Why Do People Care That Mistake Fares May Disappear?

I’ve never managed to book a mistake fare for myself but when I was reading a post this week on Point Me To The Plane about new software that will make it easier for airlines to eliminate mistake fares, my reaction was a reserved, “So what?”

Backing up a bit, a mistake fare is when, for one reason or another, an unbelievably low airfare shows up in the airline booking systems. These are most often a result of human error (typing errors, incorrect currency conversions, etc.) and can result in huge discounts on airfare, like paying $300 for a ticket instead of $3,000. Once discovered by the internet, the rock-bottom airfare is booked by bargain hunter travelers as fast as they can type because it’s only a matter of minutes to hours before the mistake is discovered and removed from the system. Some people even book multiple trips because either they aren’t sure of travel dates or because the miles flown count for acquiring status and these fares are a cheap way to become a top-level flyer.

Then everyone waits. Once the airline discovers the error, they have a decision to make. Do they honor the mistake fare and let everyone who booked the cheap rate fly on those tickets or do they cancel the tickets and incur the wrath of the blogosphere calling them cheats and liars? Now that the US Dept. of Transportation allows airlines to cancel tickets booked for a fare which is obviously a mistake, there’s no rule for which tickets will be honored or which ones will be canceled. Some airlines even try to walk down the middle and cancel the tickets while offering passengers a higher priced, yet still discounted ticket to the same location as the mistake fare.

What I was really thinking about when I heard the news was, if mistake fares went away and never came back, who would be hurt?

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