Delta error fare

In 2013, Delta Air Lines flights were available for prices as low as $20 round-trip. Image via ABC News

Incorrectly published fares can cost an airline millions – as well as damage a carefully crafted brand. With Suppression of Sales, ATPCO has launched a new tool that allows airlines to correct erroneous fares in as little as 15 minutes.

Despite the data-crunching and algorithms at play in airline ticket pricing, mistakes still happen—and those mistakes can be hugely expensive for the hapless carrier that makes them.

Cathay Pacific, Asia’s largest international carrier, made two hugely expensive fare mistakes in one month. To kick off 2019, Cathay launched a New Year’s seat sale; but due to a human data-entry error, accidentally offered too much of a discount: $16,000 business-class flights from Vietnam to New York sold for $675 to a some very lucky passengers. Cathay took the high road by honoring the fare, as well as issuing a tongue-in-cheek tweet:

Just two weeks later, the carrier accidentally sold a handful of $16,000 tickets for $1,512 – not as good of a deal as the New Year’s fare, but still an extreme discount. Once again, the carrier took the decision to honor these erroneous fares, presumably as an investment in public goodwill.

The following month, Air Italy accidentally sold flights from Sicily to Toronto for as low as CAD$75. From JAL to United, Delta to British Airways, several major carriers have experienced that dreadful moment where time just stands still.

Air Italy accidentally sold flights from Sicily to Toronto for as low as CAD$75.

A solution has emerged, from a company ideally positioned to help. ATPCO, which houses and distributes over 87% of the world’s airfares and stores over 210 million active fares in its database, has launched a new feature for its FareManager system. Suppression of Sales (SOS) enables airlines to cancel an erroneous fare within 15 minutes for the US and Canadian markets, and within an hour for international markets.

Previously, if an airline filed an erroneous fare, it could only change that fare in FareManager at the next scheduled subscription (four times per day for domestic US and Canada flights, and once per day for international flights). Airlines could also contact major distributors such as Expedia, as well as Global Distribution Systems like Sabre and Amadeus, to have the fares removed manually, explained Tom Gregorson, chief strategy officer at ATPCO. “They would panic and they would start calling every single system they could get ahold of, and ask the system to manually try to take [the incorrect fare] out, and you can imagine that that’s not a very efficient process!” Those delays could end up costing an airline millions of dollars.

While 2019 has been a banner year so far for headline-grabbing fare fumbles, no one airline drove the demand for SOS, Gregorson claimed — but they all shared a common problem. While ATPCO’s existing toolset catches 99% of erroneous fares on the front end, that 1% can cause a lot of damage – especially when those fares get spread far and wide on social media. A danger less often noticed, though, is the fare mistakenly set too high. It’s difficult to measure how much a fare that’s listed as higher than the actual price will dissuade otherwise-willing customers from hitting that purchase button.