More airline price gouging in Puerto Rico? Not so fast.

It was another one of those Tweets Heard Round the World and this time it came from pop singer Ricky Martin. He was looking at airline prices for people trying to book a flight out of Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria and got an unpleasant surprise. But as you’ll see below, there was more to the story (or less, actually) than first meets the eye.

Whoa. More than $2,000 for a one way flight to Miami in the middle of an unmitigated humanitarian disaster? That got the Twitter armies up on their collective hind legs and tearing into American Airlines in no time flat. That tweet was retweeted more than 6,000 times and liked 10,500 times in the first day. The Miami Herald picked up on the story and the renewed sense of outrage.

When singer Ricky Martin tweeted a screenshot of $2,000-plus fares from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami, he added his voice to the chorus that sings whenever a natural disaster, frustrated travelers and the economics of airline pricing come together.

Their anthem? “Price Gouging.”


Let’s get straight to the meat of the story because there seems to be no evidence of what Martin is charging. When contacted about these outrageous prices, American Airlines was completely taken aback because they had already put precautions into their automated pricing and ticket sales system to prevent this from happening. In fact, they had capped all flights out of the affected region at bargain basement prices before the airport in Puerto Rico had even reopened. (Marketwatch)

American Airlines claims fares to and from Puerto Rico had been capped at $99 for main cabin seats and $199 for premium cabins through Oct. 1. The fares Martin was seeing must have been outside that date range or not direct flights, a spokesman from American Airlines told MarketWatch. Martin did not respond to request for comment.

George Hobica, founder of flight booking site, previously told MarketWatch that price increases following Hurricane Irma were likely not intentional. “I don’t think airlines would be callous or stupid enough to be consciously jacking up fares,” he said. “If there’s any gouge, it’s just the last minute walk-up airfares that are designed for desperate business fliers.”

Did Ricky Martin punch in a flight date outside of the window of capped prices when checking his phone? Hard to say, and since he wouldn’t respond to a request for comment, we may never know. It’s also possible that people tapping into the system through third party, discount flight apps weren’t seeing the capped prices. But either way, anyone going to actually book the flight would supposedly have seen the maximum rate of either $99 or $199 when they went to make the purchase, at least according to the airlines.

Look, I’m generally suspicious of the major airlines these days under the best of circumstances for a variety of reasons. But even I need to give them credit for being, at a minimum, business savvy if not compassionate. There were issues of price gouging during Hurricane Harvey and the airlines took it on the nose because of that debacle. If any of the major carriers turned around now and attempted to jack up their rates during Maria they should be charged with criminal stupidity rather than any sort of price gouging scheme. The peasants would have been marching to burn them at the stake as soon as Puerto Rico dries out enough to actually light a match.

If American Airlines is putting as many planes in the air as they can possibly manage and offering flights out for less than one hundred dollars to the general public, then I say good for them. This is no time to be grandstanding in either direction, and people need to get out of there whether it’s by sea or air. Keep Puerto Rico in your prayers. The worst isn’t over yet in terms of the recovery.

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