United Airlines Hands Out Free Tickets Due to Software Bug

  September 13, 2013

UPDATE 10/15/13: United Airlines tickets are being sold again for cheap by using a "Mileage Plus" loophole. It seems they have fixed the issue at this time but is it fair not to honor tickets to those users who found a possibly costly defect on United Airline's website?


United Airlines was handing out free tickets plus fees through their website for 15 minutes yesterday morning. With a security fee, those lucky enough to get to the free tickets were charged between $5-$10 for their flights. Apparently, the free (or close to free) tickets were the result of a software bug in their filing system.

“One of our filings today contained an error which resulted in certain fares displaying as zero. We have corrected this error.” –Mark Clark, United Airlines

This is not the first time United Airlines has had an issue with transactions through their website. Apparently, in 2008, United Airlines did not charge fuel, which can range over a hundred dollars per ticket, for some lucky ticket buyers. In another incident this past July, United Airlines rescinded transactions for tickets from the U.S. to Hong Kong for a total of four frequent flier miles.

At this time, the airline company is still considering whether or not to honor the free tickets. Of course, it would be in their best interests to honor the tickets despite the systematical mistake on their part. In the past, when similar errors have occurred, airlines have either rescinded those freebies or honored them. But this brings about the question, in this type of situation, does a company need to honor these erroneous transactions or should they have the right to reverse them?

It seems that United is in a bit of a pickle here. There has been no word yet on precisely what caused the issue. Since website errors seem to be a recurring theme with them, they may have to take a look at their system as a whole. On the other hand, maybe this is just the risks of doing business in this day and age.

When I see a large company having issues with transactions on the Web, that company loses credibility in my eyes. What may look like a few free tickets due to a small software defect could easily just be the tip of the iceberg.

What do you think? Would you be skeptical about doing business with United Airlines via their website after this? Is this just the kind o SNAFU we should expect in the technical age, or is this series of errors something that the airline could prevent with an improved QA process?

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