Bait-and-switched into booking a summer “bargain”? Then read this


Now you see those summer travel deals. Now you don’t.

Spike Spencer knows what that’s like. He just tried to book a four-night tour online from Icelandair, advertised at $1,073, including flights. But as soon as he selected his vacation, the price jumped to $2,600.

He complained to Icelandair, and it claimed the price was “neither a discrepancy nor a problem.” The company simply ran out of the $1,073 vacation packages.

“When you’re advertising something for a price and there’s a limited number of trips, it’s a bait-and-switch if you don’t have them,” says Spencer, a writer based in Los Angeles. “At least that’s my opinion.”

Michael Raucheisen, an Icelandair spokesman, confirmed that some of the airline’s vacations were in short supply. “Our packages are very popular and they do sell out pretty quickly,” he noted.

Most customers know that when it comes to online sales, timing is everything. But crack open the hood on the travel industry’s deal-marketing machine, and you’ll uncover even more.

I know, because I caught a glimpse of it in the crossfire between two enormous online travel agencies and lived to tell the story. In fact, online deals are often so elusive that you shouldn’t count on anything until you have a written confirmation.

What you see on the Internet isn’t always what you get. Who hasn’t clicked on a deal, only to be confronted with a pop-up window that says it’s sold out, but you can book at a higher price?

My adventure as a virtual war correspondent began with an e-mail from a large online travel agency. It claimed one of its competitors wasn’t playing fair. Its most incendiary accusation: that the competitor was advertising low but un-bookable airfares through Google ads. Clicking on the banner would take you to a search wizard, not the actual fare. Classic bait-and-switch.

I asked the competitor about the charges, and it quickly fired back, insisting the accusations were “false and defamatory.” When the customer clicks on the link, it noted, they would be directed to the flight listing page, which would display flights offered at that price for that route.

The competitor then launched a counter-offensive, pointing out that the online travel site leveling the accusations against it was guilty of the same thing. It sent screenshots to prove it.

What’s more, the accused online agency added, its competitor employed hard-sell tactics to persuade you to book quickly. It would tell someone who just finished a search to “Book now and don’t miss out on the price.”

As I reviewed these allegations, it struck me that the bag of tricks online agencies use to entice you into buying a seemingly inexpensive ticket, hotel room or rental car are expanding. No wonder the Transportation Department is flexing its regulatory muscle with a new proposal to add a series of new rules that, among other changes, would require better disclosure of fees and surcharges from online travel agencies.

Sure, a too-popular vacation package sold online by an airline and the day-to-day tricks online agencies use to persuade you to book a ticket are not exactly the same thing. But to travelers who often don’t know, or don’t care, about the difference between a direct booking and an agency booking, they are one and the same: frustrating.

I’ll hand it to Icelandair. Raucheisen says if Spencer’s package was completely unavailable, the airline “would have taken the Web page down.”

But is it asking too much to require that anyone selling an airline ticket, hotel room or rental car actually make good on its advertised price?

Should online prices be regulated better by the government?

View Results

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A few tips to get the best deals

Don’t be the last to know. Sign up for e-mail notifications or follow an airline or hotel on social media for real-time deals. Southwest Airlines offers an app called “Ding,” which alerts you to discounts at your home airport.

Don’t be indecisive. Discounted fares are in limited supply, and once they’re gone, there’s no bringing them back. Be prepared to take advantage of a sale as quickly as possible.

Don’t count on it until it’s confirmed. Prices can change up until the last booking screen. Your “deal” isn’t a deal until you have a confirmation number.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    as long as people are “deal hungry” there will be “bait and switch.” do you have to buy it? no.
    click the little x and close the page.

    then go to the actual site and book a normal ticket.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m just wondering how it would work in real life. Unlike most tangible goods, there is a finite number of seats on a plane. Even if every seat was for the advertised price at some point you run out and there simply aren’t any more seats.

    If this is a problem, and I don’t know that it is, I’m not sure how to resolve it. My first thought was that each flight would have to have some percentage of seats at that price. But that doesn’t make sense.Each flight has different dynamics and it doesn’t make sense to try to force them to fit the same pricing model.

    I’m out of ideas.

  • backprop

    “When you’re advertising something for a price and there’s a limited
    number of trips, it’s a bait-and-switch if you don’t have them,” says
    Spencer, a writer based in Los Angeles. “At least that’s my opinion.”

    And we all know what opinions are like…. ;)

  • SumGuyOnline

    I don’t know if we can still call these deceptive, since everybody knows about them. A wide variety of businesses – including retailers – use these limited-quantity “doorbusters” to entice people to buy. But I still don’t like it and generally avoid the practice.
    If an airline or vacation packager needs to boost sales for a particular route/destination, wouldn’t make more sense to offer a smaller but broader discount for a fixed advertised time period? You can then advertise it more widely, make more people happy and cut out the stress and frustration of trying to get a deal that is always just out of reach.
    This certainly works in my own business.

  • BillCCC

    The government should set and enforce regulations on business. Leave the pricing to the marketplace. I am not quite sure how a company can create more of a product once they run out? However in the case of web based advertising there should be a regulation that once a deal can no longer be purchased it should not be advertised.

  • TonyA_says

    I bet the advertisement said FROM $1073 or another amount.
    Any why all this clamor for more government regulations? Don’t we have more than enough already?

  • Cheryl Emerson

    They should sell what they advertise. The tiny script that many miss is “flights or packages starting at” you red $69 and when it appears they left out the 2 in front of the 69!

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Frustrating, yes… But I see it a bit like door busters on Black Friday. There are only a limited number at that price. As long as they tell you that right away when you click (and don’t waste your time making you fill in any fields at all), I’m OK with it.

  • MarkKelling

    Most of these types of advertisements I see all say “from” or “starting at” the amount quoted. Nearly every one has no availability at that price for the dates and times I (and most people) want. Can I still find the advertised price for the offer? Sometimes, but I have to fly on a Thursday when the moon is full and go the wrong way around the world. Is it deceptive to advertise these prices? Depends on your point of view. If the advertisement is on some pop up on a web page, even the airline’s own page, I don’t think so as long as the wording includes that all important “starting at” verbiage and there is some availability of the offer even at a higher price and there was actually initial availability at the advertised price.

    Now if you have gone through the entire purchasing process and on the last page where you enter your credit card info and then the price goes up – that is a problem. It has happened to me and is very annoying. Once a purchaser has selected a price in the booking system, that should be locked in until the transaction is completed or canceled.

  • jim6555

    If there is going to be government regulation of advertised travel packages, here is how I believe the providers should be required to set up their marketing campaigns and sales sites:

    1. STATE THE FULL DEAL IN THE ONLINE AD: (example) Los Angeles (LAX), 7 days 6 nights from JFK or Boston $1,500 pp. Includes r/t airfare, 6 nights at any Best Western hotel (double occupancy) in S. California and a Fox Rent-A-Car compact car with 100 free miles per day. Valid any departure date Sept. 10 – Oct. 15, 2014. Must return by Oct. 22.

    2. LANDING PAGE: Clicking on the ad will take you to a landing page which will show how many air seats and ground packages are still available for the promotion from each departure city along with availability of return flights. It would also inform traveler of terms and conditions such as the minimum age for rental car drivers and the need for a credit card at hotels to pay for incidentals.
    3. BOOKING PAGE: Traveler is now able to book flights, make hotel reservations, upgrade car, etc. If traveler attempts to book the advertised vacation at this point and is told that inventory is only available at a higher price, a required notice on the page will provide information on how to launch a complaint with government regulators.

    Perhaps a system such as this will finally bring order to chaos.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    The government cracks down on bait and switch tactics in buying cars. Or at least is supposed to do so. This falls into that same category – “truth in advertising” which we all talked about not too long ago on another article. I think there are laws in place already to handle this, but nothing specific, such as what @jim6555:disqus has proposed. I like that idea, but am afraid it will be enforced about as well as dealer advertisements for cars that just happened to have sold minutes after the ad was placed.

  • Travelnut

    Just thought I’d let you know that I keep getting kicked over to the App Store to an app called Jewel Mania. (I’m on my iPad, using Safari.) It’s happened four times. Signing off before it happens the fifth time!

  • bodega3

    Most pricing is based on double occupancy. So based on that, plus taxes, his pricing seems right in the ball park for two people traveling together on this package. Now if it was just one person, then the pricing would still be higher as the single occupancy rate kicks in. I notice we are not told if there is one or two people being booked for the package.
    As for truth in advertising, I am chuckling as this site is known for the daily headline not being exactly truthful to get readers in and then there is the poll. Is this the pot calling the kettle black?

  • bodega3

    Yes, there will be only a limited number…always has been that way. Nothing new.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think its very case specific, i.e depends on what the alternatives are. I remember during the height of the Great Recession, commuter flights to LA plummeted. Flights that had previously gone for $370RT were averaging $68, and occasionally $58. That’s how low they had to drop the price to fill the plane.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I have had the opposite experience. The prices have been for very reasonable times. Perhaps, not when I wanted to fly, but my experiences have generally been positive for finding sale prices.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • bodega3

    Even your suggested landing page can’t guarantee anything until the package is booked. In our GDS, I can’t tell you how many times I clicked on two seats but by the time I get all the other information added, and now with all the new security information we have to add before ending the reservation this takes even longer, I lose those seats and the price comes back higher.

  • bodega3

    That happened during the Persian Gulf war. NOBODY wanted to travel. Southwest got the ball rolling with $19 and $29 fares. I got on the phone and sold a lot of travel with air, car and hotel. Funny how a price like that will make people consider what they weren’t considering before!

  • Steven Reynolds Tewes

    Is it unreasonable to think that once the supply of packages, airline tickets, whatever, is exhausted at an advertised price, perhaps the ads for it should be taken down?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Perhaps. But the difficultly, at least me for, is when the package is only slightly exhausted. Ok. I made up that term. Say, you’re advertising a special. The special is sold out on Monday, but plenty of availability on Tuesday? Do you still advertise?

  • bodega3

    Excellent example. Agents can hold packages, and if we release the space due to no deposit, that inventory often goes back in. So what is not there right now, could be there in even a few minutes.

  • TonyA_says

    site quite unusable on samsung tablet

  • Miami510

    This is an old ploy with which consumer protection agencies have had problems. I remember meeting someone who worked for a well-known cruise company who told me about their advertising cruises “starting at $___.”

    She told me, on a huge ship carrying thousands of passengers, there were only a handful of cabins at that price and they were always kept for employees or relatives of employees of the cruise company.

    Honesty would dictate a seller state, “Limited supply,” but as Mr. Farrow has written, ultimately everything has a limitation. The disappointment arises when, in the writers case, they are told no seats are available “at that price,” but other seats are still for sale.

    However, I can recall a retailer, having run out of an item, gave shoppers a coupon to buy the product at the sale price at a later time.

  • TonyA_says

    So who is lying?

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Absolutely agree with your second paragraph, Mark. I’m inclined not to trust that company and don’t even look at them in the future.

  • Caseyg

    As bad as the travel industry is Gov attempts to “fix” it will only result in more problems. The Gov can’t get anything right no reason to think it would be different for the travel industry

  • LFH0

    The problem I see is that the “full” deal could be so complicated that it would defeat the purpose of advertising. Tariffs and contracts have all the details, and should be readily accessible to anyone contemplating such a deal. But I don’t think printed advertisements are the place for the fine print.

  • LFH0

    True. We already have law that prohibits bait-and-switch. It is the duty of the victim to make a claim against the carrier. There’s no need for more law where there is already adequate law.

  • LFH0

    When I’ve sailed on the mega-cruiseships, I’ve always booked the bottom rung without problem. It is invariably a “guarantee,” rather than a specifically-identified, stateroom, but I’ve never encountered a situation on a cruise line where the lowest advertised fare for a particular departure is unavailable. And while I haven’t done an exhaustive search on cruise line advertisements of “fares from x dollars,” when I have I found those advertisements to be true and available.

  • LFH0

    As to a particular scheduled flight, indeed there is a fixed inventory of seats (though carriers do sell additional tickets by overbooking). But if carrier does not impose a temporal limit, then theoretically the are an infinite number of seats available (the computers do impose temporal limits–usually no booking more than a year or so in advance–but even that practical temporal limit should allow any carrier to make good on having transportation available at that super-low price).

    Perhaps Megabus and Boltbus do their advertising more accurately, where they simply promise that there is at least one seat available on every bus departure for $1, and neither claim that any passenger will in fact be able to snare that $1 seat.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I think that ‘special’ rates needs to be disclosed such as “10 rooms left at this price”; “This is a special rate and is subject to availability”; “Limited number of seatsroomspackagesetc. at this rate” and etc. I have received ‘special ratesdeals’ offers from companies like Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Disney, etc. where it was clearly disclosed that the special deal was limited and/or subject to availability.

    Personally, I know that there is a limited supply of hotel rooms and airline seats; therefore, special rates even such as the AAA rate for a hotel is limited. However, most people do not know there is a limited amount of discounted faresrooms for a specific dayrouteetc; therefore, a disclosure should be on all communications (i.e. webpage, e-mail, direct mail flyer, etc.).

    I think that there is a difference between travel providers like Icelandair which ran out of packages and unethical travel providers who operate on bait and switch model…the packagedealetc. never existed. They used low prices to draw in the price shoppers in order to flip them into more expensive packages.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I think that the answer is ‘disclosure’ such as “this is a steep discounted package and there is limited supply at this price for these departure dates, etc.”; “there are 100 packages available at this rate” or “limited supply – subject to availability” or “10 fares left at this price”.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    There is a difference between issuing a rain check for a can of soup that can be manufactured in an infinite supply at your local grocery store to issuing a rain check for a flight or a hotel room with a finite supply.

    The purpose of travel deals is to fill up empty airline seats and hotel rooms. That is the business model for Priceline and…reselling empty hotel rooms.

  • JH

    An FAA requirement for simply programming the take-down of a sold-out offer is not rocket science. You run out of apples and you push your cart home. You run out of airline tickets SF-NYC round trip for $400 and the instant the last ticket is sold the offer is terminated from wherever it was offered. If something occurs and the offer remains for longer than a few seconds, the seller either makes good at the sale price or else is fined by the FAA at whatever amount the seller would make as profit for 30 days (similar to 30 days in jail
    for the individual convicted of a DUI.) Second offense for ticket seller is six months of
    its profits, possible removal of its license to do business in the U.S. and imprisonment for 3-5 years of CEO, CFO, COO. It occurs to me that that might solve the problem.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I think that it is very clear…”From” which mean the ratefareetc. starts there (i.e. during the high season, the price will be higher); Per Person – Double occupancy…which means that you double it.

    Over the 10+ years that I have been reading this blog, I have made comments that if Chris (or his team of volunteers) went to the websites first to research…they might get a different side of the story like the travel provider isn’t evil, trying to rip off the person, etc…actually, the problem is with the traveler.

    I can still recall the story about that a person book a non-refundable room at a Marriott brand hotel in Florida in order to watch the launching of the space shuttle. The launch was either cancelled or postponed and the person claimed that the website failed to disclose that the rate was non-refundable, etc. As a person that books room every week for several years at the Marriott website, I knew that his statement was BS. The bottom line was he went with the cheapest rate and lost when the space shuttle launched was cancelled.

    The agreement that they will use is that Icelandair changed their website after Chris contacted them. I doubt that a ‘public’ company like Icelandair doesn’t disclose; doesn’t use ‘From’, limited supply, etc. in their pricing; etc. More importantly, there are tools out there that you can see a cached version of a website so that you can see what was there in the past.

  • bodega3

    The offer can be good for a season and is base on availability. If you plug in your dates and it isn’t available, you usually will get the next best pricing. Move your dates and you might get it. Also, what isn’t good right now might be good in 10 minutes if someone decides not to take the last available space that they are holding.

  • mythsayer

    In this era of computers, the seller has to know when there are no more seats at the advertised price. As soon as they are booked, the online ads should be gone. The print ads can say there are limited amounts but there is no excuse for taking someone all the way through the booking process (as in you click on the deal, pick your dates and any other options that are included [such as different hotels of same rating]) a and then see the higher price only on the payment page. If the deal is available on other dates, you should be told that when you pick your dates or given option to continue on the higher price. I just don’t see an excuse for continuing to advertise deals that are sold out online. I think the print ads should be changed as soon as practicable. I don’t know that it needs to be regulated, but I do feel like there is some liability for bait and switch.

  • JH

    Yes. It’s called shopping and you are correct in how it works. But I’m talking about the seller leaving his great price up when there are no more tickets/spaces left to sell at sale price to get shopper that would not otherwise click on the ad. Then shopper is switched to current, higher rice. By being slow to withdraw the sale price, the seller is guilty of bait-and-switch.

  • bodega3

    Thanks…I know how it works as I sell travel.

  • bodega3

    All carriers departing from a US airport are suppose to offer at least one seat on every flight that a sale fare is advertised for. Once that one seat sells out, you move on up the fare ladder. For tour packages, which the OP was booking, the class of service may or may not be a class of service regular published fares are booked in.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    How would that work? There are 10 flights from point A to B on Monday. The first one of the day is sold out of the special. But the remaining 9 flights have the special. Can it still be advertised? What about if only one flight has the special left?

    The computer doesn’t know that you wanted the first flight until you tell it. Until then, advertising the special is appropriate because other people may want it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m a big proponent of making an adequate disclosure such that the consumer can make an informed decision. After that, let the consumer decide.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But as stated, its more complicated than that.

    A particular route may have 100 seats and based upon projections they offer 40 seats at the discounted rate. Those 40 seats are quickly sold, but don’t sell as many higher priced seats as expected, so the computer makes another 10 seats available for the discounted price. This happens dynamically.

  • JH

    It is complicated, but a computer that can be programmed to add 10 seats because of lack of sales can also be programmed to drop all advertising should the sale sell out. But it may b up to the middle man — agents and online agencies, to have programs that act immediately and automatically to remove offers that are no longer valid.

    Gosh, if programmers can make an F-18 fighter jet taker off and land land itself, can zero in on targets below the horizon, can tell the pilot in his language of dangers close by, where enemy missiles are, and so on, it seems to me it is relatively wimple to program for selling.

    And Bodega — I meant nothing insulting to you personally.

  • bodega3

    Thank you, I wasn’t taking that way, just letting you know I sell travel so you knew where I was coming from.
    Inventory gets adjusted as space allows and all is capacity controlled. Fare rules will actually state how many tickets may be sold at that price. I have worked for a tour company and our fares or fare rules would change daily, sometimes more than once a day. It isn’t as simple as you want it to be. FYI, airline tour companies are separate offices, often operated by a different company under the airline’s umbrella,from general reservations.
    With airline packages, you input your specific dates and for those, the needed class of service may not be available. You don’t see the class of service needed, or the space available on other flights unless you put in new dates. If you put in for 4 people, it won’t tell you only 2 are available. That is pretty common across the board for packages, but not for air only with some online sites. As an agent, I will call and ask the tour desk what class of service is needed for the lower air, what the rules are, be it days of week, time of day, etc., then I go to my GDS look for the space, then make the reservation, adjusting the dates if needed.
    I just can’t see your scenario of an advertised price being removed because your airport doesn’t have the space needed on the flight you want on that day.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Maybe, I suspect you are right about the middle man. But it still leaves this issue: There are ten flights from Point A to Point B. One flight is sold out of the special sale. The other 9 flights have the sale. The advertisement is still valid.

  • mythsayer

    But that’s only if there really ARE specials left. Let’s say they don’t tell you a range of dates or the range is so large, you’re left to guess. Should someone really have to plug in date after date after date? Wouldn’t it be easier to do what airlines do (usually) and specify dates the specials are for? At least then you can search for available specials. If it’s just a random advertisement and the restrictions are so onerous that you’d literally be guessing (ie this week you have to leave on a Tuesday but some other week it was never available and another again it’s only on thursday departures). That’s why I said if you click on the ad and the dates you pick ARE NOT available for the dates you picked, you should be informed of that immediately. The reality, though, is that a lot of booking places take you all the way through… You’ve already put your info (name and everything but final payment) and only the tell you it’s not available. I think it’s on the company to say WHEN the specials are available. I shouldn’t have to guess and start over only to get back to final screen just to find out my new dates don’t work either. It’s super easy for a company to say that the special is still available, but short of sitting for hours and plugging in dates only to never find a special, it would be easier to say “sorry, totally sold out” or “not this date, but I’ve found the special on these dates”. That would be totally easy for a computer program.

  • mythsayer

    Also, I don’t believe that special WAS available. The guy from the airline first said (and I’m assuming this was what was said based on what Chris wrote) that they’d run out of that special… And then he contradicted himself by saying they’d have stopped that particular ad if it was totally gone. And the OP apparently contacted icelandair… Don’t you think if that package was available at all they’d have told him what dates it was still good for? Not saying you’re entitled to your special date… But I bet given the choice of $2600 vs $1073 on a different date, most would be flexible. This guy didn’t say he could only go one the original dates. It shouldn’t be up to the consumer to find the special if it’s like looking for a needle and a haystack. How easy would it be for a company to claim the special was still available even if it wasn’t without some kind of information that would allow you to book it? Most airlines give you either specific dates their specials are good for, or they say probably mid week from this date through this other date. That at least gives you enough info to do specific and targeted searches. But if the as just says “SPECIAL” I literally have to search every possible date to find that one remaining date I can go.

  • bodega3

    And it probably wasn’t a bait and switch, just someone who doesn’t know how to read the full offer, nor understands that the price doesn’t just apply to his dates.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Tons of stuff. I apologize if I miss some

    Wouldn’t it be easier to do what airlines do (usually) and specify dates the specials are for? At least then you can search for available specials

    I see that as more of the quality of customer service then a legal issue. For example, I refuse to patronize Yahoo travel because it’s interface is absolutely crappy.

    You’ve already put your info (name and everything but final payment) and only the tell you it’s not available.

    I agree that’s not cool. You should have all relevant information and especially final price before any information is required. I am happy with the law enforcing such a provision.

    I think it’s on the company to say WHEN the specials are available

    Again, I see that as a customer service issue that doesn’t require the weight of the law.

  • GG

    I answered the poll with a yes. But I am assuming that the vacation package (as advertised) was for *one* person (with no “single supplement” charge for the hotel) and Mr. Spencer was booking only for *one*.

    Otherwise, things are complicated. Sometimes I see a great (air ticket) price available for one or two seats. Book three, the price for all seats goes up. (Cheaper fare had only two more seats left. Al tickets on the same booking should have the same fare class. So booking three or more, automatically puts you in the higher fare class). This would not be a bait and switch.

    That said, my favorite airlines always puts in red: “Limited Seats Available” when such a scenario is likely to happen. They advise you to put in the exact number of passengers when doing a fare search. So far they have kept their word on that: If I put in the exact number of passengers, the fare shown up during a search is the fare I get to book.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The question for me, should that be a legal matter or is the market a sufficient mechanism to sort that out?

    A few years ago I was invited to participate in the Starwood Preferred Guest Advisory Committee. Probably my single biggest gripe was that it was difficult to find out which dates a given rate was available. It was a PITA to discern. Enough support was gathered and it was implemented in the next version of the SPF website.

    But as much of a PITA it was, I don’t think that a law was the best approach. Just my $0.02

  • bodega3

    I can guarantee, with 100% confidence, that the price advertised WAS NOT for one person. Packages are always based on double occupancy.

  • bodega3

    Should you have to put in date after date? Hummm…YES! The information you see is cached, so until you put in the date, the number of people traveling, the computer won’t have the correct information, which is only correct until you book, as while you are looking, someone else could have snatched it up. The internet is not showing you live availability.

  • mythsayer

    No one should have to input random dates. Specificity is key here. They know full well how many specials are available and what dates they are for. No need to force consumers to go day by day by day. If you want that to be your business model, fine, but then you better be able to show me that the special is actually still available ON SOME DATE if I call to say I can’t find the special anywhere. If you can’t find me the special either, why should I believe it exists?

  • mythsayer

    My very first comment response to you actually basically agreed with you. I said I wasn’t sure regulation was the way to go… And then I said that I thought there might be liability for bait and switch. So basically, I’m saying the consumers SHOULD be the ones enforcing it. I’m particularly bothered by the fact that it seems like even after he called to say he couldn’t find the special, they didn’t find him the special on another date to prove it was actually available. They just said it was… With no proof, why should I believe them? Unfortunately, now we are in the realm of “it’s totally not worth lawsuit.” If a company wants to have the crap customer service website like I mentioned above (and you seem to agree they exist), I’m okay with that. But if I spend a long time searching for a special and finally give up and call, you better believe I want to hear that company tell me when the special still exists. Because if they can’t do that, I do truly believe it’s bait and switch.

    However, again, we already have laws and cases interpreting those laws on bait and switch. What’s an offer? When must it be honored? When is it bait and switch, etc? So basically, this tactic bugs ms, and I do wish there was a way to hold them responsible, but ultimately it’s not worth it for the average consumer. So then I guess we are back at the circular argument of “since it’s too hard for the consumer to really regulate these practices, should we have a law?” We could go on and on all day. And I think I could actually support either argument.

  • mythsayer

    The difference is that you know where to go to get the Black Friday tv. If you get there late, too bad.

    I see this as more of a Walmart ad that says “60 inch tv for $50…. At various stores”. Well, which specific stores? How do I know if I should go to my store or the one down the street? What if it turns out I can’t find anyone who got the tv? How do I know there was ever a deal at all?

    If you want to make the deal hard to locate, be prepared to prove you ever had it at all.

  • mythsayer

    That’s exactly the argument I made above!

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    Spike you’re just too slow (in may regards) on the mark.
    It’s not bait & switch if you can’t get your act together & click fast enough.
    Maybe you should have used a travel agent ?

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    if every seats was same price, that price would be much MUCH higher.
    Do you really want to pay more ?
    Yield management means, there will be some cheaper seats on less popular flights.

  • bodega3

    That is how it works. Don’t like it, call a TA and have them assist you.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    So then I guess we are back at the circular argument of “since it’s too
    hard for the consumer to really regulate these practices, should we
    have a law?”

    This is more of my paradigm than anything else. For me, I require 2 things. Truth-in-advertising and adequate disclosure. Once those two are satisfied, my default is the remainder is merely customer service for which a market-based solution is superior to a legislative one.

    If the airline has the special but the customer is too (pick favorite adjective) to spend the time looking, but expects to be spoon fed, that’s between the customer and the vendor. Put another way, the is no societal interest in good customer service.

    I personally pick vendors that make the shopping experience smoother and easier.

  • ORguest

    Next time you think more govt regulation might be in order, consider this:

    Ten Commandments: 179 words
    Gettysburg Address: 286 words
    Declaration of Independence: 1300 words
    USGovt regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words

    Consumers need to be smarter, and fully understand their travel purchases. Like they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • bodega3

    I suggest using a GDS trained TA for these bookings as we can look at the class of service needed for packages and see what dates are available so much more quickly than you can online. Saves time and stress for you! I have tested the internet for this and it is a pain and very confusing to those who don’t understand how fares work. We can often book last seat availability in the GDS and queue it over to the tour company to have them do the ticketing for the package.

  • Mark Carrara

    As it gets closer to black Friday retail ads will have in small print (for limited items) at least x per store. So if you know there is only five of those super deals you can either go very very early or just skip it. Maybe travel companies should include the number of special rates that are available.

  • Marcin Jeske

    That’s always annoyed me… I think that once you have selected an itinerary and are filling out your details, there should be a sort of courtesy hold for a brief time to allow you to make the transaction.

    Otherwise what you describe is like standing at the checkout counter getting your card out of the wallet… and having some other customer grab what you are holding and quickly swipe their card. (The store then offers you a similar item for twice as much.)

    You seem to accept it as routine… but from my perspective, it is deceptive if a company allows multiple people to start a transaction when only one transaction is possible.

    Worse yet, I have seen the effects of poor updating between the search front-end and the underlying GDS. Search results can include trips that are no longer possible to book, because the results are stale by 10 minutes or even more… yet they still show up, and often let you go through the process of supplying billing details… only to inform you that the booking cannot be made… we can offer you a higher price, or please search again… oh, yeah, we will show the same results again and again, just to frustrate you.

  • Marcin Jeske

    If the rules of your promotion that a reasonable person needs to know are so complicated that they cannot be explained in advertising… you should reconsider that promotion.

    Either you will frustrate your customers… or you are trying to fool and cheat them.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Well… from your image… icelandair is lying… it does not offer any packages for the prices listed. A single person traveling has to pay more, and a couple traveling pay double. Including “from” doesn’t really save them… no one ever can book those packages for just $615, $1985, $2099.

    Granted, pretty much every travel company uses this deceptive “per person based on double occupancy” advertising scheme, and we have gotten used to it… but how would you react to:

    – wedding packages, $1000 per newlywed!
    – shoe sale, $50 per shoe! (Must buy two shoes…)
    – Eye glasses $50 per lens.

    You get the idea… it is attracting customers with a low price that does not include required additional charges… don’t get me started on the likely fees and taxes that are also not mentioned.

  • Marcin Jeske

    It might be important to make a distinction between different offered rates and a discount. Usually, AAA is a discount applied to an available rate… you don’t “run out” of AAA discounts, at least until you run out altogether.

    For example, Amtrak gives AAA discounts as a percent off whatever fare is currently offered (except for some promo fares and travel within 3 days).

    Hotels will usually also apply a percentage discount for AAA on whatever rate they advertise.

  • Marcin Jeske

    But they are usually advertised using the “per person” price. That makes the cost seem deceptively low… and single travelers get doubly deceived.

    Why would you advertise something for half the price it will really cost if not to fool people? “Per person” is only reasonable when you have flexibility on the number of people… these package prices are not available for 1 person, 3 people, 4 people, and so on… only for 2 people.

    Responsible businesses should advertise the full price of the package.

  • TonyA_says

    As crazy as it may sound, that’s not lying since they are technically telling the truth :-)

  • Marcin Jeske

    If I sent them a check for $615, the moment they started advertising packages “from $615” and said I didn’t care when I travelled… they would not sell me an advertised package.

    “from $615 per person, based on paying twice as much”

    Yes, there are any number of ways to phrase a statement to technically tell the truth and still deceive. You are absolutely correct, if you are.

    We could have a discussion on the semantics of “lying”, but will you agree they are being deceptive by highlighting a price other than the actual cost of the package? And that most of the travel industry does the same when advertising packages?

    Those offering package tours use this tactic to make their price seem lower than in reality when compared with independently booking a hotel and travel. Would it be acceptable if hotels began to advertise prices like that: Two queens, $50 per person, must pay $100.

    Would you accept prices like that from other retailers? “Couches for $500, must buy two.” Rental car rates from $15 per person per day, based on two renters. Only $300 to paint half your house (must paint whole house). If advertising half the actual price catches on, is the next step smaller fractions? No wait, we already have that: “Your monthly membership only costs $1 a day.”

    How convoluted yet technically true would an advertisement need to be for you to stop defending it?

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

  • bodega3

    Nobody is going to show you live availability regarding air. Not even the airlines. Any transaction online isn’t guaranteed, sometimes not even with a confirmation code. Last year I bought something online with Sears, as they showed they carried the item, which I thought was very strange but since they are well known, I bought through them, not a company I didn’t know. They charged my credit card, they immediately gave me a confirmation code, they even sent me a link to their shipping company to track the order. One problem…they never had the product and nobody in the US had the product as it was not being produced. Sears is acting like Amazon, selling via other vendors through their website.
    Anyway, back to airfare. You get a brief period, to book space and if you take too long, you lose it during the booking process. Considering that space can be accessed world wide and multiple people hit the access at the same time, with cached space, fastest one wins!

  • Lindabator

    Not to mention that I may have grabbed that seat, and am holding it, but then later change my mind and do not purchase. So then it IS available yet again.

  • Lindabator

    Doesn’t work the same with an airlines — when they announce a fare sale, it can be for a variety of city pairs, dates and times. JUST because the one you want isn’t available doesn’t mean they don’t have other options.

  • Lindabator

    FAA already ALLOWS the ads provided there is one seat at that price — which is why they may advertise, even if the ONE flight you want is NOT available any longer.

  • Lindabator

    And THAT is what these folks do NOT understand. Happens all the time!

  • Lindabator

    Because most people DO travel in pairs, but NOT as couples — knowing what each person is paying is important to most folks, and they don’t like having to do the math themselves.

  • Freehiker

    It’s insane how many people want the government to have MORE control and get involved in all aspects of their lives.

  • bodega3

    Package prices are always based on double occupancy with a single supplement cost unless the travel is being promoted for singles.

  • bodega3

    Some hotels do charge more based on numbers, other not. We sell travel and see it all. If you want to open your own travel business and advertise your prices you way, so for it. But how it is done has been done with way for decades. No deception, just many going online for cheapest price and not bothering to read the rules.

  • bodega3

    How difficult is the rule, ‘Based on double occupancy”? Sad that people don’t like being told the rules and want it their way.

  • bodega3

    So many of these posts just have me shaking my head. The internet brings out such craziness and arm chair quarterbacking!

  • BillCCC

    Sorry to disappoint you.

  • BillCCC

    I have no idea what you are trying to say but your use of capital letters has won the day.

  • bodega3

    Don’t take it personally, so many think they know who things should happen due to the internet and don’t want to understand how things actually work.

  • BillCCC

    It must have been my craziness coming out when I was sitting in my arm chair. Imagine having the audacity to post an opinion without being an expert in the field. Just to be safe, what was it about the post that made you thing it was crazy and that I don’t want to understand things?

  • Marcin Jeske

    You know, I can’t find any actual statistics, but my intuition says you have it backwards…

    My guess (based on observation) is that for most vacation travel, where package tours would be used, couples dominate, followed by parents with children, followed by single travelers, followed by groups, followed by pairs (not in a romantic relationship).

    For overall travel, singles are probably higher as business trips skew the results.

    Your suggestion, that displaying half the actual price of a package is motivated by clarity for those friends splitting a hotel room, could make sense in a world where two friends traveling together was the most common arrangement. On the last few package tours I was on, the one or two pairs were the exception, not the norm.

    And it pricing is shown this way for the convenience of friends traveling together, why don’t taxis, rental cars, and hotels also extend them this courtesy?

    Either way, you have to do math… either dividing by two for the price per person, or multiplying by two to know how much you owe. Please don’t pretend you don’t know why package tours chose the lower number… to make their product seem cheaper than it really is.

  • Marcin Jeske

    What you describe is different… selling an item not in stock, they made a mistake by showing it available (another peeve for another time). (By the way, I don’t know about Sears, but Amazon does somewhat inform you whether a product is being sold by them or by a third-party seller.)

    I was talking about letting someone else buy something while you are in the process of purchasing. This applies both to consumers buying for themselves on a OTA as well as TAs using a GDS… I have worked with complex, multi-layered database-backed systems in other fields, and it is quite possible to guarantee that only one user at a time enters the final booking process for a given seat or set of seats. And synchronizing status across multiple systems is also doable.

    While it is true that millions of people may be searching for airline tickets at any one moment, the chances that more than a handful are trying to book one particular fare on a flight at the same time are tiny… so queueing them up is no great burden. And please, any argument that “this is just the way things are done” will fall on deaf ears here.

  • Marcin Jeske

    I think you may be replying to the wrong comment. LFH0 wrote: “the ‘full’ deal could be so complicated that it would defeat the purpose of advertising”.

    I was responding to that, the idea that a promotion has so many rules and exceptions that it cannot be adequately advertised, not to our separate discussion about package tours obscuring the full price of a package by division.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Yes, but hotels use an extra-person fee or a similar device… they do not advertise half the price to make the room seem cheap. (Though, I do also object if the extra-person supplement is sufficiently hidden. I have seen a few hotels show the single (or double)-occupancy prices for rooms even when you have already said you are looking for 2 (or 3) people. Expedia is also notorious for throwing in the extra-person supplement only at the final payment screen.)

    A hotel will absolutely sell me a room for the single price. A package tour will not… they will almost always reveal a “single supplement” which is often just shy of the per-person price. (Yes, you can tell I travel by myself not infrequently, and get annoyed by these tactics.)

    This has nothing to do with me wanting to “advertise your prices your way”… this is the same as airlines hiding “plus taxes and fees” which constitute more than the price of the ticket, the same as required resort fees, the same as shopping channels highlighting “only $99.99” while mumbling “for each of 12 installment payments, plus outrageous shipping and handling fees”.

    You are defending the same people who insist in saying $99.99 because it’s “less than a hundred dollars.” Whether it fools only a few people or many, it is deceptive, manipulative, and “everybody does it” is no excuse for not working to correct it.

    Many things “done for decades” are wrong and should be changed… and deceptive advertising is something everyone in the industry should combat.

  • bodega3

    Please let the GDS companies know your secret.

  • bodega3

    Glad you know how it works. Open up a travel business and make the big bucks :-)

  • bodega3

    You sound bitter. Sorry for all the deception but when you open up your business, do share your advertising ideas.

  • bodega3

    In travel, we hear opinions on how people want things to work because they don’t like what they have to deal with now that they are doing it on their own. Change happens, but many things have a reason for how they work and many don’t want to read or learn about it, just want it their way.