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American Airlines Offers Settlement in March Fare Glitch Case

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For those who were able to secure the American Airlines business-class glitch fare from the US to China in March via a 24-hour hold, the carrier has offered a settlement, preempting any Department of Transportation ruling.

American didn’t cancel reservations that were actually paid for and ticketed. Yes, that means people actually got to fly from the US to China in business class for about $400. But for those who used American’s free 24-hour hold feature, the airline canceled those itineraries before the 24-hour mark, preventing travelers from booking.

The website clearly states:

“Hold Your Reservation For Free For Up To 24 Hours. If you are not ready to purchase your ticket now, you may select HOLD to GUARANTEE your reservation and fare for up to 24 hours.”

While this was a glitch fare, American had no problem in honoring the mistake for all ticketed passengers. In fact, the only thing the airline didn’t honor was its bold-faced fare lock guarantee. The legality of this move is questionable at best. DOT regulations require airlines to give full refunds to any passengers who wish to cancel their trips within 24 hours of booking. However, American is one of the only airlines that, instead of offering a money-back guarantee for that period, allows travelers to place itineraries on a free one-day hold. Thus, American didn’t violate the DOT’s rules on mistake fares (which seem to be more flexible, like with a recent United glitch); it violated DOT’s 24 hour refund/hold rule, which is set in stone.

beijing
If your hold wasn’t honored, at least you can get a discount on a flight to Beijing. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Settlement Options

I’d argue that people who were actually serious about flying on this amazing fare would pay for the reservation immediately and not think twice about it. Still, for those who happened to put a flight on hold, American is offering a very compelling settlement:

  • Option A: $1,500 off any business-class ticket operated by American and its regional partners from the original origin to either PEK or PVG.
  • Option B: A $0 base fare ticket operated by American and its regional partners, as long as the flights are bookable in O or Q class. You would still be responsible for the taxes and fees that American says could amount to around $450.

For either option, you must call 800-433-1790 within six weeks of October 26th, and complete travel within a year of that date. Make sure to give the agent your original booking code and reference the decision on the glitch fares to China from March. Note that American claims that these options will not earn miles or elite-qualifying points. See the full email at the bottom for more information.

Option A can actually be a very appealing one, considering there are many American fares in business class from DCA and other US cities to China hovering at about $3,500 right now. A $2,000 flight (after the discount) to China in business is quite the steal.

Option B isn’t as sweet. For many dates, taxes and fees amount to $400 or more. The lack of mileage earnings also could be a deal breaker. Note that American doesn’t actually have a paid fare class that earns no miles, so you could theoretically still credit your miles to a partner like Alaska and get full credit (this has happened in the past, according to FlyerTalk).

One ambiguity is American’s use of “regional partners”: this could either mean American Eagle, or JAL and Cathay Pacific and other Oneworld partners. If the latter is true, you could fly via Hong Kong for under $100 total, as Cathay Pacific doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on revenue tickets.

If you’re unhappy with either of the options, you could use this as a bargaining tool and try to negotiate a better settlement individually with American. You can also submit a claim to the Department of Transportation here.

Bottom Line

Overall, it seems unlikely that the DOT would force American to honor the original business-class fare, but it still is a possibility. Reaching out to both American and the Department of Transportation are your best options at this point. For more information, see Mitch Berman’s post on 5 Legal Remedies for When Your Flight Deal is Canceled.

Here’s the Full Email Text:

October 26, 2015

Dear Mr. XXX:

Thank you for your patience in our responding to your complaint regarding the cancellation of a reservation for travel to China which you placed on hold earlier this year.

The reservation you placed on hold was for an extremely low fare offered by American in error, and the mistaken fare was offered for only a few hours. Because the fare was offered in error, we cancelled those reservations, such as yours, that had been made but not ticketed.

In our view, given the fact that the fares American offered for China travel in those few hours were so low that it was obvious they were offered in error (a fact widely acknowledged in the social media posts which prompted many of those who reserved the fares to do so), we were justified in cancelling those reservations that were made but not ticketed, and accordingly will not honor the fare associated with your cancelled reservation. However, we will offer to you two options for reduced rate travel to China, one for business class and one for coach class. The two options are as follows:

Option A – Business Class: We offer you a $1,500 discount on any roundtrip business cabin fare to Shanghai or Beijing.

· Reservation must be booked by AA and operated entirely by AA (including AA’s regional partners).

· Travel may not be upgraded, by upgrade certificate, AAdvantage status, or any other means, to a higher class of service.

· Travel will not be eligible to earn AAdvantage miles or Elite Qualifying Miles or points, and will not count as Elite Qualifying segments in the AAdvantage program.

· Travel may be ticketed immediately and must be completed within one year of the date of this letter.

· Travel to PEK or PVG should originate and end in the same U.S. airport(s) as in the original PNR with the same passenger(s) (or subset of passengers) traveling as were listed in the cancelled PNR.

· Must be ticketed within six weeks of the date of this letter.

Option B – Main Cabin: We offer you the opportunity to receive a $0 fare basis main cabin fare to Shanghai or Beijing, subject to taxes and fees of approximately $450 (varies slightly by routing)..

· Reservation must be booked by AA for any Q or O class fare to PEK or PVG, and operated entirely by AA (including AA’s regional partners).

· Travel may not be upgraded, by upgrade certificate, AAdvantage status, or any other means, to a higher class of service.

· Travel will not be eligible to earn AAdvantage miles or Elite Qualifying Miles or points, and will not count as Elite Qualifying segments in the AAdvantage program.

· This offer is subject to Q or O class inventory availability for travel outbound starting November 15, 2015.

· Travel must be completed within one year of the date of this letter.

· Travel to PEK or PVG should originate and end in the same U.S. airport(s) as in the original PNR with the same passenger(s) (or subset of passengers) traveling as were listed in the cancelled PNR.

· Must be ticketed within six weeks of the date of this letter.

If you would like to accept one of these offers, please contact American Airlines at the following number to make your flight reservation. Please note the operating hours of this special reservations desk.

800-433-1790 Seven Days Week 0600-Midnight Central Time

Please let the American Airlines agent know that you have received a letter authorizing a special discount on fares from the USA to China and provide the following information:

Reference Number: _____, Origin: DCA, Destination: PEK, Passenger Name: XXX

Reference Number: _____, Origin: SFO, Destination: PEK, Passenger Name: XXX

Reference Number: _____, Origin: LAX, Destination: PVG, Passenger Name: XXX

Reference Number: _____, Origin: DCA, Destination: PEK, Passenger Name: XXX

Please note that you can book a separate ticket for each of the reference numbers listed above and the Option A or B applies to each Reference Number.

This offer is non-transferable, applies only to passengers identified in the original reservation, and only in the origin and destination of the original booking. Please note the reservation process may take up to 72 hours for confirmation of your itinerary. After your eligibility for this special discount has been confirmed, a reservation agent will contact you to complete ticketing of your travel itinerary.

Once your travel itinerary is confirmed and ticketed, all applicable fare rules (including change fees and penalties) apply for voluntary changes.

Sincerely,

Betty XXXXX
Customer Relations
American Airlines

AA Ref#0000000000

CC: Department of Transportation

Tell us which option you’d choose in the comments below!

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