mistake fares best practices

A picture from a mistake fare to Israel I got on in 2012

Earlier this week there was a massive mistake made by an exchange rate provider that underpins ITA, a company that most major airlines use to price their airfares.  Pretty much all of these tickets were purchased on United’s website.  The reason I didn’t post about it is by the time I had drafted my post it was gone.

Many immediately jumped on the mistake (myself included). While it ultimately remains to be seen if any of the fares will be honored (my prediction is they will not), it’s important to remember some guidelines about mistake fares: it’s an adventure, enjoy the ride, and don’t make any non-refundable bookings until it’s confirmed they’ll be honored.

Here are “the steps” to a mistake fare, or what I’d refer to as “Mistake Fare Best Practices”, courtesy of FlyerTalk member MileageAddict (ed: reprinted with permission, “FTers” refers to other FlyerTalk members):

1. Discovery – mistake fare is posted on FT. Novices frantically checks how much vacation time they have and if the dates of availability mesh with their schedules. Experienced FTers just book it and worry about contacting spouses or their boss later. Word spreads like wildfire.

2. Excitement – Tickets purchased, confirmation emails received and dates of travel shared with other FTers. Discussions of what to see and do and where to stay crop up in other threads. Novices contact source to change seats or inquire about upgrades, Seasoned FTers sit back and enjoy reading the discussion threads.

3. Stress Stage 1 – Concern over paper ticket delivery – Novices Frantically check otheFedEx website every few hours, constant monitoring of driveway for FedEx truck. Seasoned FT veterans sit back and relax.

4. Glee and happiness – Paper tickets in hand, vacation request submitted, spouses finally informed, hotel reservations made and bragging to friends and co-workers begins. Both novices and experts get very excited.

5. Stress Stage 2 – Rumors of fare not being honored, discussion threads about the airline and ticketing agency ensue. Rumors crop up like crabgrass at this stage. Many FTers begin to worry excessively about whether or not the trip will happen. Novices make non-refundable and financial committments to their trip. Seasoned FTers make mixed drinks (and maybe a sandwich) and is patient.

6. Reality Check – Accurate information is obtained – usually takes place a week to 10 days after mistake fare is published. Confirmed information from the source as to whether or not tickets will be honored.

7a. Pure Joy (Icelandair style- Fare is Honored) – Lots of happy people, FT threads on shared information regarding hotels, restaurants, tours, etc. Jealousy from others sets in. First “FT guinea pigs” embark, post confirmation threads that all is ok.

7b Hostile Feelings (Copa Airlines Style – fare is not honored) – Many angry and disappointed FTers. Refunds are issued. Novices have multiple discussion threads of lawsuits and hostile correspondence, FT pros mutter “c’est la vie” and look for the next fare mistake.

8a Success (Honored) – Trip Report thread becomes very active

Basically: sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  Above all of this, remember to be gracious as much as possible.

My general thoughts on mistake fares

After the fuel surcharges I’ve had to still pay even though oil has dropped, after the change fees I’ve had to pay because I made an honest mistake and booked a trip on the wrong day, after the baggage fees I’ve paid, after the delays where I slept overnight in an airport and they did nothing because they delay was blamed on “weather”, after the booking fees I’ve paid to book with an agent over the phone when it was impossible for me to book online, after not being able to pick a good seat unless I have status, after not being able to book an award ticket because of mysterious and sudden devaluations of frequent flyer programs, I have little sympathy for airlines when stuff like this happens.  They had, have, and will continue to have all of the power when it comes to my relationship with them.

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