El Al To Honor All Tickets Purchased In Pricing Glitch
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The decision is in.
El Al Israel Airlines will honor all of the cheap plane tickets it never meant to sell.
Thousands of people cashed in on a deeply-discounted deal on Monday after an online glitch offered airfares for about 75 percent off.
WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reports
"Although a review of this occurrence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service," Vice President Danny Saadon said. "Hopefully, we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends."
Many couldn't believe their eyes when they saw round-trip tickets available for as little as $350 from cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago.
New York-to-Tel Aviv fares typically go for $1,600 to $1,900.
"These customers are holding El Al tickets and we feel a sense of obligation at the end of the day," Saadon told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell.
The cheap fares were available on various travel websites for about two hours.
In all, about 5,000 tickets were sold before the error was fixed. El Al blamed an outside contractor for the mistake.
"They wouldn't have wanted an uproar from the people who bought it. They just said 'You know what? It's okay. We'll take it,' and I think that's very honorable of them," Eli Greenfield of Far Rockaway told CBS 2's Cindy Hsu.
"This was finally a gift from the heavens. Oh my gosh, we can afford this amazing trip," Bethany Mandel told CBS 2's Dave Carlin.
The airline announced Thursday that those low-fare ticket holders will also be given the option to travel non-stop to Israel from New York for an additional charge.
"To add $75 only per direction and then they can use our direct flight to Tel Aviv," Saadon told Haskell.
The low-fare tickets have a stopover in Europe in both directions.
El Al will also offer a full refund without penalty to anyone wishing to cancel their tickets.
"I can see from reactions that we're getting already on the Internet and on our Facebook that people do appreciate our decision very much," Saadon told Haskell.
Saadon said the airline did not want to disappoint its customers but the error is an unfortunate one for the airline.
"These days, the fuel prices are high, the profit margins are low and you want to make sure you don't make any mistakes," Saadon told 1010 WINS.
Airline pricing mistakes are quite common.
While El Al decided to honor the tickets, that's often not the case. Just last month United Airlines had a similar glitch involving round-trip tickets to Hong Kong. Those tickets were not honored.
In January, the Department of Transportation enacted a new regulation to help protect consumers when they're buying airline tickets. It states: "The seller of the air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a mistake."
But that regulation has never been tested in court. So as far as consumer rights attorney Brian Bromberg is concerned it's still really up to the passenger to take action.
"The small claims courts in New York are actually quite responsive and might give them some assistance and a judge might very well rule in their favor, but as of right now it's not clear what rights they have," Bromberg told CBS 2's Hsu.
The Better Business Bureau said if you see a bargain basement price you need to ask lots of questions.
"What's included in the price? When is the price effective? What are the terms and conditions, for instance, the cancellation and refund policies?" the BBB's Claire Rosenzweig said.
And call the airline directly, if the price seems too good to be true.
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