Continental posts erroneous “test” fare to its site — but what is it testing?

By | October 6th, 2009

co1Here’s a story about an airline doing the wrong thing, then the right thing, and then a confusing thing.

But let’s start with the wrong thing: When Bob Walker booked a flight from Newark to Hong Kong for a colleague, he noticed the “taxes and fees” portion were dramatically lower than the surcharges he paid for an identical ticket. Walker became suspicious. Was Continental, with which he had Platinum status, trying to pull a fast one?

In a email to me, he described the fee hike as “an abusive situation.”

On Sept. 23 I booked a trip to Hong Kong on Continental and was charged a base fare of $1,393 plus $406 in taxes, which I thought was excessive at the time and should have questioned.

Last night, I tried to book an associate out of Detroit to Hong Kong on Continental (same flights to and from Newark–CO 99 & CO 98) and noticed the additional taxes were only $86 which naturally piqued my curiosity. I called Continental and they said my ticket had a $320 fuel surcharge and there was nothing they could do.

This morning I went online and put in my itinerary for my Oct. 16-28 trip and the base fare had risen to $1,678 but the additional fees and taxes were only $86.20.

I thought maybe when you hit the purchase button, additional fees would pop up which mysteriously happens with Allegiant Air (try flying them as that is a real hoot, booking-wise) but Continental assured me the $1,678 and $86 was indeed correct and that on Sept. 23 they had a fuel surcharge and this charge could not be removed.

I wonder how many other passengers were charged this fee which has now mysteriously disappeared less than two weeks later. If you think about it — that is a 24 percent surcharge on a $1,393 ticket — has aviation fuel moved that much?

Continental did the right thing when it received his inquiry. Walker copied Anne Munoz, who is in charge of customer care at Continental, and she replied to his email before I could. (On a Saturday morning, no less.)

Thank you for the opportunity to respond on behalf of Continental Airlines. I would like to personally apologize for the fuel surcharge issue you describe below. Please allow me to look into this situation. We will certainly follow-up and see where the challenges are with the charges.

We appreciate your business and know we have to earn it.

Walker fired back the following note:

Anne, I really think if you look at the detail of the transaction, you will see HK320 and I suspect the transaction was done in partial Hong Kong dollars. It would explain the difference: 320 HK dollars is roughly $42 in US Dollars.

The fuel charge explanation made no sense and three different employees said it was a fuel surcharge, which I don’t think has been charged for almost a year and it certainly wouldn’t be $320 as fuel is about 20-25 percent of your operating costs. I hope it is the currency as that is more explainable. Mistakes do happen and I hope if you find it was a mistake, you can research as other passengers are probably affected.