FARE

Government calls out cheaters who booked United mistake fares

I’ve kept a polite distance from the latest fare-error scandal, even though readers were asking me to get involved. Something smelled wrong about those $50 first-class transatlantic tickets on United Airlines that were briefly available earlier this month.

Then again, maybe it was the character — or should I say the lack of character — of the bloggers who were urging their followers to snatch up the fares, that made me hesitate. Hackers are criminals and the people who help them are their accomplices.
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Why won’t United Airlines honor its fare guarantee?

Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com
Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com
Chuck Barnes tries to invoke United Airlines’ low fare guarantee. But it doesn’t quite work the way he hoped it would. Is he out of luck?

Question: I made a reservation on United’s website from Tampa to San Francisco for a total price of $180. After completing the reservation I looked up the same itinerary on Orbitz. Much to my surprise, it was $10 less than the price I had just paid on United.com.

United offers a low-fare guarantee. I read the low fare guarantee page to confirm that it covered my fare discrepancy and then I called the United reservations number. The agent I spoke with was polite, but insisted that I had to find the lower fare online at United.com only — Orbitz did not qualify.
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Seriously, how careful do consumers have to be?

/Ollyy/Shutterstock
Ollyy/Shutterstock
Bryan Perilman shoulda known better.

He and his wife were flying from Fort Lauderdale to New York this summer on Spirit Airlines, but the their flight was canceled because of mechanical problems. When a representative offered to fly the couple on Delta Air Lines if they accepted a voucher, he should have known to ask: Is there a catch?

“A Spirit representative offered us two free round trips each,” says Perilman. “More than fair, we thought.”

But they thought wrong.
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“Unbundling” is a brazen lie and it’s time for the travel industry to come clean

McAuley/Shutterstock
McAuley/Shutterstock
It’s been five short years since the airline industry, led by an ailing American Airlines, quietly stripped the ability to check your first bag at no extra cost from the price of an airline ticket — an act given the antiseptic name “unbundling.”

At about this time in 2008, passengers were beginning to adjust to a new reality, as other airlines eagerly joined in separating their luggage fees from base fares. Now, they’ve finally accepted the fee revolution, according to most experts.

An airline ticket doesn’t have to include a “free” bag or a meal, no more than a hotel room should come with the ability to use the hotel’s exercise facilities, or your rental should cover the cost of a license plate. And that’s the way it should be, they say.

Well, the experts are full of it.
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Why don’t we end the silly rules that make flying a misery?

Anatoliy Lukich / Shutterstock.com
Anatoliy Lukich / Shutterstock.com
When it comes to air travel, there’s a growing rift between informed and uninformed passengers.

I see it every day. A reader contacts me asking for help with a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket or to change the name on an unchangeable reservation or to get their expired airline miles unexpired. Common sense tells you it shouldn’t be a problem. But spend a little bit of time studying the rules, and you’d know it is.

Ah, rules. They’re dense, cryptic, wrapped in legalese. But they do not apply to all customers.

A small subset of air travelers has taken the time to obsessively study every restriction, paragraph and clause. They often spend hours figuring out a creative way around those silly roadblocks that are meant to extract more money from customers. They get “free” airline tickets, as they did last week. That doesn’t make these “hackers” better or more deserving of the preferred treatment they get — they’re just better-informed.
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Should I help passengers with their United Airlines “zero” fares?

Anatoliy Lukich / Shutterstock.com
Anatoliy Lukich / Shutterstock.com

At 2:47 p.m. today, I received the first email from reader Nancy O’Neill. She wanted to know if a “zero” fare she’d just found on the United Airlines website would be honored. I’m sure it won’t be the last one.

O’Neill already felt a little beat up by United’s incomprehensible fare rules. She was trying to make a change to a flight from Houston to Louisville, but the $200 change fee would eat most of the value of her ticket.

“I decided to look at canceling my entire trip and just booking one way return from Louisville to Houston,” she says.
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“Apparently with Carnival, the passenger does not always come first”

carnival destinyKristen Hernandez thought she’d found a bargain on the Carnival Breeze next month. Or, to be more precise, she thought her travel agent had found one.

She booked two separate balcony cabins for her 8-night Eastern Caribbean cruise for $3,440 each.

Turns out she and her travel agent were wrong.

“After researching the Internet, we found out that Carnival Cruise Lines had slashed the prices due to the fact of the many mishaps,” she says. “Yesterday I went online on the Carnival website and found out that the balcony cabins are now selling for $2,319. That is a difference of over $1,100 per cabin.”
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Attack of the airfare thieves

worker/Shutterstock
worker/Shutterstock

Who could have predicted the furious reaction to the recent story about a woman who booked a cheap airline ticket from Myanmar to Canada, and my characterization of her as an airfare thief?

Not me. But I’m circling back to her case, and the broader issue of fare errors, because many commenters asked me to.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve written about the ethics of taking advantage of a price mistake. I covered the issue in 2010, when a British Airways fare error affected hundreds of travelers. I also refused to mediate a Korean Air fare mistake once I learned that many passengers had knowingly — some would say fraudulently — booked the erroneously-priced tickets.
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