Qatar Airways mistakenly issues $20m refund to a single passenger

By: News Desk      Published: 03:35 PM, 6 Jul, 2020
Qatar Airways mistakenly issues $20m refund to a single passenger

Imagine waking up one morning, and your available credit card balance has increased by several million! That’s precisely what happened recently to one Australian Frequent Flyer forum moderator who received a flight refund from Qatar Airways worth approximately $19.6 million ($28 million AUD). The business class flight from Jakarta to London was cancelled due to COVID-19.

An Australian Frequent Flyer forum moderator, Jessica Tam, was expecting approximately $2,000 ($2,800 AUD) to be reimbursed following a request for a refund for the cancelled flight. What Jessica Tam received instead was $19.6 million ($28 million AUD), reported on Monday.

Australian Frequent Flyer, who reported on the case, said, “This may seem like a bizarre amount of money to refund when the ticket only cost around $2,800. But the amount wasn’t quite a coincidence. As the first flight on this ticket departed from Indonesia, the fare was originally paid in Indonesian Rupiah. The total airfare, converted into Indonesian Rupiah, was IDR 28,179,000.”

This could have been a costly mistake for the airline. It seems that somewhere during the refund process, the refund was mistakenly quoted in Australian dollars for the amount in Indonesian Rupiah. Fortunately for Qatar Airways, the mistake was noticed by either the bank or the airline, and was corrected the following day.

Currency conversion errors are a frequent cause of mistake or error fares, and refund problems like the one listed above. Error fares can result in ridiculously cheap travel. There are even guidelines available that include looking for mistake fares.

Human error is the primary cause. Errors in currency conversion, typos, airfares filed for the wrong class of travel, and fuel surcharges being erroneously removed can result in errors that lead to cheap flights or refund mistakes.

According to airfare tracking service Scotts Cheap Flights, there has been a significant increase in mistake fares since the coronavirus pandemic began. For March – April 2020, the flight-tracking service recorded seven error fares compared to just three in the same period in 2019. If you were lucky enough to spot one of these mistake fares, you could be flying from Boston to Puerto Rico for as little as $23 roundtrip during Christmas and New Year.

These errors are usually rectified pretty quickly. However, most of the time, the airlines honor mistake fares. Unluckily for Jessica Tam, the error by Qatar Airways was too big to ignore.

Qatar Airways is offering refunds or flight credits for its customers until December 2020. However, many airlines are not. As flights continue to be cancelled due to COVID-19, many customers are locked into a battle with airlines that refuse to give refunds.