170 EUR for a flight to Mumbai - sounds good? Deals like that are called error fares. Before you take it, you should know about possible consequences. The ECC has all important information for you.
What are error fares?
They are mistakes of traders regarding the indication of a price online. There can be several causes for that, beginning with a simple typing error (20€ instead of 200€), to a technical problem or a calculation error. For example: You book a flight from A to B, with a stop at C. The airline miscalculates the different kerosene surcharges and suddenly the total price is way cheaper than the actual costs.
There are several online platforms who specialised on finding such error fares and making consumers aware of them. Even if they are praised as a great opportunity, caution is necessary. Depending on the type and dimension of the error, the legal situation can be difficult. It may happen that you can't get the product or service for the offered price.
The trader made a mistake, how is that my problem?
The answer is not so easy. Of course it is the responsibility of the trader to indicate correct prices. Nevertheless, there are situation where your "common sense" as a consumer is requested. As mentioned above, the type and dimension of the error on the trader's side is decisive.
The following factors are important:
- Was the price difference so extrem that the trader's error was obvious and should have been noticed by the consumer?
- How long was the specific price online?
- Was the price advertised as a special offer?
- Did the trader inform you about the error in a timely manner?
Not all of these questions are relevant in every case. Please read the following information on what is important in what situations.
Case 1: Obvious error
If it is an obvious error that you as a consumer should have noticed, the company can contest the contract. When you conclude a contract online, like a flight, hotel or purchase, in most cases you will receive an automatic mail confirming your order or booking. This doesn't mean that the trader already checked your contract individually.
If the price error is as obvious, the trader can contest it for three years after its conclusion. Therefore: Even if you book a flight months in advance, the airline can still contact you shortly before and refuse to transport you for the paid price.
You should always be aware of this risk when you consider booking or purchasing something for an error fare.
Example case: Hotel booking in Austria
A consumer booked a holiday in Austria for two persons via the website of a tourism association. The accommodation was a four star eco-hotel and they wanted to stay for eight nights during the main holiday season. The price: 152,80 EUR.
Normally, the full price for such a booking would be approx. 1.500 EUR. The hotel contacted the consumer and informed him that at the time of his booking, the booking system of the tourism association was modified and therefore they indicated the wrong price. A difference of over 90 percent and a daily price of 9,55 EUR per person in a four star hotel are impossible.
As the price was only a fraction of the normal costs, it was a calculation error that should have been obvious to the consumer. The contest against the contract by the hotel was therefore justified.
Case 2: A question of time
Please note: If it was an obvious error, the timing is not decisive!
If the price error was not as severe that it should have been noticed, several time factors are important.
When the price was online for a longer period of time (days, weeks), the consumer can believe that the trader is aware of it. This especially applies if it is advertised as a special offer ("sale", "deal").
As a next step, the consumer should inform you and contest the contract in a timely manner, which means: before you have any other expenses based on the contract (e.g. a hotel booking). If the airline cancels your flight only after you paid for an accommodation at your destination, you can claim a refund of the costs incurred.
An exemplary verdict in England
A British court ruled in favour of a consumer who had booked a flight for an error fare. The airline refused to transport him and claimed that he should have noticed the error. The consumer had to book another flight and sued for damages because of the additional costs.
The consumer travels a lot for business purposes and is therefore always looking for cheap flights. His arguments: Airlines often offer cheap tickets and therefore the price seemed reasonable to him, although a very good deal. Furthermore, the price was online for several days and was not corrected by the airline. The judge decided in favor of the consumer, the airline had to refund any additional costs.
This decision is remarkable, but not necessarily pioneering. As the ECC knows from daily advisory business, the details of every single case are decisive.
Tips from the ECC
- Before you buy or book an offer with an obvious price error, consider if you would be willing to pay the actual price or renounce.
- If you decide to take the deal and make other expenses based on it, be aware of the risk that the trader might contest the contract.
- Make screenshots of your booking or purchase. Was the price advertised as a special deal?
- Have patience: Was the price corrected after a few hours or is it still available on the following days?
- If a trader contests the contract, check if it was an obvious error that you should have noticed.
- If not: Did the trader inform you in a timely manner?