On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, Continental Airlines published a mistake fare from Seattle to Tokyo-Narita for a price of $590 after taxes. The fare was a “B” fare, a type that earns 150% elite miles. By taking red-eye flights, the ticket could be routed through Houston, giving it the earning power of 25,551 elite miles (essentially locking in Continental’s lowest tiered status for a flier). For Continental, this was a rare event, a severely under priced ticket on a business heavy route is not something that they do very often, but for other airlines, this type of thing is common. So mistake fares beg the question, is it ok to buy these tickets knowing that they are mistakes?
I’ll be honest, I bought one of the Continental flights to Tokyo. The thought of passing up the miles was just too hard to bear, but late last night, I made the decision to cancel the ticket and use the money to buy a camera. The length of the trip was the main reason I cancelled because the trip would essentially be me on a plane for close to 48 hours. Also, if I am going to Tokyo, I would like to spend more than a day there exploring all of the sights and I just could not pull that off with the fare.
Where do I stand on mistake fares? It is a little bit of a tricky question, because on one hand, the airline made the mistake and I simply caught it. If I walked into a store and was sold an item for $10 and left but the manager ran after me to tell me that the item was actually $100, I would probably not be too happy and would want to keep the item for the price I paid. On the other hand, if I knew the item was actually $100 but let the clerk charge me the wrong amount, I think there is a moral dilemma. Which is why I am torn, we see these fares as mistakes but the average traveller sees a great price on a trip.
There have been a few cases recently where airlines have refused to honor tickets where they had made a mistake, the one that has plastered the internet is the case of Swiss Airlines publishing a $0 Business Class fare and refusing to honor it. Eventually, Swiss honored some of the tickets, but I have to wonder if they were a little jipped here. The guy that is mentioned in the article knew that the price of $0 was not right, but went ahead and bought the ticket. Yes, Swiss should be on top of their game when publishing fares, but should we not expect our fellow man to have some sort of moral fortitude?
I am not completely convinced either way, but I would like to hear what you think! Leave a comment letting me know where you stand.