About that $44 trans-Atlantic flight from United — in business class

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: Here’s a story from the Too Good To Be True Department: United Airlines is in a bit of a tizzy today; seems there was a huge computer glitch yesterday that let some customers buy first class and business tickets for rock bottom prices. But it seems those lucky buyers won’t get the chance to fly the friendly skies for cheap. Here’s The World’s Aaron Schachter with the story.


Aaron Schachter: So, imagine you were bopping around online early yesterday morning. Sometime between, oh, 4AM and 9:30AM. That was a dramatization by the way--I wasn’t up at 4AM this morning. Anyway, it appears there was a computer glitch with a third party software provider that bungled currency conversion. Something about the British pound and the Danish kroner. The mistake apparently affected several airlines but was most easily exploited on United’s Danish site.


Brian Kelly: Absolutely, it’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in years when it comes to airline pricing errors.


Schachter: Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, says folks picked up first class trans-Atlantic tickets for as little as $44 each way. He grabbed a few of those from London to New York and what he calls a “megatrip” from London to Sydney. All told, Kelly says he paid about $1600 for flights that should have cost $59,862.


Kelly: My attitude is “Let’s get in and if the airline honors it, great, and if not, then it was a fun rush for the money, it got me going yesterday.


Schachter: United has told Kelly and the others they’re not going anywhere. They’ll get their money back, but in a statement yesterday, United said it wasn’t going to honor the tickets for several thousand individuals who were “attempting to take advantage of an error a third-party software provider made.” United does have a point--ticket buyers outside of Denmark, and there were a lot of them, really had to do some online finagling to get these deals. But Kelly doesn’t feel a bit sorry for the airline.


Kelly: Frankly, from a consumer’s perspective, United has made monumental mistakes that hurt the consumer and hasn’t made good on them in the past. I don’t feel that they have to honor this necessarily, but I don’t really feel too bad, especially because they’re coming out swinging and making it seem like it’s the consumer’s fault when they frankly should invest in better IT.


Schachter: Consumers who want to swing back can file a complaint with the US Department of Transportation. Code of Federal Regulations #399.88 forces airlines to honor any ticket that has been booked and paid for. United’s lawyers will likely be wrangling with the DOT for some time. For The World, I’m Aaron Schachter.


Werman: You can always fly the friendly airwaves with us right here on The World.