A few days ago I wrote about some incredible first class fares that British Airways published between the UK and Ecuador. You could fly roundtrip first class for just over $1,000. I think it’s safe to assume that this was a mistake fare, given that this was for first class (in business class it would be less obvious that it was a mistake).
I know a lot of people took advantage of this deal. Personally I didn’t, since I had enough flights planned as is.
I was a bit surprised to see that nobody had heard anything from British Airways in the first couple of days. If an airline isn’t going to honor a mistake fare, I think it’s only fair that they notify people quickly. The more time passes, the safer it is to assume that a fare will be honored. So after two days without anything from British Airways, I assumed they’d probably honor this fare.
WRONG. British Airways will not be honoring the cheap first class fares that they published between the UK and Ecuador. They just sent out the following email to those who booked this fare (about 60 hours after the fare was available):
BA always takes great care to ensure that all published fares are correct. However, on rare occasions mistakes are made which cause the display of incorrect fares. Unfortunately, this has happened in relation to the recent booking you made, and the fare you paid was incorrect.
In circumstances where a booking has been concluded on the basis of a manifestly incorrect fare, as is the case here, we cancel the booking.
If you wish to retain the booking, you must pay the difference between the incorrect advertised price and the correct price for this journey. Should you wish to do this, and retain the ticket, please contact your local BA contact centre by Monday 9 October 2017 at 5:00pm UK time or two days before your travel date, whichever is earlier.
If we do not hear from you by this time, your ticket will be canceled and you will receive a full refund. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Alternatively, BA can offer you the option of applying the value of the ticket you have purchased toward a flight to the same destination in economy class. This will be a new booking, but you will travel on the same flights, and no additional fare or fee will be payable. Please contact your local BA contact centre by Monday 9 October 2017 at 5:00pm UK time or two days before your travel date, whichever is earlier if you wish to do this. BA’s Conditions of Carriage will apply to this new contract for carriage. Any appropriate tax refunds will be applied by the BA contact centre.
Given that the fare was manifestly incorrect, BA cannot accept any responsibility for any costs or losses incurred as a result of the booking made.
When I first wrote about this sale I recommended not making any non-refundable plans around these flights yet, since I figured this outcome was a real possibility.
Back in the day the US Department of Transportation was really strict in requiring airlines to honor mistake fares that touch US soil, though they changed their policy in 2015. This was part of a policy against post-purchase price increases. Originally the relevant part of the policy was as follows:
The Enforcement Office explained that if a consumer purchases a fare and receives confirmation of the purchase and the purchase appears on the consumer’s credit card statement and/or online account summary, then there has been a purchase whether or not it was a mistaken fare and the post purchase price prohibition in section 399.88 applies.
In 2015 that policy was updated as follows:
As a matter of prosecutorial discretion, the Enforcement Office will not enforce the requirement of section 399.88 with regard to mistaken fares occurring on or after the date of this notice so long as the airline or seller of air transportation: (1) demonstrates that the fare was a mistake fare; and (2) reimburses all 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, in addition to refunding the purchase price of the ticket. These expenses include, but are not limited to, non-refundable hotel reservations, destination tour packages or activities, cancellation fees for non-refundable connecting air travel and visa or other international travel fees. The airline may ask the consumer requesting out-of-pocket expenses to provide evidence (i.e. receipts or proof of cancellations) of actual costs incurred by the consumer. In essence, the airline or seller of air transportation is required to make the consumer “whole” by restoring the consumer to the position he or she was in prior to the purchase of the mistaken fare.
So if you did buy one of these fares, there’s nothing you can do to force British Airways to honor it. However, if you did incur any verifiable out of pocket expenses as a result of this, it’s my understanding that British Airways has the obligation to reimburse you for those, even though they say they don’t (I could be mistake, though, as this fare isn’t actually to or from the US, but rather just connects there).
However, hopefully most of you didn’t make any non-refundable plans, so won’t have to go through the process.
In this game we win some and we lose some, and I tend to think it makes sense to move on in cases like this. Plenty of mistake fares are honored, but it looks like this won’t be one of them.
I’m disappointed that it took British Airways so long to contact those who booked the fare and inform them that it won’t be honored.