United Honors Free Mistake Fares

by on September 13, 2013 · 26 comments

in United

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Yesterday we reported on a glitch with United’s ticket booking engine that resulted in people being able to book flights around the US and to Hawaii for almost free – all they had to pay were the taxes. While I didn’t actually expect these fares to be honored based on United’s past behavior in similar circumstances, the airline just announced on Twitter that they would in fact be honoring the tickets sold during the 15-minute window where these $0 fares were being offered.

United TweetPer the Tweet, United officially announced that, “We’ve reviewed the error that occurred yesterday and decided that, based on these specific circumstances, we will honor the tickets.”

Kudos to United for coming to this decision. I would have expected them to cancel the tickets altogether, or at least compromise with customers who managed to reserve the $0 fares, but I’m glad they’re actually going to let them fly the itineraries they booked. It’s a customer-friendly move when those seem to be becoming more and more rare these days.

Congratulations to all who managed to snag one of these fares – once you fly, tell us about your experience and where you fly.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • HCSmooth66

    I think the question still remaining on flyertalk is whether they will earn EQM/RDMs. That came into question in discussions, and wasn’t specifically addressed by United’s comments. You would assume yes since it wasn’t specified otherwise.

  • Good Golly


  • Grant

    I think if the $0 fares went on for much longer, United would have cancelled all the tickets. Those that booked tickets got lucky that it was only a short time glitch.

  • Frequent Flyer

    Don’t forget that those who received the tickets will be subsidized by those who didn’t. United will make the same amount per flight. They will have to increase rates for everyone else. I have been watching prices for a flight to SFO and the price just increased by ~$10. Coincidence?

  • Sam

    I’m starting to think that mistake/glitch fares are not really what they seem to be. I think its part of their PR and marketing. Look at all the buzz around it. They honor the fare and they get Kudos for it on top of that. I will fly United just because they ended up honoring the mistake fare, even though i did not get in on it. It just shows how “customer friendly” they are.

  • tweetivism

    Either a PR stunt as mentioned by another person, or, It may have been a fat finger issue vs a system glitch, which, means it’s their fault vs the software.

  • NguyenVanFalk

    I’m going with fat finger. I had an experience last week where, at 3:54 pm, I received an email blast and telephone call from AA that told me my 7 pm flight had been moved to 4:15… A pretty wild itinerary change if true. Even the AA system showed 4:15 as an updated departure. Well, I scrambled to get re-booked on another flight but sure enough, the 4:15 departure never materialized; flight left on time at 7 pm after all.

  • Jane

    I wouldn’t give United so much credit. I’m sure the DOT would have forced them to honor the fares based on their guidelines. By United coming out and saying they will honor everything, just makes them look like the good guy.

  • Goat Rodeo

    someone will probably complain about the flight as well hoping for more miles.

  • joeypore

    It really does sounds like a PR move. This is bound to be in the news and push at least some people to book more flights on United. Definitely a smart move? Yes. Do I wish I snagged some free United flights? Heck yes. Am I going to get mad about it… nope. It happens.

  • GamerChi

    This was not a PR stunt. They have a monopoly for all intents and purposes. Why would they do this for PR? To tick off the other 99.999% of their customers who weren’t lucky enough to see the error before it was corrected. That’s just dumb

  • Lark

    I can’t believe I did not get to board first.

    This food is awful.

    I expected much more for my $0 ticket!

  • anon

    These were coach fares. Assuming no EQMs, the only way you’d get me to fly to hawaii is in lie flat seats.

  • Jiakan Wang

    Have you ever heard of demand & supply?

  • JeffR

    How exactly is this a ‘customer friendly’ move? This wasn’t a $150 transatlantic fare that might have reasonably been understood to be a sale and not a mistake? This was $0. Everyone knew it was a mistake — hence, you can bet that just about everyone who booked it, booked it for a trip today. Really, it’s no different than seeing a pallet of goods sitting unattended outside a Walmart loading dock and just helping yourself. Everyone knows it isn’t what it seems. United clearly decided that the financial hit they’ll take honoring the tickets would be less than the reputational hit they’d take not honoring them (and getting all that bad press about it). And of course, now they get some good press — from those, like you, TPG, who think this is a ‘customer friendly’ move. But it’s not customer friendly. It rewards people who essentially steal from the company, and will penalize — and you can bet on that — those that don’t, whether it is the programmer who loses his job or the future United traveler who pays a higher fare, or some new outrageous fee. So, yeah, TPG, kudos to those who got their $0 flight — well done.

  • JM

    Didn’t get in on the deal or something? I’m pretty sure nobody will lose a job over this mistake. If anything, they’re hire more people to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

  • JM

    This would mean that most of my tickets are subsidized by people paying more than me. Awesome :)

  • Kimberly Rotter

    Pat on the back to the lucky buyers. Nice to win one now and then!!

  • ejohnson102

    I think it says a lot about United to honor the fares. I’m sure that small window will cost them money but it couldn’t have been that much. I’m sure that someone determined that the publicity outweighed the cost.

  • king

    No… this would be the same as seeing a pallet of goods sitting outside walmart marked $5 and then taking it to the cashier and buying the goods. United offered a price and people bought flights. Labeling this stealing is ridiculous.

  • Tom

    I had a flight ticketed and confirmed 25 minutes before any threads started on flyertalk. Deal ran for a good 90 minutes overall. Flights booked into K class so will earn miles unless booking class is changed, regardless of zero fare.

  • Alex

    I think you have a point. Reminds me of a similar PR tactic when the new iPhone was found at a bar. Anything for publicity!

  • James

    Hey, just found this website, great website gonna continue to follow closley. Quick quistoin, does anyone know a way that I can text to my phone when a post comes up?

  • Felipe Yang

    Yah, except that was a pure accident. They had the police breakdown the apartment of the blogger who bought it, seized all his tech property as evidence and tried to prosecute him. To this day they won’t allow Gizmodo to attend their announcement events. If it was intentional, that was not a good PR move at all.

  • Greg

    Pure PR – the financial impact of 90 minutes of a domestic airfare ticket was worth all the free coverage by the press.

    Are people’s memories that short? Anyone remember the mistake fares to Hong Kong a little while back? That financial hit wasn’t worth the media coverage and therefore all tickets were canceled.

    Come on sheeple.

  • Pingback: United and Cathay Pacific add $759 NYC fares to Hong Kong, here’s how to take advantage | Tech, Travel & Tuna()

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