In the September issue of InsideFlyer, we wrote about a United Airlines MileagePlus award pricing glitch where members could book awards to or from Hong Kong for a mere four miles. United Airlines discovered the error within hours and canceled tickets that were purchased at the incorrect mileage rate. Tickets were honored for a few members who were able to begin flying almost immediately.
Many members filed complaints about the cancelled award tickets with the Department of Transportation who have completed an investigation of the situation and recently issued a statement. The DOT said that “the actual price of the advertised fare was never clearly stated during the booking process” and that it was ambiguous; “… it could be reasonably interpreted that the actual price of the fare was significantly more than the amount consumers paid at the time they attempted to purchase the fare, e.g., $40 plus four frequent flyer miles. Therefore, we are not able to establish that consumers, in fact, paid the full amount of the offered fare at the time of purchase.” In their view, United did not engage in an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of DOT rules. The DOT ended the ruling, however, by stating, “Please note that, regardless of the outcome of our investigation, consumers are free to pursue claims (e.g., a breach of contract claim) against the airline in an appropriate civil court for monetary damages and other remedies particular to their situation.”
Bottom line: It’s always a gamble when booking mistake fares. While members who filed complaints were hoping for some form of compensation, the DOT ruled in United’s favor. The members who won here were the ones who booked tickets for flights departing right away. When it comes to mistakes like this, act fast and hope for the best. Although the ruling was not what MileagePlus members were looking for, it does open the way for members to take the airline to court.