In a widely publicized case, United posted several unbelievably cheap fares on its website yesterday due to a currency conversion error.
How cheap? How about $74 to fly between New York and London…in business class?
A fare like that is clearly a mistake and not just a super low fare.
Once the mistake was uncovered, word quickly spread through social media, and thousands of tickets were booked and ticketed on United.com.
To book the mistake fare on United.com, users had to lie about the country from which they were booking the tickets (switching from the US to Denmark), which then mis-priced the fares due to a currency conversion glitch. (See image above to see how you can change this.)
Once it realized its mistake, United contacted the ticket holders and told them that their tickets would be voided and that payment would not be processed.
Then the squawking began.
Should United (or any other airline) be forced to honor these mistake fares that pop up from time to time?
No, I do not think so.
As much as we love to jump on the airlines for their greed, and our desire to “get back at them,” we need to remember that they are run by human beings…and that human beings make mistakes.
Human beings are generally willing to forgive mistakes, right?
Let’s consider a “kid in the candy” store analogy– admittedly imperfect, but I think you’ll get my drift:
A kid walks into the Mom & Pop candy store and discovers that Mom has mistakenly priced $1 chocolate bars at just 10 cents. He buys three and then runs into the street to tell all his friends about Mom’s mistake.
The kids rush the store– before mom has had the time to get her price gun out to properly price the candy bars.
They grab all the chocolate bars and demand that she sell them for 10 cents as marked.
When mom says, “sorry kids, I made a mistake and can’t sell these to you for just 10 cents, you have to pay the correct price,” they all squeal and moan and leave the store.
Would it be fair to force mom to sell the kids that candy at the wrong price?
I don’t think so. She might choose to sell them at that price anyway as a goodwill gesture, but I don’t think that she must make good on her mistake.
Plus, I think it’s unethical for the kid to run into the street screaming about Mom’s mistake. It’s equally unethical for the kids in the street, who know that this is a mistake, to rush the store demanding their 90% off candy.
Do you agree? I bet not… especially when I look at the results from an NPR poll taken in December 2013. It was part of a story about mistake fares from Delta titled: The Price Is Wrong And You Know It: Do You Buy That Ticket?
The DOT is apparently investigating this whole affair, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments about mistake fares! Please leave them below.
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