United Airlines mistakenly offers free fares

September 13, 2013 (CHICAGO)

A computer glitch allowed many customers to book flights for zero dollars plus tax.

Bob Stokas was on the computer at lunch yesterday looking at United Airlines fares, and he couldn't believe what he saw. Chicago to L.A., zero dollars. The only fee was the security charge. And for Bob and his wife that's just 20 bucks round trip to LA.

"I said, 'This must be a great promotion they're running,' so I thought I'd better jump on it right away," Stokas said. "I booked the flights, went back, and saw it was still available and booked four more, two for my parents and two for my children."

Bob and many others who jumped on the no-fare flights found this was not a promotion, but a human error at United which the airline caught, and then shut down it's on line booking.

United isn't saying how many no fare flights were sold and what its dollar loss from that is. After weighing and measuring what to do, United issued a statement this afternoon saying quite simply "we've reviewed the error that occurred yesterday and based on these specific circumstances, we will honor the tickets."

"There was a mistake and they're stepping up to the plate and saying, 'We made a mistake' and are saying, 'We're gonna pay for it,'" said Steve Bernas, CEO Better Business Bureau.

Canceling the mistake tickets, which United could have done, would've carried a big public relations cost. Several years ago Canadian musician David Carroll became an internet sensation with a music video lampooning United baggage handlers in Chicago for breaking his guitar.

Carroll says he got no satisfaction from United at first, but did after the video, perhaps a lesson in the power of social media.

"Actually this might be a cheaper way of settling it than having it go viral," Carroll said.

Stokas, his wife parents and kids are happy. They head west next June.

"We wanted six people to go to California for a strip and six is what I did," he said.

Bob Stokas is a United Milage Plus customer, so he is most pleased with the airline's decision, and most happy with that he just happened to be examining fares on line when human error brought him good fortune.

Six to the west coast for an anniversary, amusement parks, wine country, baseball, and an airfare of sixty bucks.

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