Outrage after airline refuses to honor $380 European error fares

Etihad Airways said it would be canceling the fares which were issued due to a glitch. Photo / Fabian Joy; Unsplash

Travelers thought they had booked the deal of a lifetime only for the airline to turn around and cancel their fares, saying there had been a mistake.

When Etihad’s $380 flights from Sydney to Berlin appeared, they were booked out fast. At around 12 per cent of the usual one-way fare of at least $2960, many rightly thought it was too good to be true. They were right.

Etihad Airways canceled a number of error fares this week citing a “glitch in the system”.

“A number of tickets on Etihad flights were sold incorrectly due to a glitch in a data system supplied by a third party,” read a message to passengers seen by the NCA press agency.

“We are working through bookings made and will be canceling tickets issued and refund the amount you actually paid for the taxes back to your credit card.”

Passengers booked onto the flights were rightly miffed.

One passenger said he was “shocked and upset” after he and his family had booked fares using the glitch.

The traveler who wished not to be named said it was double standards, telling Sky news the airline was tightening up its stance on error fares.

“I understand they made a mistake and could stand to lose thousands of dollars, but the airline is turning its back on its own precedent when it honored mistaken prices in 2014.”

According to the airline, the glitch had led to passengers being charged only taxes and not for the fare itself. They welcomed travelers to rebook at the “correct fare that should have been collected at the time of booking.”

Mistake Fares: what you need to know

While Etihad passengers said they had missed out on the “deal of a lifetime”, error fares are surprisingly common.

Earlier this year there was a rush fares which crashed travel website eDreams after listing flights from Buenos Aires to Europe for less than a dollar.

However, whether the airline will honor the fare is up to them. Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia have also previously recalled tickets issued in error, upsetting passengers. Occasionally airlines will allow travel on error fares to cache in on good will and better publicity – as Hong Kong Airways did in 2019 when it allowed passengers to fly to the US for $900 return on tickets issued in error.

Other airlines never realize tickets were issued in error, until too late.

In the early 2000s, several websites and flight clubs were set up to share “error fares” for thrifty travelers looking to bag a bargain. One website run by New Zealand-exiled Mega Upload founder Finn Batato, specialized in scraping the net for first-class tickets and alerting subscribers when they were listed for less than 10 percent of historic rates.

More recently airlines have been tightening up on tickets sold in error due to rising costs in travel.

Since 2015, US airlines have been able to cancel fares exploiting errors or listed via Online Travel Agencies by mistake.

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