Sorry, those $40 fares on British Airways weren’t for real

baSome things are just too good to be true. Like a British Airways flight to Mumbai for $40, offered briefly yesterday. Such a deal!

Such a … mistake! (Here’s an update on the story.)

My colleague Janice Hough alerted me to the problem early Saturday. Here’s the fare display she pulled up:

$DSFOBLR4OCT*BA
FO-BLR SUN-04OCT09 BA
PM 12753 AT
TAXES/FEES NOT INCLUDED
PUBLIC FARES
CX FARE FARE C AP MIN/ SEASONS…… MR GI DT
USD BASIS MAX
1 BA 40.00R BL2RT B 13JUL -10DEC R AT
2 BA 40.00R HLRCNA H 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT
3 BA 40.00R KLRCNA K 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT
4 BA 40.00R LLNCNA L 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT
5 BA 40.00R MLRCNA M 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT

That’s a $40 base fare, not including taxes and fees.

What’s going on here? Hough said, “I think BA fired the wrong programmer.”

Perhaps. But a lot of folks thought this was a real fare, including my colleague Katie Hammel.

I was one of the people who heard about the low fare to Mumbai on British Airways last night and excitedly booked my ticket on Orbitz.com. My card was charged (over $1,100 for the two round trip tickets is still “pending” on my debit card, which means it is unavailable to me) and received an email saying that I would get my confirmation from the airline soon. I started planning my trip, only to wake up this morning to a second email from Orbitz saying that “due to limited quantities”, the order could not be fulfilled.

I’ve now found out via Twitter that the fare was the result of a glitch. Those who bought tickets before the error was corrected will still receive them. I “bought” my tickets before then – when I clicked “purchase”, the fare listed was around $550 per person round trip [after taxes]. I am hoping that Orbitz and British Airways will honor my purchase and have sent them an email asking that they do.

I’m wondering… is there anything else I can do to get the fare, and what are the rules on this sort of thing? I blog for the website Gadling and was planning on putting up a little post on what happened. I wanted to include some general guidelines on how airlines handle it, but can’t find anything. Can you point me to any resources or offer your insight?

I asked Orbitz about the glitch. It responded early this morning with the following statement:

Last night, British Airways misfiled fares for some flights between the U.S. and India. These fares appeared on some online booking sites, including Orbitz. A number of Orbitz customers attempted to book these flights. Our attempts to ticket these flights with British Airways were rejected. When we became aware of these rejections, we promptly notified impacted customers that we were unable to ticket their requested flights. We regret the inconvenience our customers experienced.

I’ve written about pricing errors, which are often referred to as “fat-finger” fares, numerous times. Here’s my take: Knowingly booking one of these tickets is, in my opinion, wrong. Which is to say, if you are aware that this is a mistake and try to buy it anyway, you’re stealing.

There are some who knew better, but went ahead and tried to book it anyway. I have no sympathy for them.

But travelers who think it’s just a really good price — and $550 is not too good to be true — have a real reason to be upset about an airline not honoring the fare. It also puts agencies like Orbitz in a difficult spot.

Bottom line: There’s no easy way for a regular traveler to avoid a fare mistake like this.

Update: Two sources are telling me that some of these fares are being honored. I’ve asked British Airways for a comment, and will update this post when it responds.

Update: (Monday, noon) British Airways has answered —

It seems there was an honest mistake in a fare filing. What was a $40 increase on a USA-India fare was somehow filed as the fare.

Apparently it was corrected within a couple hours, but not before lots of people (don’t have numbers yet) booked tickets. Orbitz realized the error and discontinued selling the incorrect fare.

I just spoke with someone in London and the plan is to rescind the fare – we will have to contact everyone that booked and apologize that this was a mistake and we sincerely apologize for the incorrect fare filing.

Update: (Tuesday noon) I checked with British Airways to see if anything had changed. Here’s the carrier’s response:

Our position still stands.

British Airways apologizes for the issue which arose for two hours on Friday, October 2, on bookings between USA and India.

We are investigating how the error occurred which meant that seats were available for $40 roundtrip plus taxes, fees and surcharges.

Due to the fare being so clearly below the normal fare, we have cancelled all bookings made in this two hour period between USA and India.

We will be refunding all the seats booked at these fares.

British Airways will be contacting the affected customers and would urge them to contact their travel agent or British Airways, if they booked directly with the airline, to claim a refund and be offered alternative travel arrangements.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend