Kathi McGaffigan and Bruce Nordqusit’s upcoming Italy cruise on the Celebrity Constellation came with an unpleasant surprise just a few days before they set sail. The company discovered a pricing error and reset their rate from $999 per person to $1,549, and although it apologized for the mistake, it insisted on charging the couple the difference.

These pricing errors — often called “fat finger” fares — are not uncommon in travel. I’ve written about them several times, and I generally believe a company has the right to fix a legitimate price mistake.

But this didn’t fit the traditional definition of a “fat finger” rate, and Celebrity had no business changing their price at the last minute.

McGaffigan explains,

The original cost for the cruise was $1,549 a person. However, I talked to customer service, asking to be upgraded to a concierge room and wondering if there were any discounts available on the cruise.

We were moved to a concierge room. She said we were listed as age 46 to 54 and wondered if one of us was age 55 or older. I replied we were both 55 years old or older. She said we could get the “Senior Special 55 Years or Older” rate of $999 per person. We agreed to that rate and she sent me written confirmation of the revised rate and that we had a $853 credit on our account. We have been planning to use the $853 for our excursions and on-board expenditures.

I looked at my on-line account yesterday and noticed the rate has been changed from $999 a person back to $1,549 a person! I called today and requested the rate be changed back to $999 explaining I have written confirmation of that price and we’ve been planning for that price. This is a huge financial impact less than 10 days from sailing.

The Resolution Department supervisor, Crystal, says it was their mistake in sending the email to me confirming the $999 rate but they will never honor the $999 a person rate.

I suggested McGaffigan contact Celebrity in writing, explain the situation and show them the confirmation with the $999 rate. She did.

Several hours after I emailed several of the Celebrity Cruise key contacts, the CEO’s assistant called me at work. She said Mr Hanrahan had read my email and requested that she check into the problem. She was calling to let me know she would contact me on Friday with more information and apologized for the situation. She called Friday and said it was their error and they would honor the price of $999 a person and the $853 would be credited to our on-board account to be used for excursions.

Celebrity shouldn’t have balked at honoring the discount. After all, the couple was already paying the full fare, and it was just throwing in $853 of shipboard credit as a price adjustment.

Having a $999 confirmed rate in writing really helped the couple in this case. If Celebrity had just made a verbal offer of the cabin upgrade and credit, I think it would have turned out very differently.

(Photo: T. Kelly/Flickr Creative Commons)