Did the DoT just kill mistake fares?

Delta plane

We’ve all seen those too-good-to-be true airfares floating around, like this $187 round-trip fare from New York to Abu Dhabi, or this $10 fare to Hawaii. If you’re like me, you usually notice these deals just after the airlines have closed the glitch that allowed the insanely low airfare to begin with. Thousands of lucky souls have been able to take advantage of those mistake fares though, but the end of that era appears to be on the horizon.

Trouble first reared its head toward mistake fares when the Department of Transportation (DoT) didn’t force United to honor the $75 round-trip business-class from New York to London in February. Then, last month, American Airlines and Delta told frugal fliers that mistake fares would be harder to come by as both airlines clamped down on software glitches. Now the Department of Transportation appears to be taking things one step further to back up airlines.

Until the United incident, it was very difficult for airlines to change the price after they sell and ticket passengers, even if a glitch is in play, because of strict DoT rules. But in a memo sent out on Friday, the DoT said it would not be forcing airlines to honor mistake fares.

Part of the DoT statement reads:

“The Enforcement Office will not enforce the requirement of section 399.88 with regard to mistaken fares occurring on or after the date of this notice so long as the airline or seller of air transportation:

(1) demonstrates that the fare was a mistaken fare ; and

(2) reimburses all consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase, in addition to refunding the purchase price of the ticket.”

Those expenses include non-refundable hotel reservations, destination tour packages or activities, cancellation fees for non-refundable connecting air travel and visa or other international travel fees. The burden still rests with the airline or seller of air transportation to prove to the Enforcement Office that a mistake fare is indeed a mistake fare.

The DoT has just given them a more legal foundation if they choose not to. Still, while United ended up not honoring the fare, some airlines still see it as good PR to do so.

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