Published on Monday, May 11, 2015

New DOT ruling lets airlines back out of mistake fares

Mistake fares offering ridiculously low prices due to human error or an IT glitch look to be a thing of the past, after a new Department of Transportation ruling allowing airlines to back out of mispriced fares.

"The Assistant General Counsel has decided not to enforce section 399.88 with respect to mistaken fares while the Department completes the aforementioned rulemaking process," the DOT said.

This reverses the official policy that forced airlines to honor ultra-low fares published in error.

The most famous instances include $6.90 round trips on Delta in 2013 and $450 for a business-class ticket from Washington D.C. to Beijing on American Airlines.

However the latest snafu, a technical loophole offering $51 first-class trans-Atlantic tickets to Europe on United Airlines in February, was likely the biggest reason for the rule change, according to George Haskell, founder and CEO of Flight Fishing, a website that tracks discounts and promotional air fares.

The DOT acknowledged many of the fares booked with United were 'bad faith' transactions where customers deliberately changed their home location to Denmark in order to get the mistake fare.   

While the DOT ruling no longer requires airlines to honor mistakes, it does force them to reimburse customers for other related expenses.

The ruling says airlines should refund all consumers for "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 and cancellation fees."

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