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Airline will honour fares it sold cheap by mistake

January 4, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Lucky travellers will enjoy Champagne and caviar in the sky at budget rates now that a major international  carrier has agreed to honour the business and first class tickets it accidentally sold at vastly reduced levels.

Airlines sometimes commit online blunders and this seems to be one.

Cathay Pacific has confirmed it will honour the premium tickets it sold by mistake at a fraction of their value.

The airline tweeted: 

Happy 2019 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 ticket issued. Hope this will make your 2019 ‘special’ too!

The tickets involved were first and business class fares to North America. Business and first class seats from Vietnam were selling at HKD 5300 (AUD 975) and HKD 6600 (AUD 1214) respectively. Cathay has since pulled the airfares from its website.

The fares normally cost about AUD 6450 and AUD 10,150 respectively.

Some cynics initially suspected the airline might have contrived the whole thing as a New Year publicity stunt. Cathay denies that.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that the offer “lit up the internet” over New Year as frequent fliers and bargain hunters snapped up the fares and spread the word across social media and popular flight blogging websites and forums.

Above: A sample of Cathay Pacific First Class

Last year Hong Kong Airlines suffered a similar error and also honoured the tickets, but not all carriers do so. The law covering such errors is fuzzy and it differs between jurisdictions.

In the US, the Department of Transportation generally lets airlines cancel fares if it can prove a genuine error.

A year ago, in January 2018, a human error by Air New Zealand resulted in international long-haul fares being mistakenly discounted by 90% and sold to delighted consumers through online travel websites. People bought tickets from the US to New Zealand for about USD 100.

In that case, consumer delight turned to outrage when Air NZ abruptly cancelled the tickets. Hundreds of people were affected and many turned to social media.

New Yorker Brandon Calhoun wrote on Facebook: “Travel gone bad: book a ticket to Auckland on Air New Zealand through Expedia. They book the ticket. Issue the ticket. Assign seats. Let me change the seats.

“Then 2 days later I get a notice that my flight has been cancelled. I called customer service, and they tell me that a sale fare was published by human error. Their fault, my loss. No compensation, or anything else to remedy the situation.

“Shame, shame Air New Zealand.”

Twitter user ‘Marissa’ from Canada told Air New Zealand: “Absolutely unbelievable that I have fully paid for and CONFIRMED ticket and you’ve just cancelled my entire reservation more than 48 hours after I booked.”

It seems that Cathay Pacific was prepared to wear the loss in return for customer goodwill. But Air New Zealand – where the error led to a far deeper discount – was not.

Written by Peter Needham

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