The example of the fare that I gave was flying to Tokyo then Zurich then New York and on to Montreal, with Tokyo – Zurich – New York in Swiss First Class.
The fare went viral, my post began a thread at Flyertalk (it was already being discussed on Milepoint). The morning after I posted this, I got an email from an executive at Swiss…
May we ask you please where you received this information on behalf of SWISS from?
A full week later, Swiss is cancelling folks who are flying that airline under the fare and whose tickets were issued as Swiss tickets (first 3 numbers of the tickets are “724”).
Subject: Cancellation of your ticket due to erroneous fare
We are writing in regards to the travel you recently booked with Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. from Yangon (RGN), Myanmar. Unfortunately, as you must have been aware of, the fare you purchased was incorrect and resulted from an inadvertent error that was out of our control. While SWISS honors its commitment to the highest level of customer service and safety in air travel, it must also honor its obligations to its employees and shareholders.
We are not obligated to provide our services for compensation that is obviously erroneously published and commercially infeasible. We are aware that good travel bargains are quickly recognized and booked, however principles of fare bargaining dictate that a service provider does not give away its services for almost free or at a loss.
Because the fare you booked was not valid, we will unfortunately have to cancel your reservation and ticket. We are extremely sorry for this error and we are not increasing the price of your ticket; rather we will promptly issue you a full refund for the total price you paid for the ticket. The full amount will be automatically credited using your original form of payment. In the event that you would like to rebook your itinerary at the appropriate price, please contact your nearest SWISS service center or your travel agent.
SWISS deeply regrets the inconvenience caused by the publication of the erroneous fare to the passengers who may have thought they had booked and purchased a valid ticket for an erroneous cost. We apologize for this unfortunate situation and trust your future travel on SWISS is comfortable.
Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
Malzgasse 15, Basel/Schweiz
Handelsregisteramt des Kantons Basel-Stadt
I’ve never been one to argue over these things. I’ve never felt as though I had a ‘right’ to fly international first class for $500. I don’t get litigious. Instead, my attitude has always been “I’m going to get in on this, it’s like buying a lottery ticket. If the airline decides to let folks fly around the world in a premium cabin at a deep discount, I’d love to be one of the people that gets to do that!” And if they don’t, that’s cool. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
But this one is going to be interesting.
This same route — Myanmar to Canada — was the locus of a ‘mistake fare’ at the end of April. On the 30th of April it was possible to book fares similar to this, and tickets were issued by Korean Airlines. They cancelled those tickets. The US Department of Transportation got involved for tickets that involved a connection in the U.S. or that were issued in the U.S. And they required Korean to re-instate those tickets; re-instatement happened about two weeks later.
In this case it’s already been a week since tickets were booked, without any communication from Swiss. Many of these tickets were issued by US agents. And many of the itineraries involved connections in the U.S., most often New York JFK. Which suggests that there will be some nexus with U.S. rules.
To be clear, not all of the tickets were issued on Swiss ticket stock. For instance, some folks have Iberia tickets. Those appear to still be in tact. Those folks whose tickets have been cancelled are getting these e-mails from Swiss.
But here are the frequently asked questions for Department of Transportation rules that apply to airlines cancelling mistake fare tickets.
Does the prohibition on post-purchase price increases in section 399.88(a) apply in the situation where a carrier mistakenly offers an airfare due to a computer problem or human error and a consumer purchases the ticket at that fare before the carrier is able to fix the mistake?
Section 399.88(a) states that it is an unfair and deceptive practice for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, or of a tour or tour component that includes scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, to increase the price of that air transportation to a consumer after the air transportation has been purchased by the consumer, except in the case of a government-imposed tax or fee and only if the passenger is advised of a possible increase before purchasing a ticket. A purchase occurs when the full amount agreed upon has been paid by the consumer. 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. The Enforcement Office would consider any contract of carriage provision that attempts to relieve a carrier of the prohibition against post-purchase price increase to be an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712.
Korean was forced to reinstate very similar tickets. United was not when the 4-mile Hong Kong mistake award tickets were offered, they contended that the correct price was shown throughout and published on their website and it was only the final stage where the wrong number appeared. That seemed to be enough.
It will be interesting to watch how the DOT rules do or do not apply, I imagine that it took Swiss a week to initiate cancellations because they were working with their lawyers to determine whether they had plausible grounds.
They claim “we are not increasing the price of your ticket” rather they are refunding and customers can buy a new ticket at a higher price if they wish. We’ll see whether the DOT buys it or not.
Here’s the Department of Transportation complaint form. And here’s the Milepoint discussion of the fare and its aftermath.