What a day it has been!
Typically Sundays are what I call Lazy Sunday where I wake up in the late afternoon and just lounge around eating Cupcakes and watching Chronicles of Narnia.
This morning, my Parents asked me to book their Award Tickets to India.
So as I was looking up routings on United.com, I read on View From The Wing that United’s award engine was glitching and that any flights to and from Hong Kong (HKG) were only being charged 4 miles round-trip, regardless of class of service.
Yes you read that correctly, 4 miles!
Within 1 second of reading that, I called my travel buddy Chris and told him we are going to Hong Kong and to get online so we could book it.
After doing some quick searches on dates, we plugged in Chicago to Hong Kong and looked at the options.
Since the opportunity to fly First Class for only 4 miles is likely a once in a lifetime experience, I said we should opt to fly some cool Asian airlines like ANA, Asiana, or Thai.
Chris has grad school so he wanted to fly direct on United and not do any stop overs or layovers.
Eventually I agreed because he schedule was more fixed than mine and regarldess we were still going to get to fly First Class for only 4 miles however it was quite a first world problem to try and decide which Airline to fly First Class on.
Only in today’s special circumstances would actually be a disappointment to fly United First Class.
Since there were no restrictions on class of service, while I am typically accustomed to selecting United Economy Savers, we opted for the full price First Class Award.
The thinking behind this was that either United is going to honor these tickets or cancel them.
I could imagine a scenario where they will only honor the flights if you actually have the real amount of miles needed in your account.
Therefore, if United did that, I thought it would be better to pick the Award Tickets that took the most amount of miles so in the event United tries to deduct the actual amount of miles needed for the ticket (320,000), they can’t deduct what we don’t have in our account!
After we picked our flights out, next came the moment of truth, would these Award Tickets actually ticket at only 4 miles?
We hit send and to our surprise it went through.
Within 5 minutes we got our confirmation email and our eTicket from United.
After Chris and I booked our tickets, he gave me the idea to route my Parents through Hong Kong on their way to India.
It made sense to me, so I plugged in the dates and destinations.
Chicago -> Hong Kong
Hong Kong -> Bombay
Bombay -> Hong Kong
Hong Kong -> Chicago
To my surprise, it once again worked no problem.
I booked the tickets as 2 separate round trip reservations;
Chicago to Hong Kong and then Hong Kong to Bombay.
This allows my Parents to spend 3 days in Hong Kong on their way to India.
While booking these tickets for my Parents is when I realized what a huge screw-up someone at United made.
For each round trip leg, Chicago to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Bombay, it should have cost 640,000 miles but instead it only cost 8 miles for my Parents.
Both legs (Chicago to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Bombay) together would have cost over 1,280,000 miles but instead cost only 16 miles!
Although I would never pay this much ever, I always like pricing out the cost of Award Tickets to see just how much money I am saving.
For Chris and my trip to Hong Kong, according to United.com it would cost over $10,245!
For my Parent’s trip to India, I could only price out the Chicago to Hong Kong leg because the Hong Kong to Bombay leg is on Thai Airways, but the Chicago to Hong Kong leg would have cost over $17,110 each or $34,220 total!
As soon as I finished making my Parent’s booking and started writing this post, it seems United caught wind of this little glitch and shut down any Award booking searches to and from Hong Kong : (
If you are bummed that you missed out on this opportunity, I suggest that you follow Frequent Flyer University on Facebook and Twitter because I post these kinds of offers on there as they happen and they pop up right in your feed.
If you subscribe only by email, because it automatically sends the posts every morning, you would have heard about the deal tomorrow morning, when it most likely would have already been dead for 12+ hours!
Will This Get Honored?
The big question on everyone’s mind is will United honor these bookings.
Although I play one on tv, I am not a legal scholar so I don’t know much about the Department of Transportations rules, so I won’t speculate on that.
The one thing that I will point out is that because United blocks most of it’s Star Alliance Partners for Asia like Asiana, ANA, Thai, and Singapore, almost all the routing I saw today were either on United or Air China.
As you saw above, we opted for United over Air China.
Since many people’s flight are going to be on United, and the plane will fly to Hong Kong with our without them in their First Class seat, it might not cost United that much to honor all these tickets because First Class is rarely ever full on these long haul flights given how expensive it is out of pocket.
Essentially, if there is an open seat in First Class anyways on the flight, the only extra cost for United to honor these tickets is the food / alcohol cost.
Ultimately, for United it will come to a cost benefit analysis if the fines from the Government and over the top backlash from United Customers outweighs the costs of just honoring these tickets.
We will most likely find out this week on the fate of our tickets.
While we wait for that ruling, since I have taken part in a few of these “once in a lifetime” offers before, I can provide a little insights from my past experiences.
The first experience was in December 2010, when Expedia Canada was glitching and was allowing a $300 coupon for flight and hotel packages to be used without any minimum spend requirements.
People quickly figured out that short haul flights and crappy hotel packages can cost less than $300, so the trips could be free.
My travel buddy Chris and I both happened to be working at the same Company at that time, so we booked our Expedia flights at work and then went to NYC for the weekend.
When everyone was booking those free trips via Expedia Canada, all the comments were negative and speculated that Expedia would never honor the bookings since it was costing them a ton of money.
In the end the tickets got issued, and we ended up going to NYC for almost free. Our only cost that weekend was food and site seeing! Everything else was on Expedia’s tab!
Similarly, when Delta had a mistake fare to Spain for $287 in February 2010, we ended up jumping on that and again, people said it wouldn’t be honored, but Delta gave us our tickets and let us fly without charging us any extra money.
That being said, although First Class to Hong Kong for 4 miles does sound kind of nuts, we have the tickets in our hands currently, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they honor it.
Technically, if you didn’t have work tomorrow, you could have bought a First Class Award Ticket to Hong Kong this morning that departs tonight or tomorrow morning. Since United already issued the tickets, you could depart tomorrow before anyone at United has made a decision to cancel the tickets!
Needless to say tomorrow morning, just down the street from my office at the United Corporate Headquarters on 77 West Wacker Drive, heads are going to roll.
I feel bad for whomever made that programming mistake at United, but I’m sure the entire frequent flying community wouldn’t mind buying them a couple drinks for their “hard work” : )
Did anyone else get in on this amazing deal?
I am kind disappointed I didn’t realize that you could route a flight to Australia or New Zealand through Hong Kong or I would have done that!