Let me tell you a story. I’ll call it A Tale of Two “Mistake” Fares.
Award Expert focuses on the effective utilization of frequent flyer miles and credit card points, but sometimes it just makes sense to purchase revenue tickets.
Earlier this year, a long-time client wished to treat her nephew and his fiancé to their honeymoon flights. She reached out to me to look. Mileage rates were horrible, but I found a cheap paid business class ticket out of Toronto on Alitalia.
It was late on a Sunday night and I booked the departure date on the wrong day, one day too late. Since this was a ticket originating in Canada, there was no 24-hour courtesy cancellation period. I called Alitalia the following day to see if they would make an exception. The ticket price was identical the day before.
The agent flatly refused. In fact, in typical Alitalia fashion she was rude and almost seemed to delight in the fact that I had made an honest mistake.
It would have been one thing to call a week later, but I called 12 hours later. No mercy. The agent insisted upon 450CAD per ticket to make the change. I called back and other agents insisted upon the same price. A rule is a rule, they said.
So I paid it. What could I do? 900CAD to move a date by one day seven months in advance when the ticket price was actually identical and the carrier might not even be around.
That made me very jaded.
Then I booked this Ethiopian Airlines ticket. $763 for business class. My credit card was charged the full amount immediately. The reservation sat intact for weeks. Then all of a sudden I received an email from Ethiopian telling me the fare was a mistake. I’m left with three undesirable choices: pay the “current” price, refund my ticket, or fly in economy class.
Unequal Playing Field
So let me get this straight. I make a careless, but innocent mistake, catch it almost immediately, and an airline refuses to help out and I’m out 900CAD. But when an airline (allegedly) makes a careless but innocent mistake, fails to catch it immediately, and tells me weeks later my ticket is invalid, that is okay?
It just is not right.
Feel free to criticize for me “kicking Ethiopian while they were down” but I dispute that a $763 business class ticket is analogous to a $0 fare. In any case, my moral culpability is not the primary issue: as long as airlines can get away with unilaterally canceling fares weeks after ticketing, they have a tremendous unfair bargaining advantage over consumers.
Part of the reason I am fighting for this Ethiopian fare is to raise awareness over this asinine unequal playing field.
I’m jaded when it comes to so-called “mistake fares”, but for good reason.