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Mistake Fares Meet Their Match With Artificial Intelligence

Mistake Fares Meet Their Match With Artificial Intelligence
Joe Cortez

Even after a U.S. Department of Transportation ruling effectively ending mistake fares, human error can still push a discounted flight through by accident. A new update by the airlines’ clearing house wants to end mistake fares once and for all, by using software to pull them down in as little as 15 minutes.

Mistake airfares – once a staple among FlyerTalkers – may soon cease to exist due to new software updates from the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. (ATPCO) The Los Angeles Times reports the coding can weed out the ultra-discounted airline tickets within 15 minutes of their publishing.

A 2015 ruling by the U.S. Department of Transportation determined that while airlines couldn’t raise the price of flights after a ticket has been booked, carriers are under no obligation to honor “mistake fares,” those inadvertently published due to human error. In January 2019, Emirates decided not to honor a $1,300 first-class mistake fare marketed by Malaysian Airlines.

Prior to the upgrade, mistake fares could be valid for hours, or even up to one day, allowing quick flyers to catch them. But after the upgrade, human error is removed from the equation. The new software replaces domestic mistake fares within 15 minutes of their publishing. International fares published by mistake can be removed in as little as one hour.

“The problem is less about how often it happens and more about the magnitude of the error,” David Mark Smith, head of standards and industry relations for ATPCO told The Los Angeles Times. Even in the short time these fares are made available, Smith noted that the fares can potentially cost the airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars in premium airfare pricing.

Air carriers have no consistent policy for dealing with mistake fares. While some airlines choose to honor them as a customer courtesy, others will outright cancel them because of their erroneous nature. When it comes to purchasing a mistake fare, experts say it remains a “buyer beware” situation.


[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (5)


  1. strickerj

    May 31, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    I still say the airlines handling and court ruling on mistake fares is BS. If I can’t get out of the contract because I made a mistake, they shouldn’t be able to either. This can’t possibly be happening often enough to have a measurable impact to the airlines’ bottom lines, but for the traveler who’s just had his/her paid ticket canceled (after probably making other nonrefundable reservations), it’s a significant hardship.

  2. corbetti

    June 1, 2019 at 7:44 am

    I disagree. Virtually everyone who buys a mistake fare KNOWS the airline made a mistake and is purposefully taking advantage of the mistake. Hardly a contract “in good faith”. And therefore, if you know they have the right to rescind the fare, it is on you as the buyer to wait a week or two to see what they do with that once they’ve found it BEFORE making other arrangements (especially non-refundable) – because you are getting into contracts with other people in good faith and then putting yourself in a bind.

    A compromise solution might have been better – something like: airlines have up to 2 weeks to rescind a clear mistake fare, after that, they are required to honor them. Then no one is really at risk, unless they knowingly put themselves in that position.

  3. Global321

    June 1, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Simple solution – arilnes right to cancel a ‘mistake fare’ = time airline allows passengers to cancel tickets without charge, typically 24 hours.

  4. dogcanyon

    June 1, 2019 at 11:40 am

    I fail to see why AI would be needed for this. It’s just a matter of comparing cents-per-mile norms for the distance and class of service to detect “fat finger” error fares. A 1960s COBOL program could do this …

  5. corbetti

    June 4, 2019 at 11:05 am

    do you know how hard it is to find a COBOL programmer these days..?

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