US Department of Transportation rules on United Fare

A few weeks ago, there was an excellent fare, that was clearly too good to be true, bookable via United’s website.

It took some time, but the US Department of Transportation finally released a ruling. You can read it in full here, but if you want the cliff notes version of the 3 paragraph ruling, here’s what I find important.

The mistaken fares appeared on a website that was not marketed to consumers in the United States. In order to purchase a ticket, individuals had to go to United’s Denmark website which had fares listed in Danish Krone throughout the purchasing process. In addition, only people who identified “Denmark” as their location/country where billing statements are received when entering billing information at the completion of the purchase process were able to complete their purchase at the mistaken fare levels. Consistent with the Office’s treatment of fare advertisements and disclosure of baggage fees, it does not intend to enforce the rule in question (the post-purchase price increase prohibition) when the fare offer is not marketed to consumers in the United States. Additionally, the Office is concerned that to obtain the fare, some purchasers had to manipulate the search process on the website in order to force the conversion error to Danish Krone by misrepresenting their billing address country as Denmark when, in fact, Denmark was not their billing address country. This evidence of bad faith by the large majority of purchasers contributed to the Enforcement Office’s decision.

The emphasis is mine. Perhaps the most meaningful points here are:

  1. Fares not marketed to US consumers are not covered
  2. Manipulation, and misrepresentation and general evidence of bad faith impacted the decision

So, I can’t really disagree with the 2nd reason. When you have to actively change your billing address country, its a red flag. But that 1st reason I take issue with.

To reference the Department of Transportation rule:

§ 399.88 Prohibition on post-purchase price increase.(a) It is an unfair and deceptive practice within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. 41712 for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to or from the United States.

First point: scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, so by my read, at least some of those “mistaken fares” should be covered.

Second point: I don’t see anything that explicitly states that only US consumers are protected. In fact, that’s not the case for the European Union’s protections, and if this is the US’ stance, it is a pretty bad message to the rest of the world.

While I agree with the Department of Transportation’s ultimate ruling, especially their comment that the misrepresentation of purchasers’ billing addresses was of concern. I really, really take issue with their assertion that only fares that are clearly marketed to US consumers are protected. That sets a pretty bad precedent, and again, sends a horrible message to the rest of the world.

What do you think?

(H/T Wandering Aramean via Twitter)

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