Things To Learn From Yesterday’s Mistake Sale on United Fares
It was a fun 12+ hours yesterday watching folks react to the news that a travel website (OTA) in Norway was selling dirt cheap tickets on United Airlines by way of the fact that they weren’t adding fuel surcharges to any flights.
Personally, I was able to grab 3 trips, though I’m still not sure I will fly all 3. The first two were IAD-DXB-IAD. For those who don’t commit airport codes to memory, that’s flying from Washington Dulles to Dubai, a roughly 13 hour flight, hanging out on the ground in Dubai for 7 hours, then boarding the plane and doing the same thing back to Dulles. All in coach. For $300 a piece. A great price, but I must be nuts.
I also grabbed 3 tickets for my wife, daughter and I to fly to Paris on a long weekend in February. My daughter has never been, and I can’t reasonably expect to find those tickets under $400 very often. That will be another painful flight in coach, though not as bad as IAD-DXB-IAD.
I thought it would be good to assemble a list of things that are good to know as it relates to these types of situations, since these types of opportunities continue to arise. Some of these are things I already knew, some were not. But, all are good things to keep in mind for the next fare sale.
- Act Fast. Yesterday’s deal was up a long time, most of the day. Other deals last only minutes or hours. When you hear about one of these deals, you need to be ready jump on a ticket and ask questions later.
- Know The Cancellation Policy. In this case, the deal was for flights on United Airlines. As a general rule, United allows 24 hours after booking to cancel. That means assuming you have the space free on a credit card, you can quickly book tickets you might use while a deal is going on and then “sleep on it” and decide whether you want to cancel. Alternatively, if you weren’t sure whether you would be able to cancel, jumping on a deal just because it’s a deal may not be the best decision.
- What’s In Your Bucket? I have a bucket list of places I want to visit in my head. If you don’t have them committed to memory, take a moment to write down a list of places you’d go if price were no option. In yesterday’s example, some tickets that are normally over $1,000 could be had for less than $300. Not free, but pretty close.
- Know What Your Getting. In this case, if you were looking to book mileage runs, you were getting tickets on United dirt cheap that would earn Premier Qualifying Miles and redeemable miles. But, since they were issued on Wideroe ticket stock, these tickets did not earn Premier Qualifying Dollars. So, in some cases, they may not get you what you need to qualify for elite status.
- Wait To Book A Hotel. The DOT rules are pretty clear on what can (and can’t) be cancelled by the airlines when such errors happened. But, that doesn’t always mean things will end up that way. People were pretty sure United wouldn’t cancel award tickets they issued for 4 miles to Asia recently. Turns out they let people keep the tickets who had travel imminently scheduled and cancelled them for everyone else. In that case, if you had booked a non-refundable hotel on that one, you’d have been in trouble.
- Don’t Call The Airline. As a general rule, if you hold a ticket that’s supposed to contain fuel surcharges but doesn’t, calling the airline will likely lead them to re-ticket you with the fuel surcharges or cancel your ticket. Certainly not the desired outcome.
- Call Your Credit Card Company. If you’re planning to book a bunch of airline tickets all at once (and, like yesterday’s deal, on an overseas website in a foreign currency) that can send a red flag to your credit card’s fraud prevention team. The last thing you want to do in a situation like this is do all the hard work to score cheap tickets and have your credit card company block the charge.
- Use Other Tools. The wideroe.no site that was selling tickets without fuel surcharges yesterday wasn’t the easiest site to navigate. And, when news of the deal leaked far and wide, the site slowed down to a crawl. I was used matrix.itasoftware.com to figure out itineraries and then plugging them into wideroe. If you’re not familiar with ITA, you could use any OTA like Expedia or Travelocity to find what you’re looking for, then plug the correct dates and flights into the booking engine selling cheap tickets.
- Be Patient. Even I got a little impatient yesterday waiting for my tickets to book. Eventually, I went to bed 5-6 hours after making my reservations hoping I would wake up in the morning with airline tickets. I did, in fact get the tickets, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I didn’t.
On a humorous note, when I told my daughter we were going to Paris but not in a seat that reclined to a bed, boy was she upset! She was very torn between wanting to see Paris and really not wanting to fly in a coach seat overnight. She’s only 7, severely spoiled as a traveler, and part of me can’t blame her.
I still don’t know if I can stomach 27 hours on a plane in coach with a 7-hour break in the Middle East. I’ve got another 6 hours to cancel without penalty. After that, it’ll cost me a $200 fee to wuss out.