Earlier in the week I wrote about comments I offered on the future of mobile for travel providers and how they’ll need to start understanding the revenue proposition for their investments (it will be more about reducing distribution costs and a defensive measure to avoid losing revenue to competitors than about unloading distressed inventory).
After my comments the panel I spoke with someone who works for the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, the airfare clearing house that makes fares available to the computer reservation systems.
We chatted a bit about mistake fares, and I must be the last person in the world to realize it, but he shared with me that about 3 years ago they implemented a simple system that’s done a lot to reduce the frequency that “fat finger discounts” (mistyping a price, often dropping a zero or even two off the price) occur.
Basically in 2009 they added an “are you sure you really want to load this fare?” screen for international fares. When fares are exceptionally low relative to existing fares in the market, they flag that for the person keying in the fare and that gives them a chance to say ‘whoops.’
And that likely goes a long way to explain why it’s so much more rare than in the past that we find mistakes that are 90% off usual price.
Most mistake airfares, now, come from:
- Misfiled routing rules. There’s not a check that I’m aware of to make sure that customers aren’t going to be able to fly an unlimited amount on a fare (that the person entering the fare forgot to include maximum permitted mileage, specific routings, or a rule to bump up the fare based on the fares from a connecting city to the destination aka a HIP check or higher intermediate point check).
- Dropping fuel surcharges off the price of the ticket. When n ticket is issued on ticket stock of a carrier that doesn’t have an interline fuel surcharge agreement with one of the airlines in the itinerary, and the tables haven’t been properly updated in IATA’s system to handle the split, the pricing engine may drop the charges when pricing the ticket. Incidentally, it was ATPCO that helped United close the loophole of adding a flight to Canada onto the end of an itinerary when Airfare Watchdog wrote about the ‘trick’ in March 2010.
- Less sophisticated airlines who don’t understand the tools they’re given and aren’t willing to seek help. That’s why we still see the occasional mistake fare originating in South or Central Asia, frequently on airlines like Thai, Air India, and Malaysia.
- Currency conversion errors, either an error in a pricing system’s logic or as a result of a currency devaluation.
Mistake fares used to be common and amazing but with airlines, at least, it’s been a whole new era. And not a great one for those of us who benefited from them for years.