Fat finger deals – should your airline or hotel honor them?

A fat finger deal is the name given to airline deals where someone “with fat fingers” missed a zero, or put a comma in the wrong place when entering air or hotel prices.

The deals pop up more often than you’d think in this day and age, but airlines are starting to fight back. In recent years, some of the better fat finger deals would get you from the US to most European destinations for $20, or from LA to Fiji for just $50.

The mistakes are human, and despite all the computerized air fare systems, at the end of the day there is still someone locked away in an office who is responsible for loading the thousands of various air fare combinations into a computer terminal, and I’m sure we all know that when people get involved, something will eventually go wrong.

In the past, airlines would do one of several things;

  • Ignore the problem and let people benefit from the screw-up
  • Let people know the deal would be honored, but only on a smaller scale, hotels would let people stay a few nights instead of the months they’d often book
  • Let people take the trip AND try to benefit from all the good PR they create by honoring it

Nowadays airline are in a world of hurt, and any kind of screw-up that could cost them money has to come to an end. When passengers grab one of these fat finger deals, the airline will simply cancel it, and in most cases won’t even bother to inform them.

A natural reaction to this behavior is that the airline is perfectly within its rights to do so – it was an honest mistake, and they have page after page of fine print protecting their business practices. But there is one very simply reason why I don’t think the airlines deserve to get off easy – mistakes are not a one way street.

If you book a non refundable hotel room and made a mistake entering the date, you are screwed. If you book a ticket on the airline, but make a spelling error in your name, some airlines will charge you $90 to fix it. Airlines have perfected the art of making money off your mistakes, but when they mess up, they simply make the problem go away.