For a few hours this week, some travellers managed to snag what looked like a remarkable deal from Air Canada: 10 one-way business-class tickets to fly anywhere in Western Canada and the west coast of the United States for just $90 apiece.
These 10-pack Flight Passes usually sell for around $8,000, so when the passes were released, they were an instant hit.
"I thought, wow, this is a pretty good deal, so I bought it, got the confirmation code, read in the fine print that it's a guaranteed price and sent the deal to my friends on Facebook," said Adarsh Pallian, chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Trippeo, a travel expense and management company.
He wasn't alone.
The deal went viral on social media, through personal sharing and online forums.
But then Air Canada stepped in and cancelled the passes on Wednesday, explaining that there had been a computer glitch.
A spokesman for the company said "a computer loading error" had mispriced the flight pass. The company withdrew the pass from sale and inhibited bookings once the error was realized. The airline is now in the process of contacting buyers and providing a refund within five days. Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an e-mail statement that "any flight pass credit bookings already made using the passes will be honoured."
The airline's response has not gone over well with many customers.
"I got a tweet, but it was a generic tweet they were sending out to everyone who was complaining about it," said Jason Tarnow, a criminal lawyer in Vancouver, who, along with his two brothers, also lawyers, bought the Flight Pass. "It's pretty appalling from a public relations perspective I think."
Honouring glitched bookings is something Air Canada has already done in the past, said Mr. Pallian, who watches airline deals closely because of his work. "But I guess the Flight Pass is different because, for most people, no flights were actually booked."
This isn't the first time airlines have suffered supposed computer glitches that have provided lucky fliers with too-good-to-be-true deals, but many airlines have swallowed the loss. United and Delta Airlines honoured mistakenly low fares arising from computer errors in 2013. In the U.S., there is law that prohibits post-purchase price increases by airlines, but not so in Canada.
Even without a law enforcing the purchase, and regardless of whether a booking was made, some buyers are more concerned with the right thing to do.
"We as consumers are forced to abide by Air Canada's terms and conditions every time we fly; why doesn't that go both ways?" Mr. Tarnow asked. "It's clearly stated in their terms that the prices are guaranteed."
At worst, there will be some disgruntled fliers who thought they had, then lost, a pretty good deal, but as Mr. Tarnow put it, "at this point, it's more a matter of principle."