Keep An Eye Out For Airline Website Glitches. Some Hurt, Some Help.

There’s no doubt in my mind that airlines are a very complicated business to run.  Planes, crews, fares and a million other details to manage.  And yet, it really does surprise me that there are still some pretty blatant shortcomings in the reliability of the technology the airlines use on a daily basis.  It’s always best to keep an eye out for these glitches, since they can both help and hurt, sometimes in significant ways.

After all, it was just a few days ago United Airlines was selling free tickets on their website (only charging the 9/11 fee of $2.50 a segment, other than that completely free).  When United figured out what was happening they couldn’t find a good way to roll back whatever change they implemented that lead to the issue.  So, they shut the website booking engine down completely.  Pretty severe answer (but the only reasonable one at the time) to something that never should have happened in the first place.

But, that’s just one example of anomalies you’ll find on the airline’s websites.  United had a glitch last year where they were selling tickets to Asia for 4 miles. They didn’t honor all of them but did honor them for folks who had trips planned shortly after the problem happened.

I ran across 2 other glitches in the past week, both of which I’ve seen in the past.  First, United has had a long-standing glitch that charges elite members more money if they want to purchase an upgrade to First Class.  I generally have run into this in the past when checking in via a kiosk at the airport.  An upgrade to First might be $100 or $150 for a regular member while it might be $300 or more for an elite.  It’s hard to pin down errors like these since you don’t commonly have a regular member and an elite member side-by-side comparing notes.  But, plenty of people have picked up on this over the years and United has admitted that it happens and they’re working on it (again, have been for years).

The most recent example I discovered was on a flight I was trying to upgrade for our family later this year.  While I have 1K status with United (the top status you can achieve without being invited) nobody else in my family has status.  It’s hard to clear multiple people for complimentary upgrades on domestic flights.  There were 4 of us traveling, so I split the record into two, planning to use Regional Premier Upgrades (RPUs, these are certificates UA gives to some elite members to use on individual flights throughout the year for upgrades in the US).  Once the records were split, I logged in to apply certificates.  Though I hadn’t planned to pay for the upgrades, I did recall what the prices were before I split the records.  They looked like this:

Website Glitches

After splitting the records, I logged into the one with just my wife and son, and this was the price for the upgrade.

Website Glitches


As you can see, all the flight info is the same, but the price is less on the record where nobody has elite status.  I’ve seen the gap pretty severe.  At one point I had a flight where the cost to upgrade to First from my coach seat was more than the price of a First Class seat for sale on United’s website at the moment I was looking.  At any rate, a good example of something to keep your eyes open for if you’re an elite on United.  Although, I’m not sure there’s much you can do.  The one time I came across this problem and pointed it out to an agent they told me they couldn’t override the computer.

Not to leave American Airlines out of things, I ran into an anomaly last week on as well.  A while back, I discovered some odd pricing of American’s new Choice Essential and Plus options.  The glitch I saw this week was in the Choice pricing again.  In case you’re not familiar with the Choice Essential and Choice Plus options, these are essentially fares that add-on to your existing fares.  Think of them as a bundle of options you might want to purchase from American, like bonus miles, the ability to change a ticket without a penalty and the ability to stand by on your day of travel without a fee.  When these add-ons were originally released, I thought they were set prices starting at $88.  It turned out they were actually variable based on how many fares were coupled together to make your fare, something most travelers would never know.  At any rate, I’m pretty sure they didn’t want to offer those extra benefits for free:

Website Glitches

I cut off the headers on this first picture by accident.  Here’s what the columns are supposed to look like.  As you can see, the third column is Choice Plus, which is supposed to be more expensive than Choice Essential, and certainly more than a regular fare.

Website Glitches

I can’t say I’ve figured out all the permutations with the Choice Essential and Plus pricing.  But, I’m pretty sure American hasn’t either.

At any rate, just a few examples of the airline reservation systems not always doing what they’re supposed to.  Keep your eyes out!  Have you seen any other glitches?


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  1. I just had a glitch with AirAsia. I didn’t know right away it was a glitch though, and now I’m dealing with a headache:

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