Glitch on United`s Web Site Gives 120 Passengers Cheap Tickets to India

Pleased about that cheap ticket you snagged during the current airline fare wars? You probably didn`t do as well as the 120 people who scored round-trip tickets to India this week for less than $200.

Late Monday and early Tuesday, United Airlines` Web site (www.united.com) was offering round-trip tickets from Chicago to New Delhi and Mumbai for $120 to $180—seats that normally cost as much as $2,500.

An e-mail network of Asian Indian engineers quickly spread word of the bargains, and 120 passengers snapped up the fares before airline officials discovered the unintended deals and raised fares back up.


“A software glitch on our Web site allowed a small number of customers to purchase Chicago-to-India tickets for well below the normal price,” said United spokeswoman Chris Nardella. “We have fixed it to be sure it doesn`t happen again, and we are going to honor the tickets.”


United and other air carriers have made similar technological gaffes on the Internet before. While the Web helps airlines cut the cost of selling tickets, it also makes it easier for customers to take advantage of mistakes.

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In this case, a Kansas City engineer who was searching late Monday for air fares to Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, chanced on the too-good-to-be-accurate air fare. He bought a ticket and then spread the word Tuesday to his Asian Indian co-workers at Sprint.
One of those colleagues, Naresh Boga, went one step further: After buying his ticket, he sent more than 100 e-mails to his friends scattered throughout the United States, including Silicon Valley.

Now Chinnappa Pasam of Sunnyvale is taking his family of three to Hyderabad to visit relatives for a grand total of $360.

“I was planning to pay 10 times that,” Pasam said. “Now I can do more shopping.”


This isn`t the first time that United, the largest air carrier at San Francisco International Airport, has posted unbelievably low fares on the Internet.

It sold San Francisco-to-Paris tickets for $24.98 in January. And a misplaced decimal point in May allowed 23 passengers to buy international tickets that normally cost $2,500 to $2,700 for 25 cents and 27 cents, Nardella said.


Although United probably lost more than $100,000 on the unplanned sale, such errors aren`t as bad for the airline as they might seem at first glance, said Tom Parsons, CEO and founder of Bestfares.com, which tracks air fares.

United got a spate of negative publicity in February after initially suggesting it would not honor the $24.98 San Francisco-to-Paris fares, “but everybody knew there was a United.com Web site after that.”


“We love mistakes,” said Parsons, whose site publishes a “Snooze You Lose” feature that highlights short-term glitches, gaffes and superlow fares. United, he said, is “one of my best sources.”
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