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The US will stop forcing airlines to honor cheap fares offered by mistake

Passengers wait in a security line a day before the annual Thanksgiving Day holiday at the Salt Lake City international airport in Salt Lake City, Utah November 21, 2012. Nearly 44 million Americans are hitting the road for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend. REUTERS/George Frey (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRAVEL TRANSPORT BUSINESS SOCIETY) - RTR3APOW
Reuters/George Frey
Your loss.
By Zach Wener-Fligner
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Back in February of this year, users of the travel website Flyertalk stumbled on a deal that seemed too good to be true: a United Airlines flight from Heathrow to Tel Aviv for 502 Danish kroner ($76.28).

In a rush, thousands snatched up tickets. Days later, United announced that in fact the deal was too good to be true: the tickets had been offered erroneously due to a software bug.

A US Department of Transportation policy in place since 2011 required the airline to honor the tickets, even if they had been priced in error. But United announced that it would be voiding the tickets anyway.

At the time, United was breaking the rules and bucking the precedent set by itself and other airlines that offered cheap tickets by accident in the past. The same decision made today wouldn’t seem quite as radical. That’s because on May 8, the US DOT Aviation Enforcement Office announced (pdf) that it will stop enforcing the rule requiring airlines to honor such accidental deals. After a comment period, it will decide whether to reinstate the policy, or switch things up.

In order to void tickets, airlines would have to prove that a fare was actually offered in error, and reimburse customers for any fees as well as the original ticket price.

From the announcement:

[T]he Enforcement Office will not enforce the requirement … 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 mistaken fare4 ; 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.

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