Since the subject of “mistake fares” seems to be a recurring theme on this blog, let me ask you this: is 99% off too good to be true?
Frontier closed 2017 with a 99% off sale using the promo code SAVE99.
It then started 2018 with a 99% off sale using the promo code CHEERS.
You’ll note the asterisks above. Frontier noted in fine print that the discount was off its base fare, not the entire fare (i.e. no discounts on government taxes).
That sometimes made effective savings only 35%, but some tickets were still slashed by more than 80%.
Frontier was (and appears to still be this morning) selling one-way fares between many city pairs for $20 each all/in.
And all of this must cause us to ask…is a $20 fare too good to be true? Is 99% off too good to be true? Or how about $0 base fares, which often are present during a Ryanair fare sale?
How should we know what is a legitimate sale and what is not? Should consumers know the difference between low-cost-carriers and full-service-carirers? What about when these full-service carriers match their low-cost competition on price with basic economy fares?
One thing is certain: we know that Frontier cannot be making money on a $100 fare reduced to $1, since it is not pocketing the government taxes. And while we can certainly acknowledge that Frontier allocates a limited number of seats per flights at this slashed price for reasons of publicity, there is no regulation to stop Frontier from later cancelling these tickets, claiming the fares were “clearly mistaken”.
So my point is simple, a mantra I have made before and will continue to make on Live and Let’s Fly: consumers should not have to know when a fare is valid versus mistakenly filed. Airlines should be given 24 hours to cancel fares with notice, just as consumers are. It’s a compromise, but forcing consumers to understand how and why one 99% off fare is a valid fare sale but a 70% off fare is not makes for poor public policy. Airlines need to do a better job of filing fare correctly in the first place.
Even if some people will more accurately spot “true” mistakes than others, bright-line rules exist for a reason. If people over the age of 65 are banned from piloting commercial airplanes, it is because such policy represents a generally accurate summary of good individual decisions, and is much less costly to administer than any alternative. (Just think about the expenditures that would be necessary to assess competence on a case-by-case basis.) These rules do not summarize individually wise decisions, but rather express a social judgment about valuations and relations.
I’ll stop now. But whenever I hear “clearly mistaken” and yet see 99% off fares from Frontier or 90% off first class redemptions on Garuda, I shake my head. We need a change in law, yesterday.