Flight Somehow Booked For The Wrong Day? Call To Fix It Right Now

Sean booked a flight on United Airlines, US Airways, but had found the flight through travel übersearch site Kayak. He learned the hard way that there may be an occasional bug in the system: he says that even though he did everything correctly, his flight was booked on the wrong day. He learned the hard way that when this happens, you’d better notice quickly: there’s only a 24-hour window to call about the error before the airline will just keep your money forever. They’re called “non-refundable” tickets for a reason, after all.

If you go through kayak, sometimes you will be placed on the wrong date, so you assume you are buying tickets for the correct date, when their system has something else in mind. If you try and fix this problem anytime after 24 hours, say goodbye to your money, because this airline is just interested in making money, not keeping customers.

After several phone calls and realizing I cannot do anything since the fee they charge is the entire ticket value, I email them trying to figure out where it went wrong and see if we can resolve this. Here is the response I get back.

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations. We appreciate it when customers take the time to share their concerns.

I’m sorry an error was made when you booked your ticket on our website. When customers book on our website any inaccuracies or mistakes may be cancelled within 24 hours at no charge. As you may know, non-refundable tickets present the most economical fares. However, they are among the more restrictive tickets. Because your ticket is a non-refundable ticket, a change fee and any additional fare will apply. If the new fare for travel is less than the unused credit, there is no residual value.

I truly appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts with us. We learn from our customers where we need to make changes to improve our service. Your input is valuable. It is always our pleasure to have an opportunity to serve you and hope you will look to US Airways for your future travel needs.

Sincerely,

[redacted]
Representative, Customer Relations
US Airways Corporate Office

Essentially they won’t admit that there are bugs in the system and see great benefit to make money off of issues like these. It’s a methodology and mentality to take advantage of their customers, and I thought I would share my experience with this horrible airline. Southwest so far has been far better in the customer service department.

Learn from Sean’s sad, sad tale: triple-check your dates once the flight is booked, and call within 24 hours if they aren’t right.

UPDATE: Kayak’s CTO Paul English has added the following comment:

I think this was user error.

KAYAK provides millions of consumer searches per day, and we have never found a bug in transferring the wrong dates.

If either of you can find a reproducible case of KAYAK passing the wrong dates to an airline, I will buy you a round-trip ticket.

Also, note that the dates you choose are confirmed to you about half a dozen times between the UI and email.

We are going to follow up with Mr. English to see if we can clarify exactly what happened in this situation.

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. ferozadh says:

    This story reeks of user error. Sorry but bugs of this nature would never get past QA or UAT. If it did it would affect more people than Sean.

    • longfeltwant says:

      I agree.

      “If you go through kayak, sometimes you will be placed on the wrong date”

      This opening assertion is essential for the claims in the article, but I have a hard time believing it. As a person who has personally booked flights for the wrong time, I find it much more likely that this was user error. A bug is possible, but I would want some evidence of that.

      “Essentially they won’t admit that there are bugs in the system”

      If you can reproduce the bug, then you can force Kayak to admit there are bugs in the system. Until then, sorry, I’m betting this is OP’s data-entry error.

    • Coffee says:

      Sadly, I think you’re likely correct. I was tooling around with Priceline this weekend to put bids out for hotel stays, and there was some flexibility in the dates I selected. As I bounced around, I had to be very careful of the information that was being saved in my browser…one bid would be for three nights at $xx and the next would be for two nights at $yy. During the process, I had to be hyper alert that I didn’t let the browser load old date info when searching for new rates.

      The same kind of thing happens when you open up multiple tabs at an on-line store and futz around with adding things to the cart…old info sometimes pulls through, and you have to review it constantly.

      That said, if the OP can somehow replicate the problem, I would hope that he could receive a full refund for his ticket. If he can’t, I guess this is the price of a learning experience to double and triple-check your itinerary when booking, then recheck when receiving your confirmation e-mail.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        Before you go back to a site like Kayak or Priceline for a second look, ALWAYS clear out your cookies. These sites store your cookies and the prices they quoted you and know that if you’re coming back then they could probably raise their rates a bit and still sell you a ticket.

        http://www.elliott.org/blog/do-travel-sites-use-cookies-to-dupe-you-into-paying-more/

        • kayakcto says:

          Untrue.

          –Paul

          KAYAK CTO & Cofounder

          • Lyn Torden says:

            I don’t see how this would dupe people into paying more, even if it was done. If people would fall for they, they would fall for a higher initially stated price (people that are not comparing).

            BTW, I set my browser up to delete all cookies every time it exits. And I always exit when concluding any online transaction. So I don’t have cookie retention issues. Some sites I regularly visit, like consumerist.com, are exempted.

            Online web transactions have gotten better these days, so even those stupid “clicked submit twice” bugs no longer happen (these were always easy to avoid, but too many children were programming sites back then, so it was pervasive). Hopefully the many other bugs are being excised as well.

          • Blueskylaw says:

            1). Clinton said he DID NOT have sexual relations with that woman.
            2). Ken Lay told his employees Enron stock was a fantastic value.
            3). Wall Street pushers said housing prices would NEVER go down.
            4) Facebook says they respect your privacy.
            5). ad infinitum. . .

            • kayakcto says:

              Blueskylaw (nice anonymous name),

              You should probably never leave the house if you are too afraid to trust anyone. Or do you have *any* data that KAYAK uses cookies to charge different prices?

              I didn’t think so.

      • Geekybiker says:

        Yah. Likely he had updated the search in another window and that updated his cookies. He then goes to another tab with an older search showing and places the order from there without double checking. The site reads his cookies and uses that fill the order, but the cookies are from a different page since he probably didn’t refresh the current page. Normally the cart updates when you submit, but if you don’t bother to check you sometimes can order something you didn’t mean to order. I’ve done it a couple times, but never airline tickets.

      • Mike says:

        If you have to be hyper-alert to get the dates you actually specified, there’s something wrong with the process. Why should the onus be on the consumer to get the dates they actually specified? Would you expect nuclear power plant control software to work that way? Would expect an aircraft flight control system to work that way? Would consider it good design if you had to be hyper-alert to get the system to do what you told it to do? “Yeah, I have power steering in my car, but I have to be hyper-alert to stop the car from swerving off the road.” It’s not the user’s fault if the interface is poorly designed. The site is confusing because the builders allow it to be confusing because they make money off the confusion.

      • nugatory says:

        “The same kind of thing happens when you open up multiple tabs at an on-line store” or open up multiple tabs and commenting on a site like consumerist.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Actually, lots of these corporate systems have bugs like this all over the place. But they are generally complex “corner cases” that only happen with a range of variables affect the calculations. Date calculation tools (part of development environments) are among the most unreliable. “Off by one” bugs are rampant. And the newest bugs I’ve been seeing are the “cross thread update” bugs, where data gets stored in a fixed place instead of a “per thread” place because a “thread unsafe” function gets called. These almost always work fine because the updates happen fast. Ironically, I saw a thread-unsafe date update function library years ago.

      The problem may have happened at Kayak, or at US Airways, or by the user. We just don’t know.

      FYI, I *ALWAYS* print every web page involving every online transaction I do. But by “print” now days, I use the “print to a PDF” feature so I am not wasting paper. Then I can actually print the PDF if it needs to be sent to someone to show the problem.

  2. axhandler1 says:

    Not sure if there is another way to do it, but whenever I click on a flight on Kayak, it always puts me through the website of the airline itself, where I click on the tickets I would like to book. I didn’t know you could book “through” Kayak directly.

  3. TuxthePenguin says:

    I’m not sure why this is necessarily United’s problem. They have their own online service that you could have used but instead you went through a third-party to book those tickets… why is it there fault that system had an error? To me, its just like using a travel agent – if something goes wrong, you go work with the agent, not the airline (at least at first).

    • bnceo says:

      Agree. I use these sites for price comparison. But I always book on the airline’s own site. Just easier that way. Less problems. And I think they appreciate it as they keep all the fare, and not have to pay any middleman

  4. PunditGuy says:

    Confirmation screens, people. Use them.

    • scoosdad says:

      Print to a pdf copy of it, not a paper hard copy. Easier to dispute that way if something’s not right. Install some kind of screen capture utility on your web browser, and use it frequently during the booking process to have backup.

      Not that the airline would directly accept either as proof that they did something wrong, but if it ever escalated and got to something like a credit card chargeback or even small claims court, you’d have something to offer that’s more concrete than just your word.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        Good advice to print a pdf. I do that for receipts and confirmation screens routinely. For flight information, it’s easy to send a copy to my family and to anyone picking me up at the airport. Should I need it for some type of dispute, I don’t have to track down a print-out.

        • HogwartsProfessor says:

          I do it too; I use CutePDFWriter. Just click Print and then it comes up as a printer option, and then it opens a save window. I do it for bill paying and other stuff like that.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    Always check prices through the airlines website first. You may find that they treat you better since they know you have alternative ways of booking a flight and as soon as you introduce “middlemen” into the picture, fixing any problems that arise will usually result in a game of “pass the hot potato”.

    • Coffee says:

      Not to mention that if there’s a problem and connecting flights change, those third-party sites (I’m looking at you, Expedia) can not give a fuck so hard it will blow your mind, and you’re left unable to talk to the airline directly because you’re not the entity who booked it.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I had that problem last time I flew. I called Expedia and could not get someone to call me back, then called the airline, who told me to call Expedia, and after three more calls back and forth, the airline got disgusted and took care of it.

        I do have a change on my upcoming flight, but I still have 55 minutes between flights so if my initial one is on time, I should be okay. O’Hare has a train, doesn’t it? :/

    • bon says:

      Kayak doesn’t book flights, it’s a search engine that links you directly to the airline or site offering the rate. It’s highly likely the user input the wrong date, but Kayak may have transferred the wrong date to the airline site via it’s link? Even so it’s user responsibility to double check the reservation before booking (I believe kayak actually reminds you of this during the link transfer)

    • Geekybiker says:

      So true. Especially so for hotels. I think nearly every time I’ve booked through a 3rd party and had an issue it was a nightmare to resolve. Its even worse if you use a discounter like priceline or hotwire. Sometimes you get snide comments when just trying to get normal service.

  6. Hi_Hello says:

    it’s to prevent people who has last minute changes to claim that their system messed up and booked them a day earlier than what they wanted.

  7. Starrion says:

    Question: Headline says United. United is called out in the text.

    Email is signed:
    Representative, Customer Relations
    US Airways Corporate Office

  8. humphrmi says:

    I’ve figured out the problem. Sean booked the flight on United Airlines, but sent the complaint to US Airways.

    Happy to help.

  9. Almighty Peanut says:

    Sounds like a 1-D 10-T user error.

  10. nopirates says:

    OP needs to PAY ATTENTION

  11. umbriago says:

    I never read a letter where they were so happy to hear from you. They said it repeatedly – thank you….we appreciate it…I truly appreciate it. Not even my parents are that appreciative.

    Plus I’m a little confused, too: the response says the tickers were booked “on our website,” but our complainant says kayak.com. I’m also confused because websites like travelocity and flightmonkey and triphookah and orbitz and travelzoo and zoomkitten aren’t much of a bargain anymore when it comes to booking flights. Why not play it safe and book through the airline?

    (ok, I made a few of those travel websites up)

    • Chmeeee says:

      You don’t book on Kayak, you just use it to find the flight. They then redirect you to either the airline’s website or an actual booking site like Expedia or Orbitz. In this case, it sounds like he is saying that the site redirected him to the United site but then the site somehow input the wrong date into the United search engine. That seems unlikely to me, it’s really easy to mess up the date when you’re going back and forth between sites. That’s why I always triple check dates and times before I hit the deadly “Complete Purchase” button, and again when I receive the email confirmation.

  12. bon says:

    I always use Kayak.com and although it’s been about 6 months, you don’t book through them, they always refer you to the airlines direct site (it’s more of a search engine than a 3rd party booking site)? Or have things changed? If the user did not accidentally put in the wrong date, the only thing I can think of is that once he was transferred to UA site the dates were transferred incorrectly, but it’s still up to the user to double check the flight info before booking. I believe Kayak even reminds you of this as the transfer is happening.

  13. kevinroyalty says:

    I totally understand the “no refund” for the non-refundable seats. what i don’t like is a site like kayak screwing up the reservation due to an error in their system. that is the heart of the problem, not the OP noticing the dates were incorrect until it was past 24 hours.
    this might be another case of small claims court to the rescue.

    • longfeltwant says:

      It is true, the bug in the system is the crux of this entire issue. The problem is that the bug is unsubstantiated. An alternate explanation is that the OP made a mistake. Everyone gets to decide which explanation they think is more likely. Without any evidence of a system bug, I personally assume that this was a simple error by the user. I myself have done the same thing, so I know it’s an easy mistake to make.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      So let’s say you’re buying an article of clothing off the rack, for someone else (so trying it on won’t necessarily work.) The person you’re buying for wears size Large in this particular item and manufacturer. You walk up to the rack, which has markers to separate the different sizes, pull an item from the section that should have Large garments and never look at the tag to double-check. Someone has either mistakenly returned an XL garment to the L section, or the sign was in the wrong place, so the garment you selected is actually XL but you never looked at the tag.

      Whose fault is it now?

  14. giza says:

    Hello, There’s not enough info in your posting for me to debug. If you’d kindly submit full details via http://www.kayak.com/feedback/form we can investigate. Include date of search&purchase as well as travel dates, airline, etc. Please reference this article for context as well in the support posting. With all this information, we can ferret out the trail. Thanks!

  15. jza1218 says:

    This Laura Northrup chick sure does make a ton of mistakes. Wonder if United will care that they’re getting criticized for something US Airways did

  16. StarKillerX says:

    Seems like a simple GIGO error to me.

    My first thought when reading this was “stupid computer booked my flight for the day I told it to instead of the day I wanted it to!

  17. colpuck says:

    One, why is the e-mail signed US Airways? Two, the OP can make a DOT complaint against Kayak, which might encourage Kayak to help him. If the OP has proof that he meant to book for a different day, IE firm documented plans made before he made the flight reservation he may be able to get the TICKETING airline to make te change for free.

  18. kayakcto says:

    Laura and Sean,

    I think this was user error.

    KAYAK provides millions of consumer searches per day, and we have never found a bug in transferring the wrong dates.

    If either of you can find a reproducible case of KAYAK passing the wrong dates to an airline, I will buy you a round-trip ticket.

    Also, note that the dates you choose are confirmed to you about half a dozen times between the UI and email.

    –Paul

    KAYAK CTO

    • Press1forDialTone says:

      Oh Paul, don’t be so defensive, you and I are both IT folks.
      You know there are subtle bugs in your system, hundreds of
      them! You can’t fool me. I’m an insider.

      • kayakcto says:

        Press1forDialTone (fun, anonymous name) –

        KAYAK does not have hundreds of bugs — we have thousands of them.

        But we’re pretty aggressive about fixing the ones that matter the most. (You might have heard that our engineers do our product support — this has been important to me so that we have insight into what is actually happening with our product, and so we can fix issues as they arise.)

        For this specific case — a claim that the user entered one date on KAYAK and we passed another date to the airline — I just don’t think that is true. That’s why I offered to buy a round-trip flight to this customer or writer if they could ever reproduce it.

  19. CharlesV says:

    you may also want to triple-check your facts as well. The title of the article says United, but the email is clearly from US Airways.

  20. dourdan says:

    it isen’t really a bug. Kayak likes to ask you “would you be willing to travel 1-2 days later or 1-2 days days eariler?” (because tickets can be cheaper on certian days).

    If you leave this option on they will check for the cheapest ticket from all 5 possible days.

    • Press1forDialTone says:

      If the user interface to a web program sucks like Kayak’s does,
      IT IS A BUG. The way that software communicates with humans
      is part of the design process and must take into account that
      a human can get confused by the way is said. DUH! I made a
      suggestion to a Sears call center person that the way they expressed
      “Ready for Pickup” implied that you goofed in your choice of pickup
      at store or ship to me. The person said that it meant the item was
      ready to be “picked” from stock. They transferred me to nice supervisor
      who agreed with me and said she would pass it on aggressively because
      it could result in many more needless calls. She said I was the only person
      who had been specific enough to tell them what the problem was from
      the customer perspective. I found that sort of hard to believe but then again….

  21. Mi Poo says:

    What Sean didn’t know was that they saved his life, because the flight he had originally booked caught fire and had to be evacuated in Seattle!! Coincidence? I think not!

  22. Waltersinister3 says:

    Wow, I’m staying away from Kayak.com from now on.

  23. Press1forDialTone says:

    Mr. English is a dick-head (but I say so with the utmost respect, not)
    Just for the PR value alone, the person should get a voucher for
    the value of the ticket that can be used with Kayak/United at a later
    date.

    Kayak and United (and any booking agent and any airline partner)
    should take full responsibility for any error that clearly smells of a
    subtle IT problem. As a now retired IT systems analyst I can assure
    you that the millions of lines of computer programming required to run
    both Kayak’s and United’s IT systems are FULL of bugs most subtle
    that they can handle internally but due to merger after merger between
    airlines in the last decade or so, the number of IT problems has
    skyrocketed because of incompatibilities and “kludge” fixes that
    programmers have to use to meet ridiculous deadlines without any
    opportunity to really test. This leads to programming that is FUBAR
    (the suits aren’t sure what this means) which is F***ed Up Beyond All
    Recognition.

    Mr. English needs to go get a real MBA which means he will take business
    ethics classes (required in most programs) that will tell him not pull stupid
    stunts like so incompetently did with his statements. In today’s world, the wrong
    words or attitude on the part of major corporations can get around the world
    on the net in the blink of an eye. He’s learning the hard way.

    Kayak’s IT at least from my perspective as a sometime user (not buyer) of
    their system, sucks.

    • kayakcto says:

      Press1forDialTone,

      It must be easy to make criticisms behind an anonymous name. If you know so much about software, which bug-free software have you created?

      Btw, I decided to never get an MBA — I’d probably suck at that — instead, I hire MBAs. :)

      –Paul