Cathay Pacific

Cyber queue-jumper snapped up HK$100 Cathay tickets while 150,000 waited in line

'Playing around' helped traveller grab HK$100 flights while thousands made futile attempts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 4:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 11:02am

A Hong Kong-based frequent flyer has revealed how he turned cyber-queue jumper, snapping up a pair of cheap Cathay Pacific flights to New York while 150,000 frustrated buyers spent hours trying in vain for a bargain.

Describing the HK$100 flights to some of the world's most desirable destinations as an "amazing deal", the buyer - a lawyer - explained to the Post how he exploited loopholes in Cathay's online ticket system. He asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

Cathay has pledged to investigate, but the buyer's revelations will fuel claims of unfairness after tens of thousands missed out on the cut-price premium economy and business-class tickets offered in a special edition of Cathay's "Fanfares" promotion. Angry customers besieged Cathay's social media sites with tales of waiting for hours only to be told all 2,014 special fares had gone on Tuesday morning.

The savvy traveller, in his 30s, said he was able to find the tickets he wanted by "playing around" with the system after the website told him there were no flights left to New York on his chosen date.

"It's weird because the software was smart enough to tell me the ticket was sold out, but the fact it got me to a booking screen told me the ticket was there but that there was an IT issue preventing the payment from being started," he said.

He realised the web address in his browser showed the information the website was sending to the airline's servers, including the destination, date and fare deal he had chosen.

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Figuring he had nothing to lose, he began typing different numbers in for the fare ID and trying it in a separate browser. With a little trial and error, he was able to get the fare and flight he wanted while other buyers faced "sold out" notices.

"I relied on the fact that the main Fanfares homepage showed you which fares were sold out," the man said. "So I picked a date that wasn't sold out.

"But what surprised me was that I was offered a fare that [was shown as sold out] but was available for selection in the system."

Once he received his confirmation email, he realised his booking and payment had been accepted by the airline.

Cathay, which set up the promotion to celebrate being named the "world's best airline" by British aviation consultancy Skytrax, said it had noted "discussions on social media about the use of improper access in the booking of tickets", which it "took seriously" and would investigate immediately.

The company said it reviewed its procedures after every one of its weekly Fanfare promotions and would do so again.

Explaining his method in more detail, the traveller said: "Because I did it manually rather than automatically clicking a button, it doesn't change the functionality. It wasn't secret administrative access but I was able to do what other people weren't able to do."

The man believes he did nothing illegal as he did not overload or manipulate the system but instead used a loophole within the parameters Cathay had set up.

Leung Siu-cheung, a senior consultant at the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team, said: "He did not hack into the system, he just corrupted the data. He has taken advantage of a grey area."