Airlines can rescind mistake fares, but they must refund any money spent on travel plans made by the customer after purchasing the mistake fare.
Have you ever benefitted from a mistaken air fare? Have you ever visited one of those websites that promotes those mistakes in hopes of finding a cheap fare to your desired destination?
If so, you need to know the rules have changed, and may change again in the near future.
“Mistake fares” are the product of the computer age, when numbers get typed wrong, or the wrong link gets clicked. It happens with enough regularity that a litany of websites have cropped up to take advantage of those glitches.
The mistakes happened often enough that the U.S. Department of Transportation had to make it clear to the airlines that they were to honor those fares once a purchase was recorded by credit card or receipt. That ruling occurred in April of 2011, in enforcement section 399.88.
However, this month, the DOT announced it would no longer be enforcing that enforcement rule, meaning airlines can refund the purchase price of the mistake fare and make the passenger pay the correct fare for the trip.
But there is a catch that protects the consumer and still targets the airlines.
The airline can cancel the mistake fare and the ticket under these conditions:
It must prove the fare was a mistake, and it must refund to the passenger any funds spent on reservations for hotels, tours or events after the mistake fare was purchased. The airline would also be responsible for any non-refundable connecting air travel or other travel fees made as a result of the mistake fare purchase.
That could conceivably cost the airlines thousands of dollars per mistake fare ticket.
In the case of most mistake fares, the mistake is quickly found and taken down or changed, so that only the most alert of travelers are able to take advantage. With the new ruling, those alert travelers can still buy the mistake fares but must know that the ticket can be revoked once the airline becomes aware of the mistake.
“I’m sure some airlines will continue to honor glitches out of goodwill or not wanting to pay for people’s non-refundable hotel reservations,’’ said one website owner to Yahoo! Travel. “But for the most part this may well be the end of an era.”
It should also be noted that the DOT said its new ruling is temporary as it tries to determine a final outcome of the situation.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.