United’s Decision on the China 4 Miles Tickets……..

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In case you were in prison or on some uninhabited island with no WIFI and haven’t yet heard the news, on Sunday many folks (myself included) got in on a 4 mile round trip first class ticket to China.  If that sounds far-fetched, it’s because it was clearly an “oops” IT moment from United.  However, the tickets ticketed with actual ticket numbers and credit cards were charged for the appropriate taxes.  Most folks thought it was a long-shot that the tickets would be honored, but it was fun to dream that they might be.  United has been quiet on the issue publicly for about 24 hours, but now there is a response from UA Insider on the relevant FT thread:

Hi Everyone, over the weekend, we discovered a united.com programming error that allowed customers to obtain Mileage Plus travel awards to and from Hong Kong for as little as four miles roundtrip per person, substantially below published levels, which we disclose to customers. We have since corrected the error and will be in contact with customers who have tickets issued at the incorrect award amounts. Customers will be given the choice to redeem at the correct mileage amount or re-deposit their award with all fees waived. We regret any inconvenience this has caused you, and appreciate your understanding.

Shannon Kelly
Director, Customer Insights
United Airlines

Balloon deflated.



  1. LOL MP, in prison or an uninhabited island? How about taking the kid to swim class and then dance class! Folks with families need these “mistake” fares to last a little bit longer and occur more conveniently!

    • @Askia, I mean if you haven’t heard of it by now you must have been in prison or on an inhabited island. I totally understand missing the fare. I usually miss those things myself! 🙂

    • @Joe, for mistake award 4 mile tickets you could probably say I’m a rookie. I’m not going to complain if someone wants to fight the good fight for this one, but it won’t be me. I was willing to “buy” a lottery ticket and see if it paid out, but I’m not fighting them over what was an obvious mistake. Nothing against those that do, but that’s not a fight I would personally pick.

  2. Expected response, under the old rules. And timely, which is fair so that people don’t already have other plans locked in like hotels.

    But under the new DOT regulations, likely illegal. They explicitly state that mistake fares must be honored once purchased. The only open question is, “Is a reserved, confirmed, ticketed reservation whete a ‘loyalty currency’ was used along with a credit/debit card for taxes/fees, a ‘purchase’?”

    United may have to eat these.

  3. My main disappointment is that they didn’t say anything until tonight and then posted it on a message board. They have my contact information; send me an e-mail or text message. Even a voice recorded message would have been better IMO. I started to think by 3:00 or 4:00 this afternoon that there might be a chance they would actually let this go since there had been no communication. Oh well, since it was only a small hope at least I don’t have far to fall.

  4. It will be interesting to hear what happens to the guys including the guy on dansdeals.com that booked a ticket to fly out today and made it on the plane. Hopefully for them, United will honor the return flight.

  5. I remembered reading someone wrote “…over the weekend, we discovered a united.com programming error…” Instead of a “we” it should be a “YOU” 🙂

  6. What wouldve happened had it been the reverse and I booked tickets over the weekend by mistake…would UA just cancel them?

    Why did it take them more than a full day to respond?

    Pretty poor customer care.

  7. I missed out on this by a few hours of off the grid time. I was just thinking that if the first few people that noticed this just booked and didn’t tell the rest of us then I wonder if United would have caught it and I would assume if they did they would be more likely to just honor the tickets and go on.

  8. I don’t recommend canceling tickets (unless they charged you the full amount). I would just wait and see how this all officially works out. Sounds like we know what UA wants to do, but I would just sit tight until that is officially the outcome.

  9. I really like that this blog entry is coming on the heels of the “Credit Card Settlement” entry. The message to consumer/participants in the frequent traveler game is: Please be aware that things have changed, and may continue to do so.
    My observations are not particularly brilliant or profound(and that’s my point).
    United? really?! Is that the same airline that was in the news recently over a Shanghai debacle?
    An offer of 4 miles to China? not 40, 400, or 4000? why not .4? And now they have “discovered” a programing error? really? Have they “discovered” if they actually have an IT department?
    “we regret any inconvience…” is becoming the new anthem of big business in “can’t do” America. Chase was finally able to get me because of their relationship with Continental. But I balked when they tried to ease me on over to the new United. I had already seen how it had gone with Delta/Northwest. And I see how it is going with new United.
    If you are flying on business, you may not have much choice about which airline you fly. If your home airport is a hub, that may make a difference which airline you fly. But probably the kindest thing consumers can do right now is to avoid flying on new United. That might give them some space to either get their act together , or go under.

  10. Come on people, really? UA shouldn’t have to honor this obvious mistake and they won’t!! It’s not our fault they made the mistake and “we” found it and tried to capitalize on it. But really, no reasonable person can expect them to honor the mistake.

  11. @Ian, 26.

    As much as i believe this to have been a mistake fare what is to say it wasn’t a 1 day sale? With airlines selling flights for zero plus tax the ability of the public to assume it is a mistake is gone.

    Also, as clearly stated, the rules have changed and because they were ticketed it is likely illegal for UA to not honor them.

    For the record I do not have one of these fares. But I do believe fully that UA will be required to honor these.

  12. Come on guys, really? You think you’re entitled to this? I don’t care if it’s 4 miles or 400 miles. Everybody in the world knew that you were booking on a clear computer glitch, and while we all hoped it would fly, to think that you’re entitled to it is just plain ridiculous and you know it. I know the airlines aren’t model citizens to put it mildly, but everyone booking this including myself knew that what we were doing wasn’t clearly the most ethical thing in the world. It’s like someone finding your wallet on the floor and telling you they’re entitled to it because you meant to throw it out. It’s clearly an error. Move on and stop whining about it. Would YOU honor these fares if it was your own business? Honestly?

  13. Is 4 miles the high or mid award level?

    I don’t see low availability except on a few scattered days in December

  14. Me thinks those that cry “unethical!” are those that missed out on this possibility!!!!!!!!! Oh, those grapes are sour —-

  15. @Rich, not true. Whether someone got in on the deal or not is irrelevant. I got in on the deal as well, but getting in it is one thing. Another thing is going back to United to claim that I’m entitled to it when it’s clearly an error. Crying “class action suit” like Comment #1 above is preposterous. We all in this “community” do a fair amount of “travel hacking” in one way or another, but when you get caught or called for it don’t call for the airline to do “the right thing”. That’s just simply hypocritical.

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