What Would You Do if You Were Able to Book $5 Flights?

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Like most of you, I missed out on the $5 United flights that happened earlier this week.  This is why you should never, ever leave the computer, ever.  What the heck was I doing trying to get healthier at workout class during the exact time of this once-in-a-longtime-opportunity?!  I knew getting out of my computer chair was a bad decision!  Kidding…kind of. 

The short story of what happened was that many US routes on United were pricing at a base fare of $0 and you only had to pay the September 11th taxes of $5 – $10 for the flight.  This meant people were booking things like Washington Dulles – Honolulu for a whopping $10 round trip!  This glitch didn’t require any real “tricks” it get it to work, it just required that you were searching for flights on United during the magic time that this “oops” happened on 9/12.  It lasted somewhere around 20 minutes (I’ve read a little shorter and a little longer), and at the time no one knew if United would honor these tickets.  So, you were booking without knowing what the end result would be, but you probably knew that the opportunity would be very short-lived.  You just didn’t know how long the “oops” would last until it was over.

In a move that surprised some, United has announced that they will honor the tickets booked for $5 – $10, so anyone who got in on it is a big winner!  Way to go United!  Of course, being the travel obsessed person that I am, I replay what I would have done had I known this was happening before it ended, and had the option of getting in on it myself.  I would like to think that I would get in on it for a flight or two for my family (one of which would have to be to Hawaii given how badly I want to go back), and I think I probably would have tried to book probably one other trip.  I don’t think I would have tried to book 20 trips for many reasons (I don’t need that many, don’t want that many, don’t want to really tick off United, etc), but I also don’t think I would have totally passed on the chance to get a trip or two out of the situation.  I would have booked quickly and not gone through the normal steps of double-checking with Josh about dates and destinations.  I would have just taken my best guesses as to what would work.

I also would have simultaneously called my parents on speaker phone while I was booking my own trips so they wouldn’t miss out.  Heck, I probably would have taken my best guesses and booked something for them.  If there was still time with the deal was live I would have then quickly texted/messaged some other friends that I know would benefit, and would have likely tweeted a semi-cryptic tweet about the deal linking folks back to the original source…aka the Flyertalk thread.  Something like, “If you like really good deals, you really should check out this thread now.”  The deal wouldn’t have lasted long enough for a full blown post, nor do I think that would have been the best course of action anyway.  Now if the deal lived longer than a few minutes that may or may not be a different situation…hard to say.

I think I know how I would handle this sort of situation, but you never know for sure how you would act until you are actually in it.  There is some value to thinking through things like this in advance so you will know what to do in the event of an “actual deal emergency”.  My best advice in situations like that is act very quickly, and enjoy the adrenaline rush.  Whatever you want to do, do it fast because you probably are dealing in minutes, at best.  There is something to be said for passing on what is very likely a mistake, and there is something to be said for throwing your hat in the ring and seeing how it plays out.  Just don’t get your hat bent out of shape if a future situation doesn’t play out as well in the customer’s favor as this one did.

What would you have done if you had a few minutes to book domestic United flights for $5?  Where would you go?  Who would you call/book for?  If you were actually able to get in on the deal, what did you do?

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  1. I got the deal. I booked 2 roundtrip tickets from SFO-JFK, 1 from SFO-AUS, and another from SFO-IAD. Didn’t see any west coast flights, but should’ve booked some trips to Hawaii!

  2. I probably would have done the same thing I did when the 4 mile Hong Kong flight popped up….book it fast! (So wish that would have been honored, but I’m guessing that was much more costly than this error.) A weekend to LAX to take the kids to Cars Land at DL, maybe a spring break trip to Hawaii or skiing, and possibly a weekend in NYC in December. I agree…book now, think later!

  3. I have no problem with those that booked these flights, bully on them. When UA’s customers make a mistake, UA doesn’t cut them any slack whatsover. In fact, i thought UA’s statement was a bit disingenuous, implying they were doing those folks a favor who booked these fares. UA had no choice but to honor those tickets.

  4. @carl
    They are doing a favor by honor the tickets as they are. The MileagePlus rules dictate that only paid tickets are eligible to earn miles, and while these aren’t paid tickets, they will earn miles.

  5. I can tell you it didn’t happen as I was searching for Aruba tickets. LOL.

    Aruba, Hawaii or just California would be my choices.

  6. Just like Kris I would have called United. It was obviously a mistake and anyone with morals would have contacted United and let them know. But then morals are so lacking these days. It reminds me of the mindless people who attack each other during the holidays for a cheap TV or the next wonder toy.

  7. I absolutely would not have booked flights.

    To me this is analogous to going into your local grocery store and not saying anything if your $100 in steaks mistakenly rings up at $1. It’s clearly a mistake and if you pay your $1 and run you’re stealing $99 from *somebody*.

    That United is honoring these fares is probably to reduce the amount of hassle this situation could cause, rather than any other reason. The people who booked $10 fares to Hawaii are blatantly stealing from United, and United has decided to eat it. I would have been happier if they had stood their ground and canceled the reservations, but the reality is there would be some self-entitled whiner that would have spawned a court case that was more hassle than it was worth.

    I don’t think those flights should earn miles. Bad enough that those people are stealing transport without rewarding them with status too.

  8. I agree with Rob. United will potentially offset this error with inflated fares for the rest of us travelers.

    Why would anyone expect this to be appropriate. Anyone who has taken advantage of this should be careful not to make a mistake.

  9. Wow, rough crowd . . . On second though, MP, maybe you’d better not twit (or post) these “sale” fares, lest all of of your holier than thou readers rat out the bargain hunters . . .

  10. I think United should not have honored the tickets. This will just contribute to the next feeding frenzy when there’s an obvious mistake. It’s not technically stealing, since they did honor it, but I think there’s an enormous sense of entitlement out there, which is part of a dark side to the points and miles hobby.

    There’s a difference between a “deal” that companies offer, wanting to create opportunities in exchange for business – think a credit card signup bonus or a hotel promotion – and a “mistake” that the greedy and selfish pounce on, thinking the fact they happened to hear about it in time entitles them to an unintended free trip somewhere.

  11. Hawaii sounds great. I’m not sure I would’ve done that or booked a trip to visit my sister in Florida, which is already sort of in the plans. That might’ve sprung to mind first. 20 min is not very long to be mulling things over.
    I would not feel at all guilty about getting “an unintended free trip” from United. I’ve given them an unintended paid non-trip or two in my life, so turnabout is fair play if you ask me.
    How would a person find out about a mistake like this? There’s no way I’m checking flyertalk every 5 minutes of my life. I do follow a few people on twitter, but only check it on my computer, because if I got a beep on my phone every time you, Lucky or Amol tweeted something, I think I’d get sick of the beeping pretty quickly. Long before another mistake fare came along 🙂

  12. I’d have bought tickets for Las Vegas & Hawaii and notified friends and relatives. It’s great PR on their part. They get to appear as sensitive and honorable. It’s not stealing if they put it out there. Grocery stores put out loss leaders to get you to into their stores. You better believe more people will peruse United’s website and may bring extra business.

  13. Seems to me if this deal only lasted some 20 minutes, some “holier than thou” type(s) did call United about UNITED’s pricing specials. I will assume all of these peoples’ FF miles were accumulated strictly through flights and none through other means. Getting FF miles for relatively free by getting and using credit cards, spends, survey completions, etc., using their reasoning, should be viewed as unethical also. Just as an FYI, I did not book any of the $10 R/T tickets.

  14. @RichA – No, the companies make those offers intentionally as part of their marketing strategy. Those are what are actually legitimate “deals,” and there’s nothing unethical about earning points in all the ways that the company offers and promotes. That’s the point of this and other blogs.

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