British Airways computer glitch posts super low cost flights to India

Late Friday night, an alert went out on Twitter. Fares to Mumbai, India, from locations all over the US were being offered at rock bottom prices on British Airways. Flights from Chicago to Mumbai were just $550 per person.

I quickly logged on to Orbitz, selected my dates, and clicked purchase. I received an email from Orbitz confirming my purchase and then got to work planning the trip. My husband was out with friends and had left his cell phone at home, so I was hoping he’d come home just tipsy enough to not mind that I’d just bought $1100 worth of plane tickets without discussing it with him first. Besides, he is accustomed to me buying plane tickets on a whim, just because they are on sale.

Luckily, he was just as excited as I was….until Saturday morning, when I received an email from Orbitz saying that due to “limited quantities”, our order could not be fulfilled. As it turns out, it’s because the fare never should have existed. Someone at BA obviously messed up (how’d you like to be that person come Monday morning?) and entered the wrong number. The fare should have been more like $1550 per person. The fat finger fare was corrected, but not before several people, myself included, had bought tickets at the faulty price.

Word on the web is that tickets bought before the error was discovered will be honored, if they were purchased on British Airways. So far it seems that those of us who used Orbitz will be out of luck. Christopher Elliott posted the story on his blog, along with a response from the company. They say British Airways didn’t honor the purchases made with Orbitz ,so people who tried to book that way will not receive tickets.

This isn’t the first time a technical error has crushed some budget traveler’s dreams. In February, Northwest refused to honor $0 fares that were “purchased” online in error. So next time you see a fare that seems to good to be true, watch out. It might not be.

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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.

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