United Fare Mistake: Now Push?



Fare mistakes are the Holy Grail of travel hackers. You can often get a premium class seat or a fabulous hotel stay for pennies on a dollar. All you need to do is to get on it fast. Mistake fares live short, if very productive lives. 🙂 That window of opportunity can last only from a few minutes to a few hours, which–stay assured–will be enough for thousands of folks to get on the action, because they happen to be at the right place at the right time.

Or perhaps they happen to put themselves at the right place at the right time. Don’t envy them, folks. You have to be somewhat nuts to be hunting down those elusive, ephemeral fares, often sacrificing precious hours of your downtime or sleep. Because for some reason, it seems that many of these alerts happen at night or in the wee hours of the morning.  Besides, you have to be extremely flexible about your schedule and places you are going to visit.

In the last couple of months, I have happened to stumble upon two of such fares. I have nearly missed another two, perhaps by a few minutes. And the rest–I didn’t have any idea until they were over.

The one I missed most recently was the infamous United First Class $50+ fare from London.

Everyone knows what the United fare mistake was all about, as well as that the tickets have been canceled. No reason to dwell on that.

This deal was a travel hacker’s wet dream no matter where you live. Or it would’ve been if it hadn’t been voided. Really, what can be easier than get yourself a cheap or an award ticket to Europe, then get back in style while keeping another ticket to Europe for later. It’s beautiful. I mean, it would’ve been beautiful if United… well, you know.

What’s less beautiful is that in order to take advantage of the United fare mistake, you had to buy the ticket on a Danish website and enter the local Danish billing address. Another words, you had to lie. Which is a little more naughty than withholding information or stretching the truth.

But before I get on my high horse…

I had an exchange with Wandering Aramean and a few other people yesterday, in which I said this:

To that Seth responded (and reasonably so)    

That, quite honestly, got me thinking. Where do I draw the line?

The thing is, I have lied about the address to get a travel benefit! A couple of years ago or so, there was a hack that would give anyone with an Australian address the Hilton HHonors Gold status. The hack had been active for years, and I used it without hesitation. Got the Gold status, even though Hilton found me out a couple months later and canceled my status without warning.

No, I didn’t complain. 🙂

Interestingly, I didn’t feel guilty about it then, and I don’t now. I wouldn’t hesitate to do something like that again. However, I would hesitate exploiting this United mistake. Is it because it would cost United hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars to honor it? I don’t know. I can’t say I care for United too much.

But while I won’t blame the folks who went ahead and exploited that vulnerability,  I know that filing a complaint with DOT and trying to force a company to honor something that is so unquestionably ludicrous is wrong. It’s as wrong as if I had the gonads to complain to Hilton for taking off my Gold status that I’d had no claim to in the first place.

I guess, this is where I really draw the line.


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