If you were one of the FlyerTalk members who intentionally manipulated the official Internet web site of United Airlines in order to take advantage of traveling round-trip between San Francisco and Honolulu for $80.00, not only was your reservation not honored, but your MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program account has most likely been closed and your MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program miles have been forfeited.
FlyerTalk member michael0023 first posted last month about a trick he accidentally stumbled upon while booking a reservation for an award flight where he “stopped at the page where insufficient mileage was shown. Opened another browser and started to book a paid flight – reached the page where credit card information was required – refreshed the previous award flight page and then refreshed the paid flight page – paid flight page only had the tax displayed $80 – booked the flight.”
However, FlyerTalk member luv2ctheworld warned those FlyerTalk members who were attempting to take advantage of advantage of traveling round-trip between San Francisco and Honolulu for $80.00 that “Unlike UA’s previous pricing mistake where the responsibility was on UA, this is clearly trying to manipulate the system to try and fool it to price out. Which means UA will have little sympathy when one tries to have them honor it, and potentially label yourself and your account as one of those who like to abuse the system.”
It is rare that airlines take the step of shutting down the frequent flier loyalty program accounts of its members — especially on a mass level and publicly announced. However, that is exactly what happened, according to FlyerTalk member UA Insider — also known as Aaron Goldberg, who is the senior manager of Customer Experience Planning at United Airlines when he first posted the following announcement:
“We’ve identified an issue where customers are intentionally manipulating our website to set up award reservations and attempt to ticket with an account that does not have enough miles to complete the ticket. We will not honor these reservations.”
Yesterday, UA Insider posted the following grim message for those FlyerTalk members who were involved in this scheme:
“We have a quick update related to the manipulation of united.com to book award tickets with insufficient miles that occurred last month. Specifically, we are closing new MileagePlus accounts that were assumed to be set up with the express purpose of attempting to redeem award tickets without the required number of award miles.”
Sure enough, FlyerTalk members are reporting that their MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program accounts are now closed — and their MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program miles have been “wiped out.”
FlyerTalk member snowdoggieii posted that the actions of United Airlines are “insane” and “totally ridiculous”; and added that “myself included many people gotten emails saying my united mileage plus account is now closed. Because they considered people who tried to book free flights with phantom miles as hackers? Refreshing webpages and have 2 tabs open are now considered hackers and they can wipe out all your miles and close your account??????”
Many FlyerTalk members have no sympathy for snowdoggieii — and neither do I. There is already a controversy pertaining to taking advantage of “mistake fares” where the airline posts an airfare which is accidentally offered for free or for a ridiculously low cost — but some FlyerTalk members argue about how a customer is supposed to know the difference between an airfare carelessly posted on the official Internet web site of an airline and an actual promotional airfare, as it is not always obvious.
I would say that this lodging “deal” for $0.00 — which was posted yesterday and “included” all taxes and fees — was obviously a mistake.
Accordingly, many airfares published by mistake are usually honored by the airlines to give the customer the benefit of the doubt and — probably more importantly — to conform to and abide by the law, as not honoring a “mistake fare” could be considered as a version of the deceitful practice of “bait and switch.”
However, in this case, United Airlines technically did nothing wrong. The “airfare” in question was not easy to find; and instructions on how to take advantage of that airfare — apparently, as the result of a technical anomaly at the official Internet web site of United Airlines — were posted on FlyerTalk for all to see. United Airlines is not required by law to honor this “airfare”; and the unusual action of penalizing those members of the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program for the intentional manipulation of the official Internet web site of United Airlines was implemented by the airline.
Keep in mind that many — if not all — of the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program accounts which were closed were apparently new accounts which were opened specifically for this incident.
Look — I like a great deal just as much as anyone. However, there comes a time when one can go too far in attempting to procure what seems to be an increasingly elusive bargain. This is one of those times; and while the FlyerTalk members who participated in this scheme did not get the bargain for which they were searching, they certainly received more than for what they bargained — so to speak.
Was United Airlines too harsh of the FlyerTalk members who participated in this scheme — or did they intentionally commit fraud and get what they deserved? Was the punitive action not strong enough?
What do you think?