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A few weeks ago, United’s Danish website was way under-pricing First Class tickets from London to the United States, about $100 to anywhere you wanted to go. United said it would not honor those tickets, and I sided with United while noting that United States Department of Transportation (DoT) rules seemed clear that United couldn’t unilaterally cancel its tickets.

Now the DoT has weighed in with a statement.

The statement makes clear that United will not have to honor the mistake fares. It leaves open whether any mistake fares in the future will be honored, and I really don’t like some of the language. Here’s the part that could kill mistake fares:

Additionally, the Office is concerned that to obtain the fare, some purchasers had to manipulate the search process on the website in order to force the conversion error to Danish Krone by misrepresenting their billing address country as Denmark when, in fact, Denmark was not their billing address country. This evidence of bad faith by the large majority of purchasers contributed to the Enforcement Office’s decision.

Most mistake fares do not require you to change the country of purchase (though that trick often saves money on airfare), but I’m worried about what else the DoT could classify as “bad faith” that could then “contribute” to the next decision that a mistake fare doesn’t have to be honored.

Will a mistake fare going viral be enough evidence on its own that a majority of the people who purchased it read about the fare on a blog or website and knew the fare was a mistake? Is that “bad faith”? Will that be enough to make the next mistake fare unenforceable?

I don’t know the answers, but my take is that the DoT didn’t want to enforce this mistake fare and “back-filled” reasons to get there. The DoT had some useful facts at its disposal this time, since almost everyone who got in on the fare lied about having a billing address in Denmark. Those facts probably won’t be present in the next mistake fare that the DoT has to adjudicate, but will DoT simply expand its definition of “bad faith”? If the DoT doesn’t want to enforce the next mistake fare, will it back-fill new reasons?

We shall see.

In the meantime, I set up a twitter account last week that I haven’t tweeted from yet. I’ll only tweet from @MileValueAlerts when there is a you-need-to-know-right-now deal on the level of a mistake fare. Set up free text message alerts every time @MileValueAlerts tweets as explained in this post.


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