What If A Reverse “Mistake Fare” Happened?

Early Wednesday morning the miles and points blogiverse nearly imploded on itself thanks to $80 United First Class fares from the UK to the United States (with slightly higher prices to many other places). This was quickly dubbed one of the largest “mistake fares” in history and happened thanks to a currency conversion error by a third-party contracted with United. Users had to book via the Danish version of the United website so that the prices of flights were relayed in Danish Kroner.

I booked four flights from London to various locations for $477 USD.

I booked a roundtrip flight from London with stopovers in LA and Manui for $142

Then news came later that day, like it often does with mistake fares, that United would not honor any of the bookings made due to the pricing error.

Then the polarization came. The original Flyertalk thread where news of the fare was initially posted currently has over 3,400 comments. These can be summed up into two generalized views:

  • Many think that United should honor the tickets, and a percentage of those have filed Department of Transportation complaints in hopes that United will be forced to honor the tickets.
  • Others think that the error was obvious and United is correct to cancel the bookings, and a small percentage of those go so far as to say those who booked essentially intended to defraud United and should be punished.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t have any answer on where United is within their legal rights to cancel the tickets. And I definitely understand United’s motivation, given the deep discounts they were soldbeing a publicly traded company with an ultimate fiduciary duty to shareholders.

While I’d love to fly these routes at a fraction of their cost, I don’t feel entitled to them.

But my curiosity is piqued by a hypothetical situation in which the reverse occurs. Let’s say United misprices a ticket in their favor. A coach ticket from say, London to Los Angeles for $50,000 USD (50ish times its price), and by some stroke of blind ignorance or defect the consumer actually clicks through to purchase the ticket and complete the booking. Would the consumer be “protected” by the obvious misprice, just as United is claiming they are in this instance? Would United allow the consumer to cancel their ticket because of a pricing error that United made? Granted it would be an isolated incident as opposed to hundreds or thousands of bookings, but the premise of each case is identical.

Hypotheticals aside, this particular case is far from over. I’m not holding out hope to fly these tickets as I think the odds of ticket reinstatement are slim. The DOT is currently investigating and have yet to release their final results.

What do you think?

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