Last week, a few fortunate travelers experienced the luckiest Friday the 13th ever.
On Thursday, a computer glitch caused an unknown number of fares on the United Airlines website to sell for as little as $0. It seems that some tickets cost for $5 or $10, while other flights were available completely on the house.
The best part? United is honoring the freebie fares. On Friday, the airline announced that it would uphold the advertized amount of the mistakenly priced tickets, “based on these specific circumstances.”
A spokesperson for United told the Associated Press that “the error was not a website malfunction but an error in filing the fares.” United eventually shut down its website before fixing the problem and allowing bookings to resume on Thursday. The airline wouldn’t say how many customers snagged the amazing “discount.”
This kind of thing happens every now and again. But when airlines offer accidental deals to customers, they don’t always honor them. In 2012, United sold MileagePlus award tickets to Hong Kong for just four miles each; this was a technical error, of course. But United rescinded the offer, and got in touch with those who had booked the four-mile fares to have them either cancel their purchase or re-book at a much higher price.
The lesson here is that if you see a mistake fare advertised on an airline website, you should book it. There’s a chance the airline will honor the price. And if you think it feels unethical to take advantage of an obvious computer snafu, remember: When a customer books a ticket under the wrong name or for the wrong date, airlines almost always charge fees to correct the error. Isn’t it only fair to return the favor?
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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)