Back in July United had a glitch whereby they were pricing all award tickets to/from Hong Kong at just four miles, which many people took advantage of. A few days later they started canceling the tickets, which caused quite an uproar.

The reason many people thought United couldn’t back out of the “deal” is because of the new DoT regulations which prohibit airlines from changing a fare once ticketed. The relevant regulation reads as follows:

Therefore, if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as a confirmation email and/or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.”

A contract of carriage provision that reserves the right to cancel such ticketed purchases or reserves the right to raise the fare cannot legalize the practice described above.

Anyway, several months later the DoT has completed their review of the situation, and here are their findings:

We have completed our review of United’s conduct regarding its recent Frequent Flyer fare sale to Hong Kong from the United States on its website. Our review found that the actual price of the advertised fare was never clearly stated during the booking process, thereby creating ambiguous circumstances in which it could be reasonably interpreted that the actual price of the fare was significantly more than the amount consumers paid at the time they attempted to purchase the fare, e.g., $40 plus 4 frequent flyer miles. Therefore, we are not able to establish that consumers, in fact, paid the full amount of the offered fare at the time of purchase. Accordingly, the evidence does not support a finding that United engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of the relevant statute. Please note that, regardless of the outcome of our investigation, consumers are free to pursue claims (e.g., a breach of contract claim) against the airline in an appropriate civil court for monetary damages and other remedies particular to their situation.

So there you have it, folks…

  1. October 12th, 2012 at 8:45 am

    michael said,

    The road map to beating the DOT law has just been stated. Unclear pricing lol… I was not in on this but this short response takes the cake….

  2. October 12th, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Gene said,

    This makes me optimistic about my DoT claim against LX re: RGN fare sale.

  3. October 12th, 2012 at 8:52 am

    BBD said,

    I guess having your credit card charged and an eticket issued doesn’t count.

  4. October 12th, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Matt said,

    @BBD

    Were 4 miles actually taken form your account? Or was the full amount taken?

  5. October 12th, 2012 at 9:01 am

    BBD said,

    At first 4, then they reappeared again in my account.

  6. October 12th, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Grant said,

    When I purchased this ticket to HKG, I purchased $25 of Travel Insurance from Allianz Global Travel (the travel insurance United uses). After United cancelled/refunded the ticket, I filed a claim with Allianz. After almost 2 months, I received a letter in the mail saying that the claim was denied because it was a “named cancellation” policy – meaning only “named” events would be eligible for the travel insurance. So in the end, I lost $25 to Allianz since United refunded the original amount that I paid. :(

  7. October 12th, 2012 at 9:10 am

    JetAway said,

    Interesting that DoT “suggested” possible breach of contract claim. Generally, USG agencies don’t go beyond whatever is necessary to resolve the issue at hand. In other words, they didn’t have to mention that.

  8. October 12th, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Craig said,

    I mean sue if you want. But come on, why do we have some a ridiculous culture of frivoulous law suits. I mean obviously 4 mile tickets are a mistake.

  9. October 12th, 2012 at 9:34 am

    SonomaWine said,

    Interesting it states “on its website.” I guess those that phoned in and got the 4 mile fare are good to travel.

  10. October 12th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Kris Ziel said,

    I highly doubt any agent would issue any award trip for 4 miles, so I highly doubt a single person called in and got it.
    Anyway, happy that DOT used their common sense on this one.

  11. October 12th, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    nelton said,

    poor united, cant they just hire some people who know how to do their job

  12. October 12th, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Lark said,

    This is a fun trip report from somebody who actually was able to take advantage of the offer:

    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1369003-eminem-has-his-8-mile-i-ll-take-my-4-mile-united-int-l-premium-service-f.html

  13. October 12th, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    John said,

    Totally fair

  14. October 12th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    PanAm said,

    @Kris – at least one reliable Milepoint member did in fact do so – with the 1K desk, no less.

  15. October 12th, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Ryan said,

    Hi Ben. When are you going to come out of the closet? Did you meet someone special in Seattle?

  16. October 12th, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    SonomaWine said,

    @Kris – I know of a person that booked on the website, they sucked the extra miles out, he called and told them they couldn’t do that and his tickets are in tact at the 4 miles.

  17. October 12th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Carlos said,

    They were paid off.

  18. October 13th, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Rich said,

    Opps! Ben: What could a person expect to expend in United FF miles for Business SIN-HKG-BKK with return to SIN for 2 travellers? Would very much appreciate your finding(s). Thanks ——

  19. October 14th, 2012 at 8:07 am

    gpapadop said,

    Looks like Frank has a twin brother:-)

  20. October 14th, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Rich — Are you looking at stopping over in Hong Kong and Bangkok? If so it would price as three one-way tickets, since you can’t have a stopover on an award ticket within a region.

    You can find the United award chart here: http://www.united.com/web/en-US/apps/mileageplus/awards/travel/awardTravel.aspx

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