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Glitch Leads To Huge Airfare Bargains

If a deal looks too good to be true, it's probably a computer error. Or so says United Airlines.

The airline Tuesday took full-page ads in newspapers in Chicago and Denver touting a summer fare sale. For about 45 minutes Tuesday, visitors to the United Airlines Web site were able to buy roundtrip tickets for $5.

United will honor the tickets, but did not yet know how many were bought or the destinations, spokeswoman Chris Nardella said Wednesday.

United blames the gaffe on an error by a computer that distributes fares for major airlines.

"We discovered the problem and we fixed it, but there was a 45-minute window when customers were able to book these tickets," she said.

The fares varied depending on the route. But some customers booking travel through Chicago and Denver ended up paying only $5, Nardella said.

The problem occurred when ATP Co., a clearinghouse for all airlines' fares, loaded new sale fares onto United's Web site, Nardella said.

Here's what the airline says happened: At first, the advertised fares posted on the Web did not include a $5 discount that was supposed to be given to online customers. ATP tried to fix the problem, but instead posted totals that included taxes, facility charges and a $5 surcharge — but not the actual fares.

It's not the first time United has sold cheap tickets on its site. In January, 142 passengers bought tickets to international destinations for as little as $25.

The actual special fares, which are offered until May 24, for travel through Sept. 30, are from United's Chicago and Denver hubs, and range from $202 from Denver to Chicago to $378 from Denver to Miami. Denver to London is $874.

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