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Error on United Airlines Web site results in free fares

For a brief period earlier today, travelers shopping for fares on were able to book tickets for a $0 base fare.

A United Boeing 767 departs San Francisco International Airport.
Kent German/CNET

For a few travelers earlier Thursday, the United Airlines Web site suddenly became their best friend. That's because for a short period, just about an hour according a Forbes report, was pricing a wide variety of tickets at just $0.

The problem, which reportedly was due to a programming error, started about 11:30 a.m. PT and continued long enough for dozens of people to successfully book the rock bottom fares according to Flyertalk forum. After United noticed the fire sale, it stopped all online booking for at least an hour.

Some users on the forum reported booking multiple tickets, including Washington, D.C. to Honolulu and San Francisco to Newark, N.J., for nothing. Indeed, CNET talked to one buyer who was able to book a round-trip transcontinental flight for $0, which came out to $7.50 after applicable taxes and fees. Though he has yet to hear from United on whether it will honor the ticket, he said that the airline has issued his ticket and his booking shows as confirmed.

Of course, whether the airline will really honor the tickets remains a big question. In July of last year, United canceled a group of tickets after some Web site users were able to book tickets between the United States and Hong Kong for four frequent flyer miles and up to $43 in fees (normally, it takes at least 65,000 miles for a round-trip ticket to Hong Kong in economy class).

When CNET contacted United, a spokeswoman commented only on the Web site error. "One of our filings today contained an error which resulted in certain fares displaying as zero, " wrote Mary Clark in an e-mailed statement. "We have corrected this error."

Update, Friday at 1:40 p.m. PT: The Houston Chronicle reported today that United will honor the fares.