Sorry, those $40 fares on British Airways weren’t for real

By | October 4th, 2009

baSome things are just too good to be true. Like a British Airways flight to Mumbai for $40, offered briefly yesterday. Such a deal!

Such a … mistake! (Here’s an update on the story.)

My colleague Janice Hough alerted me to the problem early Saturday. Here’s the fare display she pulled up:

PM 12753 AT
1 BA 40.00R BL2RT B 13JUL -10DEC R AT
2 BA 40.00R HLRCNA H 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT
3 BA 40.00R KLRCNA K 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT
4 BA 40.00R LLNCNA L 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT
5 BA 40.00R MLRCNA M 7Š SU/12M 13JUL -10DEC R AT

That’s a $40 base fare, not including taxes and fees.

What’s going on here? Hough said, “I think BA fired the wrong programmer.”

Perhaps. But a lot of folks thought this was a real fare, including my colleague Katie Hammel.

I was one of the people who heard about the low fare to Mumbai on British Airways last night and excitedly booked my ticket on My card was charged (over $1,100 for the two round trip tickets is still “pending” on my debit card, which means it is unavailable to me) and received an email saying that I would get my confirmation from the airline soon. I started planning my trip, only to wake up this morning to a second email from Orbitz saying that “due to limited quantities”, the order could not be fulfilled.

I’ve now found out via Twitter that the fare was the result of a glitch. Those who bought tickets before the error was corrected will still receive them. I “bought” my tickets before then – when I clicked “purchase”, the fare listed was around $550 per person round trip [after taxes]. I am hoping that Orbitz and British Airways will honor my purchase and have sent them an email asking that they do.

I’m wondering… is there anything else I can do to get the fare, and what are the rules on this sort of thing? I blog for the website Gadling and was planning on putting up a little post on what happened. I wanted to include some general guidelines on how airlines handle it, but can’t find anything. Can you point me to any resources or offer your insight?

I asked Orbitz about the glitch. It responded early this morning with the following statement:

Last night, British Airways misfiled fares for some flights between the U.S. and India. These fares appeared on some online booking sites, including Orbitz. A number of Orbitz customers attempted to book these flights. Our attempts to ticket these flights with British Airways were rejected. When we became aware of these rejections, we promptly notified impacted customers that we were unable to ticket their requested flights. We regret the inconvenience our customers experienced.

I’ve written about pricing errors, which are often referred to as “fat-finger” fares, numerous times. Here’s my take: Knowingly booking one of these tickets is, in my opinion, wrong. Which is to say, if you are aware that this is a mistake and try to buy it anyway, you’re stealing.

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