British Airways Sells Cheap Flight, Says It Was A Mistake And Cancels Reservation

Akshay thought he’d found a great deal on a Thanksgiving weekend flight from San Francisco to Mumbai — $554 for a round trip — and booked it excitedly at ba.com, getting a confirmation number.

A week later came an email from British Airways saying the deal was an error, his flight was canceled and he’d have to settle for a $300 voucher. Here’s that email:

Earlier this week you were informed about an error in our fares between the US and India that resulted in the cancellation of your booking. We are sorry for any inconvenience that our actions may have caused you.

As a gesture of goodwill, we would like to offer you $300 off any retail World Traveller fare from the US to India when you book between now and November 12, 2009*. This offer will be valid for travel between now and September 30, 2010. Please note this offer is non-transferable and only valid to customers who were originally booked using the incorrect fare.

To take advantage of this offer, please call us at 1-800-247-9297. Please have your original flight details available for our team to assist you with your booking.

Once again, we sincerely regret this error and any inconvenience it may have caused you. We hope to see you on board again soon.

Akshay believes what British Airways did isn’t legal because it entered into a contract with him. He doesn’t want to sue British Airways, but is wondering if there’s anything else he can do to get the price he feels he was entitled to. Any advice?

(Photo: zonaphoto)

Comments

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  1. coren says:

    I don’t know “we accidentally didn’t charge you enough” does sound dubious for cancelation – that said they probably have some disclaimer on their site that they can do just that.

    • evarga says:

      @coren:
      I’m guessing that they have something in their legalese that gets them out of price mistakes, which as a $40RT fare this most certainly was. Did Akshay mention that? Because with BA’s booking engine he would have only seen only the non-tax price in the first few screens.
      This particular price mistake-gone-bad has only picked up steam only because once $500+ in taxes are added, the fare doesn’t seem to be that outrageously low, just a good deal.

      • RogerTheAlien says:

        @evarga: But did he get his orginal $500+ back in addition to the $300 voucher?

        • evarga says:

          @RogerTheAlien:
          From the email to travel agents:
          “As these fares were so clearly below the normal fare levels, British Airways is unable to honor these bookings. We have cancelled all affected bookings made during this two-hour window, and will make a full refund for any paid for and issued ticket.”

  2. shepd says:

    I expect BA has a rule on their site stating that no transaction is final until they take the money from you (ie: Debit your plastic).

    In some countries/areas this type of disclaimer doesn’t apply (Quebec, Ontario for example), so you will need to investigate specifically for where you live. However, in general this is legal as in most places a cashier isn’t bound by a sale until they exchange the money for the goods. Until that point it’s just an offer and they can renege on it legally.

    Your easiest bet is to make sure the world knows about how BA plays dirty pool, like you’re doing, and hope their PR people change the company’s mind. Your hardest bet is to sue them in small claims, assuming you have the right to the tickets due to your local law.

    • RPHP says:

      @shepd: I don’t know if what you say is true. I agree that in a store before a purchase is made and money changes hands there is no deal. However, online, when there is a confirmation number sounds like either way both sides have agreed to the transaction and you have a contract.

      I do not feel that a consumer would be allowed to withdraw their offer after purchasing on a website just because the electronic transfer has not gone through (which under your theory they would be because the consumer has simply made an offer that the airline has not accepted yet).

      That being said, there was likely a disclaimer or something else that allows the airline to do this.

      Also, I do not know the price of these tickets, but if the OP knew that the price was a mistake and tried to take advantage of it that may be grounds enough for the airline to get out the contract.

  3. MonkeyMonk says:

    I wonder if they extend the same “mistake” deal to the consumer . . . say if you spend $3,000 on a ticket but then decide it was a mistake and don’t want to go anymore?

    • Elcheecho says:

      @MonkeyMonk: you’d likely pay a cancellation fee, say 10%.

    • partofme says:

      @MonkeyMonk: It’s hard to just write off a piece of pricing stupidity as a mistake. When I lived in Iowa, I was equidistant from Omaha and Minneapolis airports. Northwest airlines had a flight from Minneapolis to Seattle for a little over $500. I could get a flight earlier that day from Omaha… to Minneapolis… and get the EXACT same flight from Minneapolis to Seattle… for under $200. I called them about this “obvious mistake”, because I didn’t want to waste half a day. They told me those prices were set because the market in Omaha had been more competitive lately. Pricing oddity doesn’t mean mistake.

  4. WillB says:

    Ashkay should spend some time understanding how contract law works if he doesn’t believe what BA did was legal.

    • soundreasoning says:

      @WillB: Concur. It’s completely legitimate to do this in a timely fashion especially when the mechanism for accepting the offer from the customer (that’s how retail works, the customer offers, the seller accepts) is mechanical in nature, like from a website.

      • AnthonyC says:

        @soundreasoning:

        Weird. If that is how retail works, it’s bizarre. The retailer posts prices on the things they sell; only in special cases is there any potential or freedom for negotiating at all (cars, houses, flea markets, some business-to-business transactions).

      • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

        @soundreasoning: Slimey, and assholish, but yes, legal.

    • mythago says:

      @WillB: As should you. “Contract law” varies a great deal depending on where you are, where the other party is, and the nature of the contract. He’s asking about a specific transaction that was allegedly made between himself and British Airways through a website, without providing facts like “how did you pay” and “what were the terms and conditions”.

  5. QuantumRiff says:

    I’m confused. Did they give him his $554 back, plus a $300 voucher? or just a $300 voucher?

    But, back on topic, There have been times when companies post obvious mistakes, and are able to cancel the orders, such as selling 50″ flat screens for $200.00, instead of 2000.00. What is the normal price of the ticket?

    • YardanCabaret says:

      @QuantumRiff: Yeah, I’m confused on that as well. Did they charge him and then only give him 3/5 back? and that portion as a limited time offer? If so that’s theft.

      If they never charged him and just canceled and offered a $300 ticket voucher, then I don’t really get why he’s complaining. I’m pretty sure the “contract he entered into with them” clearly states that they can cancel or change a flight for any reason at any time up to the actual departure of said airplane(even if that departure is weeks later). At least that’s my understanding based on previous airline actions.

      I’d say getting a notice more than two weeks out with a $300 voucher on top of his $500 is not bad. Granted it’s not a flight to India and of course it’s sad that this can happen and is considered “not bad” simply because the entire industry is so bad.

    • Slow2Whine says:

      @QuantumRiff:

      From their website, given a 3+ month notice, non-holiday travel, a regular round trip ticket from San Francisco to Mumbai is around $1500, more if you choose to leave on a weekend.

  6. Chumas says:

    I am not a scum sucking lawyer, but even in their own comditions of carriage page there’s nothing mentioned. Perhaps there may be extra language buried in the ticketing process, but it does look like BA gave this man the shaft.
    This does look like as good a candidate as any for small claims.

  7. arb says:

    Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. From the sounds of this it looks as if there was a (temporary) screw-up on the BA website. As has been seen in countless cases in the past these screw-ups are usually covered by the T&C of the relevant web site, and are usually backed up by consumer law. The merchant has the right in this case to cancel the transaction. I find it very hard to believe that someone like BA would deliberately pull a bait’n’switch and they have acted in good faith by offering a $300 voucher as compensation.

    • SarcasticDwarf says:

      @arb: “Too good to be true” does not really exist with airlines. A couple months ago I managed to get a 1500 mile flight (including one layover) with 90 minutes notice for ~$320. A similar flight on other airlines was over $2000. So I can certainly imagine the OP believing it is real.

  8. FatLynn says:

    I’m guessing that a new flight will cost him more than $854?

    It’s hard to tell if this is one of those “obvious pricing errors” against which BA would be protected, but I think the California AG would be a good place to start.

  9. bonzombiekitty says:

    Generally merchant or customer can revoke a sale if the price was obviously a mistake especially in automated processes where there is no direct human interaction on one side or the other.

    It really depends on what the normal price of a ticket would be. If the ticket is normal $1500, then yeah without some sort of clear promotion it’s fairly clearly a mistake. If the ticket is normally $600, then it’s not.

    A quick test on britishairways.com for a flight between sanfransisco to dubai departing on Jan 5th and returning Jan 13 had a total price of just under $1900.

  10. Blueskylaw says:

    The price of oil must have gone up during that one week period.

  11. ben says:

    That email indicates that he was previously informed that the price was a mistake. I’d like to see the wording in the original communication.

  12. Jerry Vandesic says:

    The problem is that he is unlikely to get a good price from another carrier due to the delay introduced by BA. He doesn’t have enough time to get a good advanced purchase price. BA should stick with its commitment and sell him the ticket at the agreed on price.

  13. CompyPaq says:

    The law often grant exceptions from contracts by companies that do things largely automated because they don’t really know what they are doing.

  14. SWBLOOPERS says:

    Best price I could find from San Francisco to Mumbai was $1,634. Even with a $300 discount, that’s awfully pricey compared to the $554 price he found originally.

  15. vastrightwing says:

    Uhaul airlines: offer a cheap price for reservations, but make actual delivery impossible. This is the same trick that Uhaul constantly makes: They offer a low rate and suck people into making a reservation, except that the truck/seat is not really available at this price, so when you arrive to collect, you are without said truck/seat.

  16. stlbud says:

    Here in Missouri, we call that “bait and switch” our Attorneys General office takes serious exception to this kind of thing. Maybe Akshay should file a complaint with the California Attorneys General office and see if he can’t get what was promised.

    Bill B.

    • bonzombiekitty says:

      @stlbud: Bait and switch doesn’t cover obvious errors.

    • eccsame says:

      @stlbud: @stlbud: It isn’t a bait-and-switch. Bait and switch means you advertise a price, and when the customer arrives to buy the product you say it’s sold out and offer an inferior product at the same price.
      It isn’t selling a product, then refunding the sale and giving the customer a $300 credit for their inconvenience.

  17. SnowQueen says:

    How times have changed. In 2002 I booked four tickets through Expedia on British Airways: R/T Seattle to Paris (x 2 tickets) and R/T Seattle to Helsinki (x 2 tickets) at a fare of $20 plus tax per ticket. The tickets were in World Traveler Plus (midway between Coach and Business class). Not only did BA honor the booking, we were upgraded to Business class on the final leg of our trip!

  18. Bob Lu says:

    I assume that BA refunded the $554.

    And as long as it is a honestly error (and I believe it is. $554 is just ridiculous), I don’t see anything wrong with BA’s canceling it.

    And a $300 voucher is not bad at all, assuming it can be combined with other discounted rate.

  19. unpolloloco says:

    I don’t know what the rules are in the Uk, but I’d bet this would fall under the “price mistake” clause in the US. If a retailer has a typo in its ads, it has the option not to honor it, so long as they publicize the typo (or in the case of online stores, change the price and cancel orders).

    A $300 voucher out of the mess doesn’t sound incredibly bad.

  20. rrapynot says:

    You have not bought the ticket until it is ticketed. This is different to getting a confirmation number. A confirmation number is usually 5 or 6 digits alpha numeric, a ticket number is all numbers and about 12 or 16 digits.

  21. azsumrg1rl says:

    A quick Google search would’ve netted the answer. In short, these are called fat finger fares and airlines do not have to honor them if a reasonable person would recognize it was a mistake. That said, some companies have honored these fares in what could be called a smart PR/marketing move.

    More info at [www.airfarewatchdog.com] and [www.usatoday.com]

  22. Aresef says:

    I personally don’t see a real problem here, as long as BA’s notice to him was timely relative to when he made the reservation and not last-second. He gets $300 off anything he wants, so he makes out pretty good.

  23. Difdi says:

    At least they didn’t charge him a cancellation fee…right? Right?!?

  24. rwalford79 says:

    He booked it at $554, and the actual price is $683 Just $130 more….

    BA should just suck it up

  25. Kogenta says:

    @shepd: Oh, and here I was assuming you were just referring to both provinces.

  26. GrandizerGo says:

    @Kogenta: Ditto, I had to read a few times to find out why he was dumb, thereby lowering my iq as well.
    Good Job Shepd!
    :)

  27. mariospants says:

    @GrandizerGo: yes, from confused to confusing. I assumed he meant both Quebec and Ontario, as well. Besides, those separatists like to consider themselves as Québec, Québec.

  28. qwerty001984 says:

    @pecan 3.14159265:
    No way. $554 round trip is reasonable to Mumbai.
    If it was less than $500 then maybe it would have been too good to be true, but sometimes there are really good deals to places like Beijing, Mumbai, Tokyo.

  29. nbs2 says:

    @pecan 3.14159265: I think I saw something close to that price on Aeroflot, once.

  30. mariospants says:

    @dragonfire81: so then would it be “Québec, Québec, Québec”?