Who says Italians don’t work on weekends? Someone was working overtime on Sunday because every ticket issued with a point of origination outside of Japan using the $320 discount promotion was summarily cancelled Sunday morning. Did Alitalia move fast enough to shield itself from lawsuit?
I received eight identical messages in my inbox that looked like this:
This morning, I received eight additional identical e-mails:
Both e-mail sets are factually inaccurate, as tickets were issued for each reservation (I have the ticket numbers…) but I must say I was impressed. I booked the tickets on Saturday–three return trips to Rome and one r/t to Malta for a friend and me–with a clear conscience. The translated terms and conditions of the offer (see below for the Japanese version) said nothing about the trip having to originate in Japan or a minimum spending requirement in order to apply the voucher. Alitalia was at fault here and they have no excuse.
But they acted fast–and that means something. In trying to reach a compromise solution on how to handle so-called “mistake” fares, one solution I have proposed is the ability for both the airline and the consumer to have up to 24 hours to cancel a fare either party deems improperly booked, as long as travel is more than one week away. There are clear downsides to this issue too–say a carrier decides a $400 JFK-LAX fare should be cancelled (clearly not an error) because they have a customer willing to pay $600. But I think the chance of that happening is quite slim–it is too much trouble and the press would vilify the airline.
I was not going to contest this cancellation anyway, but I think those who are contemplating it and paid $0 for their tickets should be warned of the doctrine of consideration in contract law. Essentially, consideration is something of value given by both parties to a contract that induces them to enter into the agreement to exchange mutual performances. Here, many–myself included–offered no consideration when booking this ticket. When getting something (a free airline ticket) for literally nothing, a court would be hard-pressed to find in favor of the person wanting free travel.
Interestingly, the US DOT guidelines governing mistake fares (and again, I use that term loosely because like the Swiss Burma deal, this was not a literal mistake fare) do not contemplate consideration. For those who took advantage of the Alitalia offer to book sub $300 trips between the United States and Europe, there is a good chance your fare will be honored. Unlike the United Airlines 4-mile benchmark, in which the DOT ruled in favor of the airline, this was not a case of the correct price displaying through the final booking screen and only then showing the discounted amount. Instead, this was a case of a coupon being applied that the airline now deems was too generous. Nothing more.
Let’s be clear that this case is not at all like the Swiss case. It took Swiss one week to respond before unilaterally canceling tickets. I was never even contacted before my ticket was cancelled. Furthermore, I paid valuable consideration for my Swiss ticket–nearly $800 per ticket. Alitalia cancelled tickets within 12 hours of booking, tickets in which mutual consideration was not present for all $0 fares, and sent out e-mails to those affected, thereby giving proper notice.
Swiss could learn a lesson from Alitalia here.