Is this enough compensation? How much is that fat-finger mistake worth?

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 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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  • 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.