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Here's some good news: It's apparently illegal for airlines to advertise fares that either don't exist or you have no reasonable chance of booking.
Case in point: $59 tickets Southwest Airlines was promising for flights from Atlanta to Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles last fall. On Thursday, the federal Department of Transportation fined Southwest $200,000 — or 3,390 of those $59 flights — finding that "Southwest did not have any seats available for $59 between Atlanta and any of the three quoted cities on any of the applicable travel dates."
The phantom fares — Southwest blamed an error in its TV ads — actually cost the airline $300,000, since the DOT reinstated a $100,000 fine levied against Southwest earlier in 2013. In the July 2013 case, the DOT suspended half of the $200,000 fine on the condition that Southwest not violate the same rule again for one year. "Consumers have rights, and DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.