New Ruling on Mistake Fares – Good for Airlines, Bad for Travelers

Ever read about those lucky few who find dirt cheap, once-in-a-lifetime ‘mistake’ fares such as a cross-country deal for $5 each way? It has happened – and airlines have honored such fares – but don’t expect to see this happen much anymore (if at all). Blame it on a new ‘enforcement policy‘ from the Department of Transportation.

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Mistake Fares Need Not be Honored

Back in 2011, the Department of Transportation said airlines could not raise prices after a purchase and that included so-called mistake fares. Such fares are genuine mistakes because no airline willingly sells New York-Los Angeles flights for five dollars.

Well, this became a problem suggests the DOT, because – imagine this! – too many people were learning about these deals and taking advantage of them. Indeed, the DOT notes “how quickly mistaken fares are spread through postings on aviation and travel websites, forums, and blogs.”

Now, airlines won’t have to honor them these fares.

Consumers Can Seek Expense Reimbursement

“Some airlines still might honor them,” notes airfare analyst and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney but even if they don’t, carriers must reimburse “consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase.” These expenses can include non-refundable hotel reservations, destination tour packages or activities, and more. However, the burden is on the consumer to provide proof in the form of receipts for such expenses.

Seaney adds, “I think airlines will take this to mean they can cancel ‘mistakes’ with no legal issues; plus, now all the side effects of reimbursement will be on the passenger.”

By the way, this new enforcement policy is temporary and will remain in effect only until the DOT publishes a final rule on the matter. When that will happen – or if it will differ from the temporary policy – is unknown at this time.


Updated: May 12, 2015