelled on their own website.

  • I’m usually pretty honest. I’ll alert the cashier if the price seems too good to be true. But with air travel, it’s almost all booked through computers. They took the human element out of it to save money. That also means there’s no human to check whether the price makes sense. Even if I wanted to alert the airline to a mistake, what do I do? Who do I email or call to get it fixed? And how long do I wait before I can book at the normal price? The airlines brought it on themselves.

  • EarlVanDorn

    What about when you book a fare and the price is accidentally too high? Do you think when the airline catches their error they rush to return everyone’s money?

  • Ian Parrish

    Chris, I normally agree with you, but here’s where I disagree in general with this argument. You can debate the ethics of mistake fares, but once we start calling this “theft” that implies legal culpability–namely, that these people should be arrested for their actions, and I doubt anyone here would make that argument.

    I would argue that airfares (and other transportation fares) often make no sense, so how are customers to know the “fair” value of a product. These fares are often illogical and incredibly variable. Let me make a few specific points here:
    1) Airfares are incredibly volatile. A route I’m looking at buying in the next week YYZ-SLC changed by a factor of 3 on United in the course of 24 hours. Products like toothpaste or cereal don’t change by a factor of 3 or more in price usually.
    2) Airfares are often illogical to begin with, e.g. hidden-city and throwaway ticketing have to be outlawed. For example, it might be cheaper for me to fly YYZ-ORD-SFO than YYZ-ORD: 4 times the distance for less money.
    3) Transportation companies often offer outrageous prices for a limited time as promos. For example, both Megabus and Easyjet are known to offer $1 fares for the first few people to reserve seats on a given flight.
    4) Generally, airlines write the contract of carriage as a very one-sided document. Airlines can not live up to their end of the bargain and offer limited or no remedies; however, if the passenger fails to show up for a flight for a variety of pretty good reasons that you often mediate, they have no rights at all.

    5) Airlines and other transport companies hold us responsible for our mistakes in the booking process (see my discussion of the new 24 hour rule below). A couple years ago when taking my parents to Europe I booked a train reservation for the wrong day. Despite calling them within 3 hours, 4 months in advance, they would do nothing for me. I just lost the value and had to rebook.

    So, for these reasons, I don’t think we should call this stealing. Airline pricing is volatile, opaque, and illogical at times, so one can’t be expected to know the correct pricing of a value. In fact, I do think the airlines should be on the hook for their mistakes, much as they hold us responsible for ours.

    I would propose a solution to this:
    Passengers can now cancel any reservation within 24 hours of booking for a full refund. Why not let airlines have the right to cancel a mistake fare booking within 24 hours. What is not acceptable is to cancel a fare months down the line when other reservations are made or travel has begun.

  • mythsayer

    Right… I was agreeing with you for the most part. If you see a fare that is obviously a mistake, then that’s different. But if the fare isn’t an obvious mistake (like mine wasn’t… like you said, the Asia fares vary greatly). And I agree in this case she shouldn’t have bought the fare. But what about fare mistakes that are still in the realm of reasonable and the airline decides to cancel THAT ticket? What’s to stop them from doing that?

  • mythsayer

    I agree… I wasn’t really comparing my situation to hers. More what I was saying was, what if she had bought a fare that WAS reasonable… like, say the website had let me buy that fare. It WAS a pricing error… but it was a reasonable pricing error that Delta decided to honor. But… what if I’d been able to buy the fare on the website? What if Delta had then decided to cancel my ticket because it was an error? I’m just pointing out that this could be a slippery slope. What about people who honestly think they are getting a good price but then the ticket gets cancelled? That’s all I was saying.

    In this case, I agree she shouldn’t have bought ticket. She was definitely gaming the system. I was just pointing out that there ARE errors that fall into the reasonable price realm and there are people who wouldn’t know the fare was wrong.

  • TonyA_says

    Good question. Buying a mistake fare in good faith is obviously moral in my conscience. But it is still a mistake fare and the airline might wiggle out it. Luckily for consumers in the USA, if the first origin or final destination is in the USA, or there is a stopover in the USA for at least 24 hours, the US DOT will intercede in your behalf (if you complain). Normally they will tell the carrier to reinstate your ticket (and respect the fare mistake).
    If I an not mistaken, I read in FT that the DOT told Korean Air to reinstate the cancelled tickets from Myanmar to the USA for some members.

  • TonyA_says

    No, you need to catch their error and ask for a refund.

  • TonyA_says

    No Chris’s article is not a sham. An explanation of yours or anyone’s thought process WITHOUT a conscience (something you call emotions) is useless. We do not need to take ethics lessons from folks like you who knowingly take advantage of mistake fares.

  • TonyA_says

    None of what you just wrote explains the $13 Business Class and $115 First Class fares from Burma to Canada. These numbers are just so bizarre and out of whack that they’ve got to be wrong.

    Your solution is unworkable. You can still get paper tickets issued for a grossly mistaken fare. How do you get to cancel that within 24 hours?
    Do you think all airlines get to see every ticket issued by an agent (on their behalf) within 24 hours? How about interlined flights, do the downline carriers have a say?

  • Chris

    British Air had a promo a few months back where the base cost of the ticket was $1 – does $13 still sound bizarre? Sorry, you are the one that is wrong.

  • SPJones

    Tony I am not claiming to give an ethics lesson here. I don’t believe what I did was unethical, and I laid out exactly why I believe that to be the case. People are welcome to disagree with me based on their own logic.

    I stand by my comment that Chris’s article is a sham. I don’t say this because I disagree with his premise of these actions being unethical/stealing. I say that because the arguments he uses are so illogical that, particularly coming from a professional write, there is no other explanation to me.

  • TonyA_says

    Michael__K bodega3

    Let’s pretend lauren did not have a mistake fare and let’s look at her story:

    (1) 30 Aug: I bought one of the RGN-NRT-LAX-YVR tickets. I used and had tickets issued on NH ticket stock.

    (2) 27 NOV: I am now in Yangon and have been travelling for 2 weeks. I just tried to check in online for the first ANA leg. I get a message that says “as the itinerary selected has been cancelled, it cannot be confirmed”.

    (3) 29 NOV: I, my travel partner, and one other flyertalker were denied boarding last night (28 november) in Yangon. For both our itineraries, the entire ticket had been canceled with a reservation status of “exchanged”. We were there for 3 hours arguing, citing DOT regulations, etc, to no avail. They said we had no ticket and could not check us in.

    A helpful contract agent at Yangon got me a printout of the PNR and all notes associated with it. He said it looked like the following had happened: delta had created duplicate tickets after there were schedule changes. ANA sent delta a message asking them to choose which ticket was correct by X date, 3 or so days before the departure date or the ticket would be cancelled. Delta did not respond, so the ticket was cancelled. Don’t know what status= “exchanged” means. Again, this all happened with no notification to me and all the time the reservations were showing as confirmed on the airlines’ websites with seat assignments.

    The ticket was cancelled and refunded 3 days before my departure date with no notice to me whatsoever.


    Note that in the beginning she says she has tickets on ANA stock. Then at the end she says that Delta has created duplicate tickets after there were scheduled changes.

    This is very odd. Which airline really issued her tickets?

    Here’s what I think happened. It looks like she actually HAD a tickets (validated) on Delta stock issued by

    At some point, the original ticket was exchanged for a new ticket. Exchange means – Coupon has been reissued or exchanged by the carrier or travel agent. For what reason? Dunno. Maybe a re-route due to a schedule change?

    Anyway it seems that the ticket exchange led to 2 reservations on the ANA RGN-NRT segment, so ANA must have sent an SSR message that dup reservations exists, please cancel dup by xxxxx.

    MAYBE, No one responded on time so ANA cancelled the RES for that segment. AND MAYBE, by the time Expedia saw the cancellation of the first segment, it tried to reissue a tkt and could no longer get the same mistake fare (meaning the fare had already been pulled out) or no seats were available on the ANA flight, so it decided to simply cancel the whole ticket and refund the passenger.

    All the above are just my guesses so take it as a guess only.
    So Michael, can this explain the DELAY of cancelling her tickets.

  • TonyA_says

    Nope that argument was covered in Flyertalk. It was a legitimate promo rate for a NEW ROUTE. Go back and read more FT pages.

  • Michael__K

    I hope that’s not it because that’s not very reassuring. Obviously this sort of thing doesn’t happen often but it sure sounds like it could easily happen to someone who booked with honest intentions.

    BTW, based on the quoted ANA correspondence, any schedule change(s) must have occurred more than 2 weeks prior to the ticket getting cancelled. (And furthermore the ticket was reportedly still showing as booked at checkin time on Expedia’s own site even though it was clearly cancelled at that point).

  • TonyA_says

    Again, I think you are confusing a RESERVATION (holding confirmed space) from a TICKET (having a valid document or coupon that will be accepted so you can board the flight). Expedia’s system only knows the original status of the reservation (or PNR) it created using a commercial GDS plus any change on the reservation the airline CONFIRMS to the GDS. Expedia’s system also knows the ticket numbers it issued but it does not know the future status of the ticket (coupons) as the airlines can change them.

    In other words, AFTER you buy a ticket you are better off checking the status of your reservation and your ticket with each airline of your flight(s) if you want the real story.

    If ANA did not validate her tickets and assuming DELTA did, then it could only do 2 things:
    A) cancel or change the flight or status of the segment it was supposed to fly – RGN to NRT.
    B) change the status of the ticket coupon for that flight.
    While doing the above will affect the journey, it still does not change the fact that ANA cannot cancel the entire ticket if it did not validate them in the first place.
    Sure your ticket can always get out of whack or lost in space, but it can eventually be located and reinstated. But if you bought a mistake fare, the person looking at your coupon sees the price you paid for it and can easily know if it is abnormal.

    That is the crux of this case. If something happens to your flight and the ticket needs to be revalidated or reissued, someone will see the fare is no good and change its status so it is not open for use or if they can, cancel it alltogether.
    And when droves buy the same mistake fare and the airline catches in the game then the fun really begins.

    BTW, which party do you think had most to gain cancelling her entire ticket and refunding them? XP, DL, or NH?

  • Michael__K

    If someone had purchased a full price ($8,000 or whatever) ticket before the devaluation, that fare would be “no good” as well at that point, right? Not to mention someone who unwittingly purchased a mistake fare.

    That a ticket purchased 3 months in advance can get lost in space 4 to 5 days before departure (after a schedule change that occurred 20+ days before departure) — and contacting the OTA results in a “we will respond in 28 days” response — is pretty disturbing.

    You can argue that Lauren “deserved” it, but then you’re back on the multiple-wrongs-making-a-right slippery slope that most of us have blasted the FlyerTalk opportunists for.

  • Daddydo

    I use web sites, GDS, consolidators, and MY BRAIN, to get low fares. I cover my client’s needs and get a good commission for that. I don’t have to charge many service fees, as the airlines and I negotiate low fares. IATA has rules in place to protect the flyer, not the price. The whole point of the discussion. It does not matter what the situation is, there are protections in place. As you know, that exception is when you issue 2 separate tickets on 2 separate reservations, nobody is responsible for anything. Research is for the birds when it comes to airline tickiting, it’s purely thinking and what’s right for the customer in front of you.

  • TonyA_says

    If you paid $8,000 US Dollars the devaluation of the Myanmar currency is moot. You fare will be very good! No problem, the airlines will love you.

    I don’t believe the ticket “got lost” as you described it. The ticket was cancelled and REFUNDED according to her posts. If you read and understood my previous post, it described how a lot of things could be happening without Expedia’s system knowing about it. That’s why I said CONTACT THE CARRIER(s) directly. But of course, the SOP for FT is to NEVER CONTACT the carrier is case of a mistake fare because it will tip them off :-)

    All I can say is that if you take a chance buying a $13 BC or $115 FC mistake fares, you better know what you are getting into. You might just get what you paid for :-) Don’t expect the world to cry with you.

  • TonyA_says

    Re: The whole point of the discussion. It does not matter what the situation is, there are protections in place.

    Hmm.. the reason why Lauren came to Chris Elliott in the first place was because for her RGN-YVR cancelled ticket, the US DOT and CAN CTA did NOT protect her. You think IATA (a non government body) would protect her? You must be kidding. IATA is there to protect the interests of their members – the airlines.

    So for Lauren’s case, nothing seemed to have protected her.

    For any travel agent to say “Research is for the birds when it comes to airline tickiting” is bizarre. Getting a VISA alone for Myanmar needs research.

  • Guest

    removed (duplicate)

  • Michael__K

    I don’t follow your reasoning. You speculated that:

    MAYBE, by the time Expedia saw the cancellation of the first segment, it tried to reissue a tkt and could no longer get the same mistake fare (meaning the fare had already been pulled out)

    If this fare had been “pulled out” wouldn’t it be pulled out for everyone, including people who used it before the devaluation?

    Furthermore, in spite of what you say about the “SOP for FT” the carrier WAS in facted contacted directly in this instance and they disavowed — in writing — pulling the plug on the tickets. They pointed the finger at Expedia. All your scenarios (as I understand them) assume that was an erroneous assertion.

  • TonyA_says

    If there is a change (before your first departure), that will usually require a ticket REISSUE. A reissue will require a new autoprice at the CURRENT fares.

    Can you clarify your last paragraph. I read through the OP posts in FT. It does not seem that she called ANA or DELTA on the phone to check the status of her ETICKETs. All she did was check their websites for the status of her RESERVATION. Seems to me that if she called ANA, she would have known that dup reservations existed beforehand. AGAIN AND AGAIN I want to reiterate – also CHECK THE STATUS OF YOUR COUPONS by calling the airline directly.

    Michael, I am a travel agent/consultant that sells tickets TO and FROM ASIA. Most of them are interlined. Yes problems with the tickets can happen so I have to RESEARCH THEM before I can fix them. At times, I need to display the RES as it appears on the airline’s RES system (if I can access it) AND at times I need to display the ticket coupon status(es) and also make sure the flights are in sync (the same flights and sequence) with the RES. I am speaking from experience. Take it or leave it. You don’t have to believe me.

    Again ask yourself this question – who had the most to lose if Lauren was allowed to travel this mistake fare? That’s where you need to start investigating.

    ADDED: Most travel agents only know how to market and sell a ticket. They do not know how to solve a problem AFTER they sell the ticket. Some of them do not even know how to RESEARCH the history of your RES and ETKT. So choose your agent well.

  • Urof

    People are scumbags.

  • Michael__K

    If there is a change (before your first departure), that will usually require a ticket REISSUE. A reissue will require a new autoprice at the CURRENT fares.

    That seems to confirm what I said — someone who used the same fare legitimately before the devaluation would have had issues too.

    Can you clarify your last paragraph.

    I’m referring to ANA’s response to Lauren’s request for reimbursement.

    Yes problems with the tickets can happen so I have to RESEARCH THEM before I can fix them.

    I’m agreeing with you. I’m not sure what we’re arguing about here. It’s clear to me from the assorted scenarios you laid out that even honest passengers can fall through these cracks through no fault of their own. And not all of those passengers will notice the problem immediately and have a TA to research the issue before their plane takes off without them.

    who had the most to lose if Lauren was allowed to travel this mistake fare? That’s where you need to start investigating.

    Like I said before, I won’t attribute to malice what I can attribute to stupidity (or to horrible IT systems and processes). Nonetheless, that still isn’t very comforting for honest passengers.

  • TonyA_says

    If you paid US$8000 and you REISSUED and the fare is still US$8000 then WHERE IS THE PROBLEM ? None.

    But if you paid $13 and then you REISSUED and now the fare is $8000, then you have a huge problem.

    Sure there are ticketing nightmares out there with CORRECT fares, just read this site :-) But I cannot see the relevance to Lauren’s case. In her case, there is good reason for the SELLER to protect its own interest because it will PAY for the mistake fare. It’s like playing the board game Clue (or Cluedo).

    There are many suspects. Someone had to initiate the REFUND. Who was it, Col Mustard. Mrs. Peacock, or Miss Peacock?

  • Michael__K

    Why would one expect the reissue price to match perfectly 3 months later? Aren’t there all kinds of variables that would likely have changed (including normal, minor currency fluctuations)? The “fare” is a record in a database somewhere, no? I would have guessed that the systems refer directly to that record. If instead they’re comparing the bottom line price that sounds like it would be prone to even more problems. (Why should the charged fare change because of a schedule change?)

    If this was a case of a seller protecting it’s interest, why wouldn’t it do so openly and straightforwardly? Why point false fingers at other parties? And why does it decline to protect its interests (apparently) in the case of most of the other FT miscreants (who flew without a hitch?)

  • TonyA_says

    If you paid $13 for a BC fare, then SURE, the airline will find out some day and pull the fare. Good luck having ticket reissued at same price.

    Go back to my old post … I said I DUNNO the reason for the ticket EXCHANGE. Something weird was going on with her ticket. Without me seeing the RES and ETKT history I cannot tell exactly what happened. I can guess but it’s just a guess (as I said earlier).

  • Michael__K

    If the airline finds out I don’t expect them to be accommodating; I do expect them to handle it professionally and straightforwardly.

    What’s disturbing for honest travelers here is that (1) we don’t even know for sure whether the cancellation occurred because the airline “found out” or for some other reason and (2) an honest passenger who unwittingly bought a mistake fare would seemingly be just as vulnerable.

  • TonyA_says

    I’m more realistic. If the airlines checks my eticket (coupon) on the BC flight and sees the fare basis of $13, I would not be surprised the agent call a sup and the sup call the main office. End of game.

  • disqust101

    Silly faulty moralizing in this commentary. The airlines could eliminate these “mistake” fares in a nanosecond by better coding (x miles for x seat is minimum x amount).

    But instead, they choose Byzantine, ever-changing fares that can change hourly. The guy sitting next to you could have paid multiples, or a fraction of what your seat cost. So nobody should shed a tear when the tables turn on airlines and they post inadvertently low fares – that’s THEIR problem. To suggest buying these low fares is somehow unethical, let alone wrong, is simply ludicrous nonsense.

  • Lindabator

    Because there are limited seats at each price point, so while two COACH seats may be available on a plane, they can both be different prices. Has not changed since de-regulation.

  • Michael__K

    And then not only refrain from notifying the customer, but falsely tell them that your airline didn’t cancel the ticket? That would make them fraudsters no better than Lauren.

  • Joe

    So if you posted your car for sale for $1,395 instead of $13,995 you wouldn’t have a problem honoring that price then, would you?

  • disqust101

    Surely wouldn’t like it, but it’s MY mistake, not the buyer’s. And if I were selling millions a year, it wouldn’t make an iota of difference, so long as the rest of my sale were at prices I wanted. But if I were changing prices/terms hourly/daily, methinks I would expect a certain amount of pricing errors as the cost of business (or spend additional money on my pricing algorithm to ensure such mistakes couldn’t happen)

    Either way, I AM RESPONSIBLE for MY mistake.

    But why not reverse your hypothetical? Just say I bought a house that was found to be 50-100% over priced. Should I be able to go back to the seller and ask for a refund? How about buying a used car w/no warranty and the engine died as soon as I drove it away? Do I get a refund?

  • john4868

    If I accepted payment and completed the transaction, I don’t think I should be able to show up at the buyer’s house to repo the car.

  • Helio

    “Quid pro quo”. If I have only 24hs, then the company must have 24hs. The relationship shouldn’t be asymmetrical. If the company needs more time to find and correct an error, it must provide me the same amount of time.

    And because the prices change so fast, if the company cancels my ticket because a mistaken fare, I should be allowed to purchase a new ticket by the correct price WHEN I did my purchase, no the today’s correct price, which usually is higher. As I wrote before, a particular ticket will cost me about R$120 if I purchase with two months in advance, but it will cost me R$1150 for a tomorrow trip.

    If I had purchased two months ago a ticket to fly tomorrow, and the company decides to cancel my ticket today because I paid a wrong fare (let’s say R$13 ;-), I must be allowed to pay R$120, which was the correct fare at the time of my purchase, and not the current value of R$1150.

  • TonyA_says

    That logic does not even apply to this case since the mistake fares we are talking about are mostly FULLY REFUNDABLE (IATA Flex Fare and airline filed C/J/F class fares) So if you say ‘Quid Pro Quo’ then both sides had anytime to cancel.

    But there is nothing in the contract of carriage or tariff that forbids the airline to cancel at any time and return your money. People who buy a fare should know that airline can cancel at any time and refund EVEN IF THE FARE IS CORRECT and NON-REFUNDABLE. There might be a penalty in some countries but they CAN and MAY do it (cancel).

    In fact even the new US DOT Regulation § 399.88 Prohibition on post-purchase price increase does not stop the airline from cancelling your ticket and refunding you. They just cannot increase the price or fare you buy. Of course the origin or destination (or a more than 24 hr stopover) has to be inside the USA.

    Helio, I might add that the pressure to cancel (IMO) is actually coming from the OTA since it will be made to pay the airline the real fare.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree with you. In the comment that I posted in the original article, I stated that Chris needs to call the people who purchase a non-refundable airfare or non-cancellable hotel room rate thieves when they want the benefits of a refundable fare. They want the benefits of a refundable fare and/or travel insurance without paying for it…they are stealing the benefits.

  • Vityok

    That would all have made perfect sense, if the airlines/travel agencies worked the other way around as well: when they publish higher fares and people by them — send refund back…

  • Joe

    I don’t believe for one second you would just eat that loss and say, my bad; I made a mistake. I’ll just lose $12K.

    And your hypothetical situations have absolutely nothing to do with the OP situation.

    People, and companies, make mistakes. Don’t be a jerk and try to capitalize on it.

  • Eric

    Just because you don’t have any morals doesn’t mean that everyone else shouldn’t either.

    Only a thief would try to justify taking advantage of a situation like that.

  • disqust101

    Amen. Somebody has a brain in their head around here…

  • disqust101

    New route makes zero difference in this argument.

  • kierah

    If airlines were more upfront and transparent in their pricing, they could more definitely point to malicious intent. Since prices can fluctuate so greatly at any given time, one can not say that all parties that book these mispriced flights is guilty of wrongdoing.
    The airlines will do anything to get and keep your money. Sometimes karma evens the score.

  • MS

    She requested a new ticket. In one of the posts she stated she called the airline to request a 1.5 day stopover in LAX. This was likely her critical error.

  • TonyA_says

    Glad you saw that. This would violate the FT cardinal rule of mistake fares. NEVER CALL THE AIRLINES.
    Other than tipping off the airlnes, a stopover could have triggered a HIP (reprice) resulting in a much higher fare. Maybe at some point the OTA could no longer price the ticket for the same amount so they simply cancelled and refunded the refundable fare. Since she had another ticket for Feb 2013 and they already knew who she was, maybe that’s the reason they cancelled that one, too.
    It’s interesting to note that many FTers actually made several trips from RGN. Maybe she is either just unlucky or an amateur FTer.

  • Ted

    I once was in the middle of purchasing a ticket on Virgin America when their website went down for almost an hour. When it came back up, the price of the flight I wanted had risen by 20%. I called and asked for the original price — which seemed fair, given that the problem was with their own computer system — but they wouldn’t budge. The fare is whatever the website says at the time of purchase, I was told — no exceptions.

    In other words, there is no set airfare for any flight, ever. They go up and down all the time, without the airlines ever giving a reason. So shouldn’t that work both ways? The purchaser should also be able to assume that if the website shows a certain fare, that’s how much the airline has decided it costs at that moment.

    While I agree that exploiting extreme price mistakes is unethical, it’s not as if this woman walked into a computer store and bought an iPad for $50. She worked with the system that the airlines themselves have set up — one of ever-fluctuating prices, in which there’s never a permanent fare for anything, and where the website’s posted prices are always correct for that time.

  • Aktchi

    I have three observations: (i) The opinion seems to be split 50-50 on this. And that is on your blog. It is likely to be different at other forums. So, nobody appears to have made a persuasive case. (ii) Like most contentious issues of the day, people are dug in; nobody seems interested in learning from another’s thinking. That is true of FlyerTalkers, equally true of you. Unless one has some willingness to consider other viewpoints, there is little point in such discussions. (iii) I don’t know who is right. Your position appears to be a Gandhian one, “I know airlines wrong you and punch you all the time, but you must be better than them and not punch back”. Noble sentiment, certainly, but nothing in the world works that way. Those who are punched tend to punch back. (iv) I don’t know if a calm and useful discussion was ever possible, but it is certainly not helped by charged language like “stealing” and shades on yellow journalism like the graphic of the black-hooded robber with a gun.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.