American Airlines has announced via twitter that they will honor mistake fares that were booked from the greater Washington DC area to China regardless of fare price. So it doesn’t matter if base fares were $0 or $40 AA will be honoring all fares that were successfully booked in the hour or two that the mistake fare was available.
This is surprising to many, as people speculated AA would try to fight the DOT’s CFR 399.88 because they airline’s contract of carriage prohibits $0 fares.
(J) MISFILED FARES
AA, as a policy, does not file nor intend to offer/file fares priced at zero (exclusive of any surcharge). Essentially, such fares do not make any economic sense. AA has introduced warning mechanisms to try to prevent such occurrences; however, occasionally fares such as these mistakenly get loaded into computer reservation systems that are not controlled by AA. Agents/customers should be aware that in these circumstances they are not allowed to ticket at these fares and AA will not honor fares of zero (exclusive of any surcharge). In the event that a zero fare (exclusive of any surcharge) is ticketed inadvertently, AA will void such ticket and may choose to waive, in its sole discretion, certain rules or restrictions of existing published fares as a gesture of good will.
Kyle, the Trip Sherpa, has already covered the $450 fare in detail and so have many other bloggers, however very few people are talking about the tickets that were placed on hold that American Airlines canceled before the 24 hour holds expired. I already have four trips planned in April and May and a full time job, so finding a weekend when I could travel to China was nearly impossible, but by the time I did, the cheap fares were gone and the best I could find was for ~$1000. I placed the ticket on hold as I wasn’t certain that I wanted to buy it for the $1k price.
To no surprise, come Wednesday American Airlines started canceling flights that were still on hold. Around 11am PST, my flight was canceled. I tweeted to American Airlines to only receive the followed responses:
I knew that this wasn’t going to end well so after the tweets I emailed customer service. My 24 hours hold was already canceled and I wanted to hear what AA had to say, outside of twitter.
I received a canned response that Customer Service couldn’t help me, and I should call reservations. I did exactly as the email said, now 36 hours after placing the ticket on hold and was told by reservations that there was a note in my reservation that the fare was canceled due to “invalid fare type”. The lovely agent told me I needed to email customer service again, and if they didn’t reinstate the fare I should file a formal complaint with the DOT. The agent was VERY senior, and asked me if she could use this PNR for her next monthly meeting for customer case studies. I agreed and hung up.
I followed the agent’s advice and emailed customer service again, but also filed a formal complaint with the DOT. The reasoning for filing the complaint with the DOT falls under 14 CFR 259.5 and 14 CFR 259.6. Which says:
“the customer service rule that requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty (the “24- hour reservation requirement”). The 24-hour reservation requirement is mandated by the Department of Transportation’s consumer rule “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” (14 CFR 259.5(b)(4), 76 Fed. Reg. 23110, 23166, Apr. 25, 2011)”
American Airlines has opted to allow customers to hold a reservation without payment instead of cancel reservations after purchase.
By canceling these mistake fares before the 24 hour mark, American Airlines is in clear violation of the DOT’s requirements to allow customers to hold fares. The DOT requires that airlines clearly disclose if they allow free cancellations within 24 hours of ticketing or free holds. Since AA discloses that they allow free holds and not cancellations, I honestly believe that AA should have to honor all of these mistake fares that were held by consumers. After all, AA.com says they allow free holds which guarantee the price of tickets.
Hold your reservation for 24 hours or more
- Did you find a good fare, but need more time? Hold your trip.
Here’s how it works:
- All holds are free for the first 24 hours.
- If you choose to hold longer, you’ll be charged after 24 hours.
- Hold charges are non-refundable.
- When you’re ready, go to the confirmation email or My Trips to pay for or cancel your trip.
- Be sure to pay with a credit card from the same country you used to hold your trip or your fare may change.
Once you select the Hold option, the Free Hold and Extended Hold offers will display:
Book your flight now!
* Actual hold period depends on fare rules. Some fares require purchase by a specific time.
I have filed a formal complaint with the DOT which the DOT has already responded to and accepted.
Dear Mr. Horan :
This responds to your communication regarding American Airlines. The U.S. Department of Transportation seeks to ensure that all airline passengers are treated fairly. Complaints from consumers are helpful to us in determining whether the airlines are in compliance with our rules and to track trends or spot areas of concern that warrant further action.
Based on the information you have provided, your complaint appears to fall under the Department’s rules. I will forward your complaint to the airline and ask the company to respond directly to you with a copy to us. Airlines are required to acknowledge receipt of a consumer complaint within 30 days and provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days. I will review the airline’s response….
If my review of your complaint and the response from the company discloses a potential violation of our rules, our office may pursue enforcement action. Generally, our office pursues enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints which may indicate a pattern or practice of violating our rules. Your complaint may be among those considered and may lead to appropriate enforcement action including the assessment of civil penalties. However, our office has no authority to order compensation for individual complainants….
To file your own complaint you can either call, write a letter, or for the fastest service I would highly recommend doing an online complaint to the DOT.
Complaints and comments about airline service other than safety or security issues may be registered with DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD). You can call, write or use our web form.
Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75 U.S. Department of Transportation
- You may call the ACPD 24 hours a day at 202-366-2220 (TTY 202-366-0511) to record your complaint. Calls are returned Monday through Friday, generally between 7:30 am and 5:00 pm Eastern time.
- You may send us a letter at:
1200 New Jersey Ave, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Per the DOT, American Airline legally must respond within 60 days, which by that point it will be too late for my trip to China. Regardless, I believe American Airlines needs to publicly admit their mistake and violation of the law!
Rule #1 of a mistake fare is to book the fare and cancel it later if needed, but nevertheless American Airlines should be held to the legal requirements of 14 CFR 259.5(b)(4), 76 Fed. Reg. 23110, 23166, Apr. 25, 2011)
I would expect a DOT ruling and a statement from American Airlines within the next week or so, after all, there is no way that the DOT is not going to address the held fare issue. Who they will side with…that is still to be determined!