More than 10,000 incorrectly priced British Airways tickets for flights to the Middle East may have inadvertently been sold through agencies due to a pricing glitch, a travel lawyer has claimed.
Travellers gleefully snapped up the £200 to £300 BA fares to Dubai and Tel Aviv when they appeared online at around 6.30pm last Monday night (June 18).
BA subsequently cancelled many of the fares and apologised for the “exceptionally rare” error, before offering customers full refunds and a £100 voucher.
The fares though were available until around 10.30am the following day, by which time, it is understood thousands of bookings had already been made.
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, told TTG he was aware of eight "large agencies" affected by the issue, one of which sold around a thousand tickets overnight. Ali Shah, chief executive of Travel Up, claimed his agency sold more than 2,000.
“I expect they [BA] sold in excess of 10,000 that night,” said Bowen. “It was obviously a mistake.
"These are what are known as CAT35 fares. They’re loaded into the GDS automatically, which adds APD, fuel surcharges and fees, etc.
“Agents have no control over this. Airlines should guarantee these fares after they are sold and honour them. Tickets are generated four to five hours after a booking so by midnight, it was too late.”
Bowen said the fares were available for advance bookings to Tel Aviv at the same low rate up to, and including, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in December, when availability is limited and air fares usually double or triple in price.
The issue was exacerbated, said Bowen, by news of the mistake spreading overnight through travel blogs, mail shots and social media.
“The word got out very quickly,” said Bowen. “Had this happened between 9am and 6pm, it wouldn’t have been an issue. It was only in the morning agents realised something had happened.
“By cancelling these tickets, BA is taking a stand here. They don’t want to honour fares where people are clearly taking advantage of a mistake. They wanted to nip it in the bud.”
BA is though understood to have honoured a number of fares for flights departing within two to three weeks of the error, which Bowen said was BA “taking a hit on EU261”.
The regulation states EU compensation rights, of up to €600 (£529), do not apply where airlines provide more than 14 days notice of a cancellation.
Because both Dubai and Tel Aviv are outside the EU and more than 3,500km from London, passengers would have been due €600 compensation each on both the outbound and inboard flight, therefore making it cheaper for BA to simply honour the fares.
A BA spokesperson said: “We’re very sorry and have fully refunded these tickets, as well as offering a voucher to apologise for the inconvenience. While we are unable to honour these bookings, we are encouraging customers to contact us to discuss reimbursement.
“We have apologised to all the agents involved and are doing everything we can to support them. We will work with them on a case by case basis to resolve any outstanding issues.”