Department of Transportation issues final verdict on United four mile Hong Kong “deal”

Back in July United had a glitch whereby they were pricing all award tickets to/from Hong Kong at just four miles, which many people took advantage of. A few days later they started canceling the tickets, which caused quite an uproar.

The reason many people thought United couldn’t back out of the “deal” is because of the new DoT regulations which prohibit airlines from changing a fare once ticketed. The relevant regulation reads as follows:

Therefore, if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as a confirmation email and/or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.”

A contract of carriage provision that reserves the right to cancel such ticketed purchases or reserves the right to raise the fare cannot legalize the practice described above.

Anyway, several months later the DoT has completed their review of the situation, and here are their findings:

We have completed our review of United’s conduct regarding its recent Frequent Flyer fare sale to Hong Kong from the United States on its website. Our review found that the actual price of the advertised fare was never clearly stated during the booking process, thereby creating ambiguous circumstances in which it could be reasonably interpreted that the actual price of the fare was significantly more than the amount consumers paid at the time they attempted to purchase the fare, e.g., $40 plus 4 frequent flyer miles. Therefore, we are not able to establish that consumers, in fact, paid the full amount of the offered fare at the time of purchase. Accordingly, the evidence does not support a finding that United engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of the relevant statute. Please note that, regardless of the outcome of our investigation, consumers are free to pursue claims (e.g., a breach of contract claim) against the airline in an appropriate civil court for monetary damages and other remedies particular to their situation.

So there you have it, folks…

Filed Under: United
  1. The road map to beating the DOT law has just been stated. Unclear pricing lol… I was not in on this but this short response takes the cake….

  2. When I purchased this ticket to HKG, I purchased $25 of Travel Insurance from Allianz Global Travel (the travel insurance United uses). After United cancelled/refunded the ticket, I filed a claim with Allianz. After almost 2 months, I received a letter in the mail saying that the claim was denied because it was a “named cancellation” policy – meaning only “named” events would be eligible for the travel insurance. So in the end, I lost $25 to Allianz since United refunded the original amount that I paid. 🙁

  3. Interesting that DoT “suggested” possible breach of contract claim. Generally, USG agencies don’t go beyond whatever is necessary to resolve the issue at hand. In other words, they didn’t have to mention that.

  4. I mean sue if you want. But come on, why do we have some a ridiculous culture of frivoulous law suits. I mean obviously 4 mile tickets are a mistake.

  5. Interesting it states “on its website.” I guess those that phoned in and got the 4 mile fare are good to travel.

  6. I highly doubt any agent would issue any award trip for 4 miles, so I highly doubt a single person called in and got it.
    Anyway, happy that DOT used their common sense on this one.

  7. @Kris – I know of a person that booked on the website, they sucked the extra miles out, he called and told them they couldn’t do that and his tickets are in tact at the 4 miles.

  8. Opps! Ben: What could a person expect to expend in United FF miles for Business SIN-HKG-BKK with return to SIN for 2 travellers? Would very much appreciate your finding(s). Thanks ——

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