For a little while yesterday, United Airlines was giving away airplane tickets for free, or close to it. Passengers reported buying tickets for $5 to $10 before United shut down the bookings on its website and phone centers to prevent more tickets from being sold or given away, though everything is back up and running now. The airline said it accidentally filed some fares for $0. Airport charges might have resulted in a small cost seen by some passengers. Such fare mistakes have happened before, often when an airline dropped a digit when entering fares into its computer system. That may be what happened here.
A United rep says the mistake was due to an error in filing the fares, not a problem with the website. She adds that United doesn't yet know how many tickets were sold at the unusually low prices. Will the tickets be honored? The airline is thinking about it. One Houston woman booked a Christmas trip back to Washington to visit her parents for $5; the return leg was $220, but it was still a cheap ticket. But why wait? She decided to try booking a cheap flight to surprise her parents today. "It was $5 round-trip, no fees, nothing," she says. "This is nuts." She checked in right away and printed her boarding pass hoping to increase her chances of being able to use the ticket.