AUCKLAND, New Zealand – A couple and their extended family will miss a relative’s wedding in Fiji after an airline mistakenly offered free airfares.
South Auckland resident Komal Kumar, her husband and five relatives booked tickets with Fiji Airways online last week – paying nothing for the fare and $192 for surcharges.
More than 300 other people also snatched up the bargain on Auckland-Fiji flights. Money was deducted from their accounts, and passengers received email confirmation and e-tickets.
But, two days later the 321 passengers all received emails from the airline saying there had been a computer glitch and their flights were off.
The mix-up means the Kumars and relatives can no longer afford to travel to the island wedding in February.
Comparable fares on Fiji Airways viewed yesterday for the same February period were $832 per adult return, Mrs Kumar said.
“Because the tickets were so cheap we booked it and took annual leave. Now we can’t go, we just wouldn’t be able to … unless we won Lotto or something,” she said.
The 28-year-old said she didn’t realise the actual fare part of the price was when she booked. She instead thought the $192 – which actually only covered taxes and levies for the return ticket – was simply a great deal.
“In the letter they apologised, but that’s not really enough. They have refunded our money, though it’s beside the point … an error should be honoured because the consumers are not at fault.”
But the airline says it has no intention of honoring the tickets it mistakenly issued.
“Last week, special fares were published in error on the Fiji Airways website, causing the sale of 321 fare tickets,” airline chief executive Stefan Pichler said in a written statement to the Weekend Herald.
“Fiji Airways is unable to honor the zero cost tickets as the 321 tickets affected will result in lost revenue and have a significant financial impact on the business.”
The fares were for return travel between Auckland and Nadi. The taxes and levies were still charged, the airline said, and were refunded. “We apologise to all passengers affected by this glitch.”
By way of apology, Fiji Airways offered those passengers whose fares were cancelled a 15 per cent discount towards their next ticket purchase.
But Consumer Affairs said customers who bought the fares may be able to take legal action.
“The airline may have breached the Fair Trading Act if they have made a false representation about the price of their services. The passengers could try and argue they had a contract with the airline and the airline should honour it, but the airline may have a defence under the Contractual Mistakes Act or under the terms of the ticket …” a Consumer Affairs spokesman said. “They have lost out on being able to travel for a very low price. [However it is] difficult to get damages for ‘loss of a bargain’ under the Fair Trading Act.”
Auckland University law professor Peter Watts said buying a fare through an official website could be deemed a contractual agreement, but it would depend how far off-kilter the offer was from regular specials.
But an airline spokeswoman said it was clearly a mistake because it was “unprecedented”. The company had never done zero dollar fares before.