Is this enough compensation? How much is that fat-finger mistake worth? By Christopher Elliott | October 11, 2011 Gretchen Kenney thought the $232 a night rate at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club was pretty darned good, considering that Marriott’s own website showed the same two-bedroom unit at $589 a night. But not too good to be true. Ah, but it was. After Kenney phoned the online travel agency, Oyster.com, to confirm the rate and then booked the Marriott property and received an email confirmation, she waited patiently for a Marriott confirmation number. It never came. When she contacted Oyster.com by phone, she was told there was an “error” in her reservation and that the company would offer her a $100 Visa gift card for the trouble. I told them regardless of their mistake they needed to honor the rate that was published and booked. She put me on hold and came back on with a $200 Visa gift card. I told her the matter of them offering a gift card was pointless, that I wanted my confirmed rate, room type and nothing less. Related: In today’s edition of the smarter consumer, find out how to fix your customer service problem in real time. Fat-finger rates — which is what these kinds of errors are called in the biz — happen from time to time. But they aren’t all the same. • Implausible fat-finger rates are so obviously wrong that no reasonable person would book them. I’m talking about the 20 cents for the $2,000-a-night suite at the Four Seasons. Obviously, they missed a couple of decimal points! • Plausible fat-finger rates like a $99 fare that normally goes for $299 is believable to the average traveler or travel agent. I think travelers who book these rates have a much stronger leg to stand on when a travel company pulls the rug out from underneath them. There’s a group of hard-core frequent travelers out there who think a company should honor every price, no matter how erroneous — or absurd. They share information about fat-finger errors with each other, exploiting these obvious mistakes. They are wrong, and I will not advocate for them. But Kenney’s case is different. She found the rate error through a normal online search and made multiple attempts to confirm the rate’s legitimacy before booking it. Oyster also made a few mistakes, including waiting until only a few weeks before her trip — indeed, until it was prompted by her — to disclose she didn’t have a reservation. When was it planning to share this important detail with her? I wish there was a lesson to be learned from this, but even a confirmation from your online travel agency doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. I wonder what would have happened if Kenney had showed up at the Ko Olina Beach Club with her Oyster reservation? Would it have turned her away? I asked Oyster.com to review her file, and it did. A representative contacted her and doubled the offer to $400. In the meantime, since Kenney’s Hawaii trip was just around the corner, she had secured accommodations elsewhere. I think the $400 offer is pretty decent of Oyster.com. I checked with Kenney, and she said the true cost of the incident is closer to $650 — $400 to cover the additional cost and $250 for her time. But in the end, she accepted the $400 offer. (Photo: jwin fred/Flickr) Christopher ElliottChristopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus http://jpportz.livejournal.com/ Jeremy The $250 cost “for her time” is silly. If the difference in price was actually $400 and that’s what Oyster ended up offering – that seems completely reasonable. I think I would have taken $200 in that situation – e.g. splitting the cost of the mistake halfway between vendor and myself. Anna $400 seems right. larry The so called value of her time is why I would not have wasted my time helping her with this issue. $16635417 $400 is more than fair. She knew she was not confirmed from the beginning and played them. Raven_Altosk $400 is more than enough. Besides, her claim that she needs $250 for “her time” just makes me see her as a self-important clown who doesn’t deserve help with her travel issues. Either that, or a con artist. Is she one of these people who trolls sites looking for fat finger deals and then garners gift cards and perks when they turn out to be unavailable? …and she cancelled the room? Huh? What is she paying elsewhere? emanon256 The fact that she was comparing their rate to Marriott Rate and calling them to confirm it, makes it sound like she was in fact aware it was a fat finger rate. I am curious what Oyster said when she called to confirm it? I think if she called up front to confirm the rate, she should have some sort of confirmation and they should honor it. Are there any more details about this? I am quite impressed with Oyster’s offer, no one seems to be so generous these days. With them now giving $400, I would have kept the reservation with them, rather than going elsewhere, so I would be giving them business still. Not taking the money and running as it sounds like she did. I do occasionally run across a rate that seems too good to be true on-line, and I always run the other way. It’s a sign of bad things to come. I remember one year I decided to go into the city for New Year’s Eve (From Long Island) and I found a nice hotel near Times Square on hotels.com for $150 a night, when every other travel site had it for $350. I knew if I booked that, I would end up stranded on New Year’s Eve. When something sounds too good to be true, it is. john4868 I normally come done on the side of a business in most of Chris’s disputes but he would put me in the “renegade” group on this one. I simply hold a business to the same standard they hold me. If this was a non-refundable reservation, as soon as they charged my card, they owe me a room at our agreed rate. If I had made the mistake and fat-fingered the date, the hotel / travel agency isn’t going to give me my money back so why should I when they do the same thing. In this case, she did everything correctly to include calling to confirm it wasn’t a fat-finger rate. If they charged her card for the deposit, they owe her the room if it’s available. BillC I cannot believe that the TT was involved in a case of customer greed. She knew exactly what she was doing. It is obvious(at least to me) that she only booked the room because she realized that an error was made and she could profit from it. Carver Fortunately for the hotel, that’s not a true. Scriveners errors are not enforceable. Carver Except its not true that travel providers always hold hard and fast to no-refundable rules. A fair number of travel providers will “bend” the non-refundable rule for you if you catch the error soon enough. Some airlines have an unofficial 24hr cancellation rule for bookings. Hotels routinely waive cancellation deadlines. I much rather have that relationship with the hotel than an adversarial “gotcha” relationship. Chris in NC Mixed feelings on this one The $232 rate is NOT implausible! Historically, similar discounts and rates have been offered at similar properties on the Marriott site. So, I don’t buy that Kenney knew beforehand that this was a “fat finger” rate. I believe that Kenney believed she had found a good deal as booking sites do offer unpublished rates from time to time. How much time did elapse between the initial reservation and when Kenney called Oyster? The only clue is in this statement “…including waiting until only a few weeks before her trip — indeed, until it was prompted by her.” To answer the question depends on what Oyster did after the error was disclosed. Did Oyster ATTEMPT to rebook Kenney at another property, or did they simply say “sorry, you’re on your own?” Again, the article does not make this clear. It implies that Kenney booked the new reservation on her own hence the “request for $250 for her time.” I think its unreasonable for Kenney to claim $400 for additional expense. If she was prepared to spend $232 a night, she should expect only $232 worth of market rate accommodations, not a windfall upgrade because she thought she was getting a deal. I don’t think Kenney is “greedy” per se, but I ultimately I think she came out ahead. Guest The difference between the going rate and what she was offered is $357. So they’ve offered about one night’s difference. I assume she was planning to stay more than one night. I don’t see that they charged her at booking or at any time. In an ideal world she could expect to get what she booked “and nothing less.” It’s not an ideal world. So I never use these third-party booking sites to actually make the reservation. The Condor I see frequent negative comments on a “for one’s time” payment. I think one needs to look critically at such requests, but they may have merit. Before being dismissive, I think one needs to look at the specifics of a case. How much time is one reasonably expected to spend to get customer service? Suppose that time is exceeded? Is that time “free?” Suppose that the person who spends that time ends up missing paying work? What is that time worth? A few years back, I had a dispute resolved, and part of that resolution included a payment for my “time.” I was compensated at roughly 25% of my hourly billing rate when I do consulting — it wasn’t great, but it made up a little for business I lost. Mark K The bad thing is, Oyster still shows that same room at the hotel for the same price when you search now. If the room was not available for the OP, how can it be available for anyone else? I think the $400 was more than generous provided they also refunded any charges they made on her credit card and depending on what the fees are that will be charged when she uses the gift cards. Oyster got caught and is trying to keep the situation quiet. Chris in NC Agreed. On more than one occasion, a travel provider has “waived” a rule due to my stupidity. Then again, I am a long time customer with these providers and use the trump card few and far between. On the other hand, a travel provider CANNOT take a deposit, or wait weeks before notifying a customer then claim error. cjr001 Some people actually value the time they have to waste dealing with stuff like this. Steve R I would be impressed with Oyster’s offer if they weren’t in the practice of showing rates on their website (apparently still to this day, as Mark K found) that aren’t actually reservable. And if they hadn’t waited until a few weeks before the trip to inform the traveler that she didn’t have a reservation. I don’t see how anyone can categorically call a ~60% off rate “too good to be true.” As Chris said, there are obvious fat-finger errors like a decimal point two digits to the left of where it should be, and I agree with him that hotels/airlines shouldn’t be obligated to honor them. (Well, sort of – I find the argument compelling that since the hotels/airlines are reluctant to help out travelers who make a fat-finger mistake and book the wrong date that they should have to eat the cost of their own mistakes, but in general principle, I think everyone deserves a break on those types of mistake). At what point is a rate “too good to be true”? If 60% off is, what about 50%? 40%? 30%? This past summer, we stayed at a hotel where a friend had booked the room through Priceline. We paid a little over $200 when we booked through the hotel’s website. He paid $120. Was that “too good to be true” for him? (It obviously wasn’t, since they honored the rate. BTW, both rooms were prepaid/nonrefundable, so the price is an apples-to-apples comparison). Tom RI if you do not have a confirm number then forget it you are out of luck. I have been told by Thrifty NZ that the rate was 2x higher until i showe them my print out. Same with Enterprise in FL. On a recent trip in Norway I got a $150 room for $28.57, i booked it 2 months in advance and called Days Inn to confirm the rate in Norweign Kr. (they did not understand the conversion rate). When i got to the hotel nothing was said, but when I checked out the desk said i got a good rate and charged my credit card. So i made out. BUT I always keep a copy of my reservations with me and a duplicate at home just in case. Tony A. Good point Mark K! If that cheap hotel rate is still available today then how can we rationally conclude it is a “mistake” room rate? If it was a mistake then they should have fixed it by now (after the OP raised her objection). Makes one wonder what oyster is up to. They should honor the rate or else their offer can be deemed deceptive if they do not plan to honor it. Linda Bator Perhaps a bit TOO MUCH, though. Tony A. Just checked – Orbitz and Expedia also advertises a $232-233 room rate per night at Marriott’s Ko’Olina Beach Club. So is this mistake all over the hotel booking vending machine industry? Tony A. If you go to the hotel’s website today – http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/hnlko-marriotts-ko-olina-beach-club/ you will find this: Last-Minute Weekends Nightly rates from 232.00 (USD) Oct 28, 2011 – Oct 30, 2011 Nightly rates from 232.00 (USD) Nov 4, 2011 – Nov 6, 2011 2-night stay This ain’t no fat finger rate. Abhi I voted NO because there wasn’t an option of ‘Did Oyster.com offer Gretchen Kenney enough compensation IN TIME’. If Oyster had offered OP the $400 to cover for the difference up front when she contacted them, I would have voted YES. That would have saved her a lot of efforts, headache and anxiety about whether or not she was going to go on that vacation. Offering $100, then $200, then $400 when the trip is just around the corner seems useless as far as that particular trip is concerned. The fact that she had to book elsewhere (where she would have to pay a cancellation charge to cancel the reservation, to get back to Ka Olina Beach club and use the $400 gift card) shows that Oyster not only put a serious doubt in her mind about the outcome of the case but also put her through the extra hassle to find out alternatives at the 11th hour. Oyster could have mend things by finding alternative arrangements for her and give her the $400 gift card up front (in time) or by helping her out with the cancellation of alternative arrangements in addition to the $400 gift card at the last minute. I don’t agree with $250 for the cost ‘for her time’. I think a room upgrade and/or drinks coupons and/or massage vouchers should cover her ‘administrative fees’. Tony A. Except that Marriott is also offering a $232 per night rate on their own website. The rate is NOT BOGUS! See my post below. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson She found a rate she was pleased with. She called to confirm the rate and was told it was valid. She booked a room at that rate and Oyster refused to honor it. If they can afford to give her a $400 gift card, they should have just honored the rate. Crissy This just sounds like a really great rate to me, not a fat finger rate. I would have booked it too. But I think the $400, which equals the cost to the OP was a good resolution. $250 for time is getting greedy. Michelle B. I voted “no” simply because travel vendors need to be held accountable when posting a reasonable rate that they now change their minds about. While $400 is a fair resolution for this 1 transaction, there needs to start being punitive damages since the rate is still a valid rate that is probably “bookable” but not “confirmable”. emanon256 All the story said was that Marriott was offering a 2-bedroom suite for $589, while Oyster was offering the same unit for $232. With just that knowledge, the rate sounds bogus. When I search on Marriott.com right now, I find a guest room (studio) for $232 a night, while suites are going for $589 to $950 a night. Tony A. This is the reason why Chris Elliott should investigate the facts better. It’s easy to go to the hotel’s website or other booking sites, you know. David When you decide to become your own travel agent, you assume the risk that some of that time may be ‘unproductive’ in that process. Possibly wasting your time is the risk that the OP voluntarily assumed when she decided to act as her own travel agent. By her logic, if I go shopping at Macy’s and don’t find what I want, then Macy’s owes me $250 for my ‘wasted’ time. emanon256 Yes, and your link is showing a guest room for $232. The story states she booked a 2 Bedroom Suite, which your link shows for $589. The story states Ms. Kenney booked a 2-bedroom suite for $232 while Marriott listed the same 2-bedroom suite for $589. If Marriott listed a regular guest room for $232, and Oyster listed a 2-bedroom suite for $232, thats a big red flag that this was a mistake. Asiansm Dan It isn’t a fat finger rate. I already stay at The Marriott Ihilani several times for 125$ a night rate, promotional price regular room. A 239$ could be a promotional rate at certain period of the year. May be they forget to enter the applicable period. It’s either Marriott or Oyster error and they should honor that. I vote NO. Unless you play Golf, but 2 days at the Resort and you are tired of it because there is nothing around beside the Lagoons and the Golf courses. I already had several times in London City and Hotels around LAX Airports at 75% off , so 60% is not unusual discount. It’s definitely not fat finger rate. It’s Hotel or Oyster Error. emanon256 When Marriott’s own website lists a last minute discount rate of $589 and a regular rate of $950 a night for a 2-bedroom suite, and a third party site lists that same room for $232 a night, that really sounds too good to be true. Thats 75% off the regular rate, and 60% off the big discount Marriott is giving. Also, when Marriott lists a last minute discount price for a regular room for $232, the exact same price Oyster lists for a 2-bedroom, that really makes it sound like someone at oyster accidentally entered the wrong rate. I think many people are missing the fact that she booked a 2-bedroom suite. Tony A. At that may be where the problem is. Almost all sites I checked (Marriott, Hotels.Com, Orbitz, and Expedia) which are “clickable” from Oyster’s More Booking Options have a rate of $232. It’s possible that Oyster made a mistake of using that $232 rate for a better or larger room. Without a confirmation #, how can we know if Oyster mistakenly actually sold a better room for $232 -OR- if the OP thought she was booking a double room at that price when she really hadn’t. The confusion could have been between a 1 room vs 2 room unit rate. Who actually knows without be shown some details? But this I can say — If you go to Oyster right now and look at the rates for 2 nights for Nov 4-6, you will see they they advertise this: Two Bedroom Villa Mountain View 1,280 sq. ft. room2 Separate Bedrooms2 BedroomsMountain viewBalcony / Patio Non-Smoking 2 King beds $269 per night So, it would seem fair to say that 2-bedroom units could also been had for cheap. The OP was right to expect to get her room(s) at that low price. Note that Chris mentioned 2-bedroom UNIT and not SUITE. Tony A. What sounds too good to you doesn’t necessarily mean it sounds too good to other people. Oyster.com is a well publicized hotel booking site. Why should people not trust its price quotes? Using your logic, people should compare 3rd party booking site prices with the hotel’s first before they book, and should beware (think it’s a mistake) if they see a “large” difference. Why should they? Hotel aggregators may have different rates that the hotels. They simply have to be legally responsible for what they advertise. Sasha I voted “no” because of Oysters lack of responsiveness. Why should a customer have to go through all that and still have the company not be straight forward with her. I think they should be punished for that. I also think that the $250. is not silly because of the frustration of it caused. Carver One reason why “for one’s time” is highly disfavored is because the other side has no way of knowing what your time is “worth”. Thus making it impossible for them plan accordingly. Also, unless you are getting paid 24/7 a portion of your time is worth ZERO. Carver I think you are playing with semantics. What’s the difference between a two bedroom unit and two bedroom? suite? But back to the point, the most likely answer is somehow Oyster is not making a proper distinction between studio and suite in its system. Chris in NC The regular rate is bogus. Does anyone really pay rack rates anymore at a hotel chain? Having said that, even a rate of $232 relative to $589 is not unheard of. Besides, some of the 3rd party sites, do offer highly restrictive, non-published rates that are not listed on the hotel site. Last fall, a luxury property in New Orleans was offering a rate of $99 / weekend night (regular rates are $300 ish). I tried to rearrange time off to take advantage of the deal. Also, a local Marriott was offering a special room rate of $49 for weekends (regular rates are $99-149 for the weekends). So, steep discounts of 60-70% are NOT unheard of. How do I know these weren’t “fat finger” fares, both of these properties are franchise hotels and I received the letter directly from the owner. The rates were also listed on the hotel’s site. It is virtually certain that someone at Oyster entered the wrong rate, but I don’t think it is fair to imply that Kenney should have known this was an incorrect rate. The bigger question is when was Kenney notified and I still don’t see this answered! S E Tammela She knew it was meant to be 532… she knew this was too good to be true. I’m sure she wouldn’t have agreed to pay 832 if the mistake had gone the other way. But in any case, if her time is that valuable to think she’s worth $250 for her time, why book it yourself when you can afford to pay a walk-in travel agent? Surely she shouldn’t care about a few hundred dollars. Unless it’s all a con on her part hmm? Tony A. Go to Expedia, there are 16 different variations of the rooms and prices? Also, the point is Oyster is selling a 2-bedroom unit for $269/night right now. Call it whatever you want but it ain’t more than 500 bucks. That price difference is NOT SEMANTICS Tony A. To Carter and to those who do not know the difference between types of rooms (Standard, Deluxe, Suite, etc.) please read this article… http://traveltips.usatoday.com/classification-rooms-hotel-2981.html Carver You are twisting my words. Let me be crystal clear. You have highlighted that fact that Chris uses the phrase, and I quote, “Note that Chris mentioned 2-bedroom UNIT and not SUITE.” I am asking you what do you consider the difference between spcifically a 2-bedroom UNIT and 2-bedroom SUITE Are there two bedroom units that do not qualify as a suite? Carver see above. emanon256 Except $589 is not the Rack rate. That is a last minute discount rate the hotel is offering to try and fill up. Depending on the days I searched at Marriott.com, I got a “Leisure” rate as high as $950, and I am sure the rack rate is much higher. Tony A. Carver, why should I? I am merely pointing out the fact that Chris Elliott described it as 2 BR UNIT and not SUITE as Emanon called it. I never claimed that the place has or does not have Suites. I don’t have to explain anything to you. It’s Emanon who has to explain why he/she called the Suites. emanon256 Because, based on your own post below, a suite has the bedroom area separate from the living area. A 2-bedroom suite is the same a 2-bedroom unit. Carver Because Tony You made a point of making that distinction. I see no possible relevance to that distinction so I am going to the source (you) to find out your reasoning. You can respond to that fairly simple question or you can choose not to. That is entirely up to you. Carver I’ve stayed at LAX airport hotels for the better part of the last decade. Which hotels have 75 percent off rates that are available to the general public? Tony A. So Emanon256, does this specific hotel have 2BR Suites or not? Kevkev She is a cheapskate that wants to take advantage of this situation then wants more money to compensate her time. That’s why price in getting higher to cover any expense for this spoiled customer cjr001 This isn’t about not finding what you want. This is about finding what you want, then having the rug pulled out from under you because the company you’re dealing with changes things on a whim. emanon256 I don’t understand your argument or reasoning unless you are just trying to intentionally be difficult and annoying. The hotels website (from your link) states they have Guest Rooms as well 1 bedroom, 2, bedroom, and 3 bedroom villas. Chis called these villas units. I called the villas suites. The very link you provided stated suites is a common term for any unit having a separate bedroom living area. Based on your link a 2 Bedroom Unit as Chris states is the same as a 2 Bedroom Suite, which I stated, and both terms are synonymous for a 2 bedroom villa as Marriott markets them. The hotel does not have any rooms called suites, they call them Villas. I called these villas suites. Are you happy now? Why you are trying to argue over a term that you posted a link to which I used makes no since as it is not material to anything I have said. Steve R Exactly. And what constitutes a “large” discount? What if she had booked the room for $332 instead of $232? Or $432? At what point is it unreasonable for a hotel/booking site to say “we made a mistake and don’t have to honor the rate”? I’m not accusing Oyster of this, but what if a site offered rooms at a deep discount, sold out quickly, and realized “hey, we could have priced these quite a bit higher – let’s call it a mistake and cancel the existing reservations?” What protection do consumers have against this if a hotel is allowed to call it a mistake regardless of the actual discrepency? Geoff Once the confirmation is back, the rate should be honored. We work in a computer era that 100’s of people are looking, blocking, paying, ignoring at the same instant. I see a seat….no I don’t,….yes I do. It happens to us regularly. The confirmation, then payment works a whole lot better than here is my credid card, I sure hope they did not make an error. y_p_w In the era of opaque sites and massive discounts, I don’t think it sounded all that unreasonable. As far as airfare goes, I remember when Southwest had a $30 one-way fare special for travel between any two points in California. This was after 9/11 so they were hurting for business. I once even got a $52 (including all taxes/fees) round trip OAK-SNA. I thought it might be a fat-finger mistake, but I got on both planes. I remember pricing the flights, and the difference between $52 and $150 round-trip was the outbound flight (the $52 fare was for a 6:50 AM departure). I mentioned my $52 fare to the guy sitting next to me, and he said he paid $150. I do remember seeing some sort of special room rate where it was $99/night with a special bonus of $80 worth of gift cards for a local mall and restaurant. I even called ahead, and the clerk said it should be good. When I arrived, the manager was the only one at the desk, and he said it was a mistake with the reservation system at Marriott. That required a two day stay with one night at $159 and the other at $79. The last minute rate was $79 for one night. I didn’t quite get the purpose of getting an $80 value for $80; I would have expected some sort of discount. In the end, he did adjust the rate to the last minute rate and apologized for the discrepancy. Ajaynejr Has the hotel ever sold the rooms not just once for the $232. within the past year? Another situation that can happen with larger travel agencies is that they might book, well in advance, a block of rooms for some cheap price such as $200. a night apiece for $600. a night rooms. Then due to some error there are more customers than rooms in the allotment. The travel agency hates like hell to have to go to the well again (or go outside the box), here, to book more rooms at current prevailing rates to satisfy the customers who already booked with the agency. TMMao If a price rings up too high at the register, the store may give you the difference, but they certainly won’t compensate you for the time you had to wait to confirm the mistake. TMMao Looks like Oyster mistakenly entered the run-of-the-house $232 rate for the 2-bdrm category so when the guest called to confirm, the reservation agent would have seen the same rate and confirmed it. If Oyster had honored the rate, they would be out about $230/nt so paying $400 as compensation is getting off cheap if the stay was longer than 2 nights. http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YODKTEPV2NZZJLW57Y72T2GUQU Steven As a frequent Marriott business traveler, I have seen substantial discounts on top tier Marriott properties during slow times. I would have found this rate believable. For Marrriott to not honor it, regardless of who offered it, is disappointing. This is yet another example of why I NEVER use these types of web sites… they cannot be trusted to really deliver on what they say they are offering. NEVER.