Category Archives: Mistake Fares
Apparently I am a thief. This is news to me, but according to a person whom I have never met has declared me to be one. It’s also on the internet so it must be true. Rather than get into a semantic debate on what theft is which would be interesting only to law nerds, lets talk about mistakes. We’re human, you, me, Mr. Elliott, we are all human. That means we all make mistakes. For example, while driving to work today, I accidentally drifted off the side of the road. I was listening to NPR and far too into the discussion of the immigration problem and I blanked on what I should have been doing. The car and myself are fine but it was still a mistake.
Right behind making mistakes is paying for them. I pay for my mistakes, I’ve paid for quite a few. People mock me for my marginal writing and spelling errors and I feel ashamed. What I don’t do is blame other people or try and avoid responsibility for those mistakes. It then becomes the other person’s choice to accept that I made a mistake or not.
Most of you loyal readers have been reading about my trip to Myanmar. This trip was built on the back of an obscene mistake fare on the part of Korean Airlines (KE). KE wanted to cancel all of the tickets and in fact did so, but the US government said we will fine any airline that voids a “mistake fare.” Now, in Mr. Elliott’s ethical universe taking advantage of a mistake fare is stealing. If KE wanted to avoid issuing those tickets in the first place they could have. But they chose to use a system with minimal safeguards in pursuit of profit. It is that system that allowed these tickets to be issued. It is the same for all the airlines, they made their choice and they wanted to avoid responsibility for those choices. Umm no.
If the airlines want to be able to avoid responsibility for their mistakes then they should play by the same rules that ticket buyers do a 24 hr cancellation policy for both the passenger and the airline. But even after the twenty four hours I still would have been ok with giving up at least my ticket. I grew up Catholic, for me forgiveness is available to anyone for anything. The catch is we all have to ask. We (the royal we) have to admit what we did was wrong, be sorry for it, and ask to be forgiven for it. Now if you follow those three steps (most don’t) you’ll find yourself humbled before the other person. If KE had called me and said “we screwed up” and “what can we do to make this right?” I would have given up my ticket. I didn’t want to go to Myanmar. I would have settled on a coach ticket to New Zealand or someplace else I wanted to go.
The abdication of personal responsibility is the problem here. While two wrongs, or at least one wrong and one somewhat questionable choice do not make a right, it is fundamentally not right to allow companies, groups and individuals to avoid responsibility for their actions just because of an honest mistake that happened because of lax safeguards they set up.
Swiss, the latest perpetrator of the discount Rangoon fares has issued the public response.
We are writing in regards to the travel you recently booked with Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. from Yangon (RGN), Myanmar. Unfortunately, as you must have been aware of, the fare you purchased was incorrect and resulted from an inadvertent error that was out of our control. While SWISS honors its commitment to the highest level of customer service and safety in air travel, it must also honor its obligations to its employees and shareholders.
We are not obligated to provide our services for compensation that is obviously erroneously published and commercially infeasible. We are aware that good travel bargains are quickly recognized and booked, however principles of fare bargaining dictate that a service provider does not give away its services for almost free or at a loss.
Because the fare you booked was not valid, we will unfortunately have to cancel your reservation and ticket. We are extremely sorry for this error and we are not increasing the price of your ticket; rather we will promptly issue you a full refund for the total price you paid for the ticket. The full amount will be automatically credited using your original form of payment. In the event that you would like to rebook your itinerary at the appropriate price, please contact your nearest SWISS service center or your travel agent.
SWISS deeply regrets the inconvenience caused by the publication of the erroneous fare to the passengers who may have thought they had booked and purchased a valid ticket for an erroneous cost. We apologize for this unfortunate situation and trust your future travel on SWISS is comfortable.
Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
Malzgasse 15, Basel/Schweiz
Handelsregisteramt des Kantons Basel-Stadt
As many of you know this is in direct contravention of 14 CFR §399.88 which specifies that ticket agent or airline that sells a ticket for transport in, to, or through the U.S. may not increase the fare post-tickting. At least according to this letter Swiss is trying to avoid this by stating that they are not increasing the fare but are simply refunding it. Korean Airlines tried this tack in April and it did not work. The problem is that United Airlines tried this in July and it did work. What will happen here, I don’t know. I would like to see airlines be held accountable for their mistakes, but it is just not catching on.
Airline fares are priced in local currency. What this means is that when you purchase your fare, it will be priced in the currency from your departure country. So, if you purchase a flight from the U.S. you will get a flight that is priced in dollars. This works out rather well as the U.S. Currency is stable. The airlines that sell tickets from the U.S. don’t have to change their fares based on the U.S. dollar. For developing countries that can be different. In countries where the currency is volatile, airlines have to stay on top of currency valuations or risk being caught on the wrong side of the valuation.
Several months ago, Burma/Myanmar decided to float their currency. Like most developing South East Asia countries that were previously run by Juntas, their currency was over-valued by the government. The artificially high exchange rate plummeted immediately. This caused a very severe problem for international airlines that sold tickets from there. The airlines were suddenly selling tickets for pennies on the dollar; tickets that would normally cost in the $15,000 to $20,000 range were now going for $150-$200. Once word spread to the Flyertalk.com and Milepoint.com websites it was like a run on bank, everyone was buying international first class tickets for free basically. The airlines for reasons best known to themselves, didn’t have measures in place to modify fares in light of currency changes. Korean Airlines set a precedent a year ago when it offered a coach ticket to New Zealand for about $500.00; this was a half to a third of what a normal ticket would cost. After two months of internal debate, Korean canceled all of the tickets, offering a $200.00 voucher for travel on Korean Airlines. They got away with it.
Korean got their “do over” on the New Zealand deal, but the DOT published regulations stating that airlines are responsible for pricing mistakes. So, it is with a great deal of poetic justice that it was Korean Airlines that first got hit by the Myanmar currency float. Again, they tried to cancel all of the tickets, hey it worked once right, but the DOT slapped them down and made them honor it. There was a second time it happened with another airline, and now for a third time with Swiss Airlines. Swiss is widely known in the mileage run community for being harsh on mistake fares, and it looks like they may try here as well. This fare routed to Canada, so unless the passenger routed through the US, Swiss may just get away with it.