Do Airlines Honor Mistake Fares?

Last night (Feb. 11), United Airlines found itself in a bit of a pickle when it figured out shoppers were scooping up first class fares on trans-Atlantic flights such as London-Newark for as little as $75. That is what is known as a mistake fare.

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Incredibly Cheap Mistake Fares

Normally, a United first class London-Newark flight – in June, for example – goes for roughly $4,700 (or $1,500 in economy). Selling it for $75 is a pretty big mistake by any measure. Will United honor it? According to an airline spokesman quoted by Bloomberg, it will not.

Do Airlines Honor Mistake Fares? Yes & No

In this case, the airline says it wasn’t to blame.

“United is voiding the bookings of several thousand individuals who were attempting to take advantage of an error a third-party software provider made when it applied an incorrect currency exchange rate.” –United quoted by Bloomberg

However, in the past, some airlines including United have honored some mistakes fares, albeit grudgingly (or so it seemed).

  • In December of 2014, Singapore Airlines honored mistake fares in which business class tickets were sold for economy prices.
  • In 2013, gleeful shoppers spread the word that United had mistakenly priced some cross-country fares for as little as five and ten bucks. At first it looked like the carrier would not honor these deals, but ultimately said it would.

It may be a matter of where the fault lies, whether the airline made the mistake or another party did. If you ever come across a mistake airfare (and you may if you sign up for airfare alerts), go ahead and make the purchase but don’t get your hopes up. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

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Updated: February 18, 2015