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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