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A lot of miles and points enthusiasts enjoy taking part in ‘mistake fares.’ These are times when an airline misfiles the fare for a particular destination or set of destinations.
For example last December Delta inadvertently sold First Class tickets for a fraction of the normal price for many domestic flights. And United last fall ended up selling many fares for $0 – all you had to do was pay the taxes.
And they honored them.
In part because they had to.
Thanks to a 2012 update to the Department of Transportation rules that was particularly consumer friendly, mistake fares must be honored if you buy a fare and receive confirmation of the purchase:
“if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as confirmation email and / or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.”
It even goes on to say an airline can’t add terms and conditions to protect itself.
But now the Department of Transportation is questioning things.
After the rash of mistake fares over the last year, and some complaints from travelers, it’s now thinking there may be cases when they shouldn’t be honored.
In fact, it’s specifically calling out frequent flier blogs as a source of the problem, saying in a new rules proposal published today:
“increasingly mistaken fares are getting posted on frequent-flyer community blogs and travel-deal sites, and individuals are purchasing these tickets in bad faith and not on the mistaken belief that a good deal is now available. We solicit comment on how best to address the problem of individual bad actors while still ensuring that airlines and other sellers of air transportation are required to honor mistaken fares that were reasonably relied upon by consumers. “
That’s what they think of the blogs and people who are buying the deals after learning about them on the blogs.
There’s no easy answer here.
Mistake fares have spread virally for over 10 years now online.
Many of them are a result of poor oversight on the part of airlines, and some are genuinely confusing. For example with the growth of ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit some actual fares may appear absurdly low, like $19 one way. And the major airlines might match them.
So how is a consumer to know what is truly a mistake or not?
We’re not sure there is an easy solution to this. The DOT wants to make sure genuinely confused consumers are protected, but understands the issue viral pile-ons can cause.
But you can make your voice heard by the DOT.
Follow this link and you can comment on the mistake fares proposal. Pro or con. Just click the ‘Comment Now!’ button.
For more intrepid enthusiasts, you can also comment on the new definition of “transportation within, to, or from the United States,” which was a provision some relied upon for mistake fares from foreign carriers.
“We are considering defining the phrase “air transportation within, to, or from the United States” for the purposes of this section to mean any transportation that begins or ends in the United States or involves a connection or stopover in the United States that is 24 hours or longer. “
It’s a slight nuance, but one designed to clarify situations like Korean Airlines and Swiss Airlines, which have tended to cancel mistake fares outright.
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