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What Does an Airline Owe Us When They Make a Mistake?

A couple of weeks back, British Midland mistakenly released a link to a signup page that allowed people to get instant Silver status in their frequent flyer program.  It wasn’t immediately obvious that this was an error, as a year ago there was a public link to a private offer for Silver Status and plenty of people (including myself) signed up for that offer without incident.  In case you were wondering people wanted the Silver Status because it offered free checked bags on any Star Alliance airline.

Well, BMI decided not to honor the mistake and sent an email explaining that it was an error and that unfortunately they would not honor it.  Here is the text of the email:

We’re pleased to see that you recently joined our Diamond Club frequent flyer programme. However, I’m writing to you because unfortunately the link you used to join was an exclusive by invitation only offer and as noted in our terms and conditions was non transferable.

Regrettably, we will not be honouring the Silver status, and over the next few days your account will be downgraded to Blue status. Our decision is final, and we won’t be entering into any further correspondence on this. On a positive note though, our frequent flyer programme is one of the most generous programmes around, and you only need to earn 16,000 membership status miles to earn a Silver membership. When you fly with us, or any of the Star Alliance airlines, you’ll reach Silver status in no time at all. You’ll also have access to all our offers and promotions, as well as being the first to hear about our great sale fares. We hope you’ll still enjoy the benefits of your Diamond Club membership.

Over at One Mile at a Time, the commenters went, as my father would say, a bit apeshit, accusing the airline of all manor of rudeness, saying how terrible they are, and threatening never to fly them again, blah blah blah.

Putting aside that if you were a big BMI flyer you would not be applying for their lowest tier Elite status because you would have it already.  But what did the airline do wrong in this case?  They made an error.  Could they have chosen to honor it?  Sure.  But it’s certainly more than their right not to.  A company isn’t being evil or careless if they don’t honor every mistake (or mistake fare) that gets released.  It’s a bonus if they do, but every time this happens we see in the forums people threatening to sue and crying and whining about it.  Get over it.  If you wrote a check to the cable company for $142.36 and forgot to put the decimal point, do you think they would really keep the $14,236?  Of course not.

People can complain that the corporation should honor their error, but in reality the error was made by a person, and we’ve all made errors at work (or at least I have made at least my own share of mistakes).  I’m not suggesting we feel sorry for anyone, but I am saying that we should get over the sense of entitlement and outrage when an airline makes an error.  Sometimes they honor mistakes, sometimes they don’t.  Not honoring the mistake does not make them horrible; they made a business decision.  Boo hoo if the person who benefited – knowingly or not – doesn’t get something they weren’t entitled to in the first place.


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  1. Since I have am quoted on “Onlinetravelreview” I feel an official definition is needed.Hence, “apeshit”.

    “From the habit of enraged apes of flinging their own feces at their object of anger (if you haven’t experienced this phenomenon first hand consider yourself blessed).


  2. Stephen L Gibson

    Surprise!!! Looks like United is taking customer service to a whole new low. With this merger, United and Continental have merged each others bad habits into the worst airline of all times. Next time when they file bankruptcy, EVERYONE should be on the phone with their representatives making sure our “Government” (or what is left of it) does not give the handouts.

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