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Those in the frequent travel, travel nerd and generally engaged traveler communities know the term “error fare”. In fact, we have a guide just dedicated to finding them. But my parents don’t know what an error fare is, and we’re willing to bet many of your non travel obsessed friends don’t either. My point is: airlines are acting dubiously by cancelling tickets that most consumers expect to be perfectly normal, and nothing more than a great deal.

For the most part, my parents don’t read this website. They’re busy professionals in New York and love to travel, but they are not obsessed with the mechanisms behind booking. If by chance my daily email caught their eye and a particularly good deal stood out, they would book it. They would not begin to know or care about how airline fares are filed, or why a ticket seems to be an excellent deal. They certainly wouldn’t subsequently be checking third party websites to see if a booking has “stuck”. They would simply assume that they paid for tickets, got a good price and move on. Matthew Klint eloquently brought up this issue in a recent article on Live and Let’s Fly.

“Why should a normal consumer be penalized for not knowing the difference between a great fare sale and a fare ‘too good to be true’?”…

I’m not writing this for me, or for an engaged traveler who likely knows the difference – perhaps that’s you. But I am writing this for the people who have followed enough solid mainstream travel advice to follow a couple deal sites, or set price alerts. When they see a great offer, they should not be punished or have their vacation unknowingly uprooted because airlines play a tricky game with government watch dog agencies. Airlines should not be allowed to cancel reservations once ticketed, certainly not after 24 hours from booking. A burden of communication should fall on the airline, with exacting standards for contacting passengers if a cancellation is being made. Let’s be real here – blaming the public for internal airline job performance problems is simply foolish.

A normal consumer would assume their reservation is valid unless personally contacted by an airline, and even then – they may have booked further travel plans in the sometimes… ten days before cancellation. Sure, you could say any purchases made after ticketing are supposed to be covered by the airline, but that’s a tall order to recoup for a frequent flyer, let alone a general traveler. Many of these cancelled so-called “error” or “mistake”  fares have demonstrated truly atrocious communication on behalf of airlines, often waiting more than seven days to make any decisions – and even then, not directly informing passengers. Instead, many airlines just assume passengers will constantly check their reservation and find that it’s suddenly disappeared one day.

The spirit of the Department of Transportation guidance, which sided with airlines cancelling reservations ONLY when tickets are “clearly” offered in error has become far too blurred. It can no longer act as a measuring stick. I consider my parents very smart people, and if this happened to them – they would be lost. Therefore, they’re not alone and therefore – it’s completely unfair. They’re good hard working people just trying to enjoy their rare vacation days and are certainly not the ones offering the tickets. That’s the airlines job.

Do you feel tickets should be honored when purchased and ticketed?


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