If you were planning a trip and were warned by the airline that the flights you were thinking of taking only had four seats left at the price you found, you might be prompted to book immediately, right?
Well, it seems that United Airlines has taken to giving passengers such a warning on their website. For example, on the flights between Boston and Washington, DC leaving on October 27 and returning on October 29, a notice appeared warning that only four seats remain at the outrageous price of $497 plus taxes/fees for a particular flight. [See separate previous story about this high fare.] I better grab my seats, I thought to myself, before the price gets even higher.
Thinking that there might be more seats available on alternate flights the same day, I starting clicking all the various flight options shown.
As you can see, no matter what flight combination was chosen, whether it be six in the morning or nine at night, “only” four seats were left on EVERY flight in either direction. Coincidence? I think not. It looks like United is using a bit of a scare tactic, not unlike that used by timeshare hucksters — “this deal is available today only, if you delay, you will miss out”.
Since MrConsumer was going to fly to DC anyway, he decided to test United’s system to see if they were displaying an actual count of seats left. At the time of the test, it was not obvious that these were “code-share” flights actually operated by US Airways.
Below is the flight selection screen MrConsumer saw just prior to booking his flights. Note that supposedly only four seats are left at the price shown.
And here is a new fare selection page moments after one of the four remaining seats was purchased:
Hmmm… still only four seats available at the posted price after I bought one of them. Hmmmm. Incidentally, a check of their website three days later revealed the same “only 4 seats left” warning for all flights.
Mouse Print* asked United Airlines for an explanation of how it could be that “only 4 seats” were left on all these flights, and that the number did not decrease when a ticket was purchased.
“First, we are able to book certain codeshare partners (e.g., US Airways) on united.com, however we can only view 4 seats of their inventory at a time, when in fact there may be more available. This is a technical constraint.” — United media relations
It seems to me that United should not be displaying their “only 4 tickets left” warning when they know that it is not an accurate statement of the actual number of seats remaining on the flight.
It is not known how accurate these seat availability warnings are on regular United flights.