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United Airlines error sells Hong Kong flights cheap -- very cheap

July 19, 2012|By Hugo Martin
  • Because of a glitch, some people who booked United Airlines flights to, from or through Hong Kong were charged only four reward miles plus taxes and fees, which amount to about $35.
Because of a glitch, some people who booked United Airlines flights to,… (Paul Hilton / Bloomberg )

United Airlines customers with reward miles were able to book tickets over the weekend to Hong Kong for only four miles, plus taxes and fees, because of a programing error, according to the airline.

A round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong typically starts around $1,800 or 60,000 reward miles under the MileagePlus reward program.

But because of a programing error, some United passengers who booked flights to, from or through Hong Kong were charged only four miles plus taxes and fees, which amount to about $35.

United's online system did not advertise tickets to Hong Kong for four miles. Passengers who clicked on the online system to book a flight but had insufficient reward miles were charged only four miles. Over the weekend, news of the glitch spread on the Internet, prompting many MileagePlus members -- United wouldn't say how many -- to book tickets.

In a statement, United said it has fixed the error and canceled all unused tickets that had been bought for four reward miles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced it is investigating the situation because a federal rule forbids airlines from increasing prices of tickets after they have been booked. The rule applies to payment with reward points as well as with cash.

United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said he doesn't believe his airline violated the rule because the tickets were not advertised for sale for four reward miles.

"We think we will get a fair outcome with the DOT," he said.

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