BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
Do mine eyes deceive me? In the New Year 2019, Cathay Pacific posted first-class return fare flights for Vietnam-Canada and Vietnam-USA for $675! (A fraction of regular First Class return fare for Vietnam-USA/Canada.)
The unbelievable give-away prices was due to a computer glitch, which was corrected and withdrawn. But the airline would honor the erroneous fares for those who were quick to book. Cathay Pacific wrote on January 2: “Happy 2019 to all, and to those who bought our good, VERY GOOD, surprise ‘special’ on New Year’s Day! Yes, we made a mistake. But we look forward to welcoming you on board with your issued ticket!”
Cathay Pacific attributed the snafu to a “ticketing error” without elaboration. The glitch was probably caused by an airline employee typing in the wrong number.
From Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 in 2014, Singapore Airlines mistakenly tagged its business class return fare tickets Australia-London (originally priced at $5,500) at the economy fare rate of $3,200.
SIA discovered the error and clarified that “a published fare takes precedence over the combination of intermediate fares applicable to these class of services between the same points in the same routing.” (Translation: Tickets purchased at economy fare rates are valid only for economy seats.) Customers were given the option to either: (a) Pay the difference for upgrading to first-class; (b) Fly economy class; or (c) Receive a full refund.
But SIA would relent and retract their knee-jerk statement: They would issue business class tickets at economy class price for those who booked before the error was discovered. The under-pricing benefited 400 Australia-based passengers.
Honoring the cheaper tickets was not legally mandated. SIA could have demanded full payment for those business-class seats. But that would be a PR disaster. Could SIA have gotten away with not honoring the upgrading of economy to business class? Maybe. Would they have survived the backlash? Maybe not. For SIA, “It’s about being a gentleman’s brand…someone who stands by his word, someone who stands up for one’s mistake.”
Other known “accidental gifts” committed are: On Dec. 26, 2013 Delta Airlines had a Boxing Day sale after mistakenly offering return fare tickets for Cincinnati-Minneapolis at $25.05 and Cincinnati-Salt Lake City at $48.41. The price for those fares is more than $400.
On September 11, a United Airlines computer glitch gifted travelers tickets for $5 or $10, paying only the cost of the Security fee.
At another time in another place, Hong Kong Airlines published outrageously cheap business-class return trip fares from the USA to Asia for under $600.
(Definition of Fat Finger Fare: Human error when someone misplaces a decimal point in the system, or miscalculates currency conversion; data entry error, or simply computer glitch.)
ADVISORY. The US Department of Transportation ruled in 2015 that airlines aren’t obliged to honor mistake fares (although rescinding marvelous deals will spark uproar). Moreover, it added that if a consumer purchases a fare and receives confirmation of their purchase, then the seller cannot increase the price, even when the fare is a “mistake.”
But not everyone gets to be so lucky. Back at the Third World ranch, Philippine Airlines made an offer you can’t refuse: A US$300 return flight from Tokyo via Manila to New York! Ryan and Malou Tanjutco were among the first to sign on this sweetheart to and fro package.
On 5 May, they received confirmation of their booking and were issued tickets by PAL. They tried to cancel the Tokyo leg and just start from (and end at) Manila, but were told that it would be against the terms of the special fare offer. Prudence being the better part of valor, they kept to the itinerary.
BUT not so fast! Six days later, on 11 May the Tanjutcos received word which would upset their holiday plans. PAL said that it had been affected by a system glitch resulting in erroneous purchase transactions; and it proceeded to cancel the couple’s fully paid and issued tickets. In record time, PAL refunded the price of the tickets to their credit card.
(A search on social media revealed several cases of PAL cancelling and refunding validly issued tickets purchased about the same time. There is now a Facebook page dedicated to the plight of these passengers, who only want PAL to hold to its end of the bargain and honor the valid and legal tickets.)
Talk of a class suit is rife. This is a novel case for our courts and a PR albatross for the defendant. Abangan!