Just under a week ago I wrote about how Delta and Virgin Australia published some cheap business class fares between Auckland and Oakland. You could fly roundtrip business class for about 900USD, which is an incredible value.
The fares were bookable through both Delta and Virgin Australia, as you could fly either airline across the Pacific. Some people decided to book the fare through Virgin Australia, since booking on Virgin Australia ticket stock would earn you more Delta SkyMiles than booking directly through Delta.
Since 2015 the US DOT doesn’t require airlines to honor mistake fares. Instead airlines are required to reimburse passengers for any non-refundable expenses that they incur because of booking these fare. However, that’s sort of left open to interpretation. So in general there’s not much you can do if an airline chooses not to honor a mistake fare.
If an airline isn’t going to honor a mistake fare, I think the least they can do is communicate quickly and let passengers know, so that they don’t assume it will be honored. When airlines do honor mistake fares (which happens frequently), it’s not like they send out an email saying “we’ll honor this ticket,” but rather it’s the lack of communication from an airline that indicates it’s being honored. So the more time that passes without communication, the safer it is to assume that the fare will be honored.
Well, those who booked their tickets through Virgin Australia are reporting that they’ve been emailed and told that they have the choice between being downgraded to economy and getting a refund.
Here’s the email that Virgin Australia sent out to those passengers (could they not proofread the email before sending it?):
Last week, you purchased a Business Class fare from New Zealand to Brisbane.Los Angeles.Sydney.Auckland. Unfortunately, due to human error the fare price advertised was incorrect and we’re unable to honour this ticket in its current form. We are very sorry for this inconvenience but would like to offer you some options so you can continue your booking with us.
If you still wish to travel, we will move your booking into Economy1. If you decide you no longer wish to travel we’re happy to provide you with a full refund and we’ll cancel the booking.
If you are happy with the first option of keeping your booking and traveling in Economy, please click the green ‘ACCEPT CHANGES’ button below and your updated ticket will be emailed to you.
If you would like to take up the second option to cancel your booking and receive a refund, please give us a call on one of the below listed numbers.
Again, we sincerely apologise for this mistake and hope you can understand that sometimes human error does occur.
Waiting six days to inform passengers that you’re not honoring a mistake fare is incredibly bad form. Consumers have 24 hours to cancel a ticket when they make a mistake, so airlines should at least try to hold themselves to a similar standard if they choose not to honor fares. Reaching out almost a week later is unacceptable, in my opinion.
As of now I haven’t seen any reports of Delta contacting customers about not honoring these fares. Historically Delta has a good track record for honoring mistake fares. At the same time, I can’t imagine that these fares will be honored for those who booked through Delta but not for those who booked through Virgin Australia, especially given that the two airlines have a transpacific joint venture.
I’ll be curious to see how this plays out for those who booked through Delta. In the meantime, unfortunately there’s not all that much recourse for those who booked through Virgin Australia.
For those who booked through Virgin Australia, this seems to be playing out similarly to the recent fares that Air New Zealand published between Australia and Los Angeles.
If you booked one of these cheap business class fares, have you been contacted by the airline?