Should Costa reverse course on this fare error?

Kosmider/Shutterstock

Oh no, not again.

That was my first reaction when I heard from Alexander Lavrinovich about Costa Cruises’ refusal to honor a fare on a Mediterranean sailing in August.

Lavrinovich contacted me last week asking for help. He’d paid 145 euro for a cruise on the Costa Classica, received a confirmation, and several days later, was informed that because of a “system error” his fare was incorrect. He could either pay seven times more for his vacation, or get a full refund.

“I would be grateful for any advice and helpful information on how to act in this situation,” he says. And if I would push Costa to honor the fare, that would be nice, too.

I have a long and tortured relationship with fare-error predators that I feel compelled to disclose.

It’s true: travel companies have double standards when it comes to mistakes. For example, if Lavrinovich booked a cruise, and was outside the cancellation period, he would lose his entire vacation. But it can cancel a sailing at any time, for any reason. Not exactly fair.

But just because a cruise line would stick it to us doesn’t mean we should do the same thing. If Lavrinovich knowingly booked a mistake fare with the intention to hold its feet to the fire with some negative media exposure, then I won’t get involved. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We’ve debated this issue before. Here’s the last big dust-up, for your entertainment. No point in rehashing it, except to say that my position is unchanged.

If Lavrinovich knew this was an incorrect fare, and booked it anyway, I won’t get involved.

But did he? Let’s dive into this case a little. By the way, there’s a related post on Cruise Critic, if you prefer the annotated version.

He booked a seven-night Mediterranean cruise of the Greek Islands departing from Rhodes. A quick check of the rates shows the price of an inside cabin at around $1,300.

After a call from Costa’s office in Italy to Lavrinovich and at least 30 other passengers, who were connected via Cruise Critic and Facebook page, the cruise line outlined its reasons for the fare change:

You will understand that this mistake was clearly recognizable as all other cruises in the website were sold to a much higher price and there was no indication of discounts.

We have immediately corrected the error, but regretfully we had to modify the bookings already processed, including yours.

Lavrinovich agrees that at first glance, it looks as if he and the other customers whose fares were “modified” were taking advantage of an obvious fare mistake. But he insists they weren’t.

“145 euro is a pretty good price, but not fantastic at all,” he says. “Costa Classica is the oldest and the cheapest ship. Even this year, there were sale prices even less than 145 euro for other cruises. As for the so-called right price, more than 1,000 euro is just enormous.”

I asked Lavrinovich how he found out about the deal.

Nothing special. We have our own Facebook group where a lot of people share various touristic sales and discounts. So somebody found that offer (and that was nothing special — a regular offer that could be easily found on one of Costa websites) and a lot of people started making the bookings.

My response: “Costa will probably tell me that the group knowingly booked a mistake fare, and that because you knew, or should have known, that it was a mistake, they don’t have to honor it.”

My answer seemed to put him on the defensive.

Just to clarify my own position — and that is true for most of the people in the story — we are not evil.

We don’t want to sue Costa just to get compensation. We just like the cruise and want Costa to honor the original price.

And our conscience is clear – the price is not fantastic. It is on the lowest boundary of Costa’s regular sale prices.

Some of you reading this will say otherwise — that the fare clearly had a missing decimal point. I hear you.

Costa’s original request to pay up or face a cancellation has since been modified, and now it’s offering Lavrinovich and the other members of the group a 300 euro “sale” price. But they’re unimpressed. They want Costa to honor the original price.

I’m really torn. If this wasn’t an obvious fare error, then I could make a case for Cost honoring the price. A business shouldn’t be able to revise its rates after you’ve made a purchase.

On the other hand, people who prey on businesses by exploiting price errors — no matter their justifications — are thieves. And people who encourage others to book obvious mistake fares are not just evil, but a special kind of evil.

So we have two questions to answer here, and thus, two polls to take. First, was the original fare an obvious error?

Is a 145 euro fare for a seven-day Mediterranean cruise an obvious fare error?

View Results

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And depending on how you answer that, should I inject myself in this dispute and ask Costa to honor the original fare?

Should I ask Costa to honor its 145 euro fares?

View Results

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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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  • bodega3

    Then collect your paperwork and file a claim if you were completely honest in your transaction of purchase.

  • bodega3

    The scamming sites that people frequent to share mistakes found online to take advantage of them

  • bodega3

    If you participated in those sites and when to make the purchase to get a rate that you didn’t qualify for, then SOL. If Costa did break the consumer protection laws of the countries all these 30 people live in, then they should file action against the cruise line. I am not a betting person, but I would bet on this one being against the consumer.

  • shulyan

    What about that price? Look, you may buy it right now. Or mistake? (((

  • bodega3

    Why didn’t you call the cruise line and verify the price before paying for it?

  • shulyan

    Every time… must do what? Why? Questioning the pricing? Do you know what is Public Offerta?

  • shulyan

    My cabin was put up for sale before I was able to give any answer. I was just in shock.

  • bodega3

    I am a seller of travel. If there is a low price on a vendors site, if it can’t be held with a deposit, we call. Yes, question, question, question. It got you where you are now by not questioning.

  • bodega3

    Then file your complaint with your government’s consumer board.

  • HJ

    So the act of buying anything online is wrong then, or at least buying anything hugely discounted is wrong. Why do people shop on Amazon then? Costa does not have an office in Norway, so the only option to buy directly from them is to use their webiste. Costa called us on our Norwegian mobile number to report the “error” before the emails arrived, so I do not think country of residence is the problem here.

  • shulyan

    I’m a traveler, I do not need such nuances. Every time I see a good deal I should clarify it? If the booking is not confirmed – zero issues. But my reservation was confirmed! I began to make plans and buy plane-tickets. So what I see! My cabin was put up for sale before I was able to give any answer.

  • bodega3

    If Costa broke a law in your country, then you file charges. They gave you your money back so you are made whole.

  • bodega3

    Then file charges if you think you did everything right. They gave you your money back so you are not out anything. But yes, you do need to clarify…it got you in trouble once.

  • HJ

    Basically, bodega3 is saying that you should always be suspicious of any big discounts, and never trust those sales online. I do not know what kind of society he lives in, but it seems like he does not think that it is the sellers’ obligation to publish true and honest information to the public, and it is OK to carry out any kind of misleading advertisement publicly. He expects ordinary buyers to either call Costa’s office in Italy at our own costs, or book through a TA like himself. I think it is pathetic that if consumers need to every time ask themselves the question ” is this offer authentic”, every time they try to make a purchase.

  • shulyan

    Why do you think that Costa gave my money back?

  • shulyan

    Well, imagine a situation: I call, they tell me that the price is faithful, and three days later again cancel the reservation. What’s next?

  • HJ

    Hi Tony, we are residents of Norway, and purchased the same cruise with Norwegian bank card, and Costa later contacted us on our Norwegian mobile number to tell us about this “error”, so residence is not the problem here.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh. I thought a SCAM site scams consumers (the buyers). The site steals money from the travelers thinking they found cheaper fares.

    Flyertalk is a site where people share their low fare search findings. Now I would not rate Flyertalk as a scam site just because of that.

    There are some threads there discussing what could be a MISTAKE fare. Does that make flyertalk forum a scam site? NO in IMO.
    You might find the behavior of some posters despicable but that does not mean ALL the posts and posters in flyertalk are bad.

    How can it be a scam? flyertalk is the largest online community of air travelers. Hard to believe there are that many hackers and shysters or else the airlines could not and would not survive. Seems to me many airlines even court flyertalk members.

    Full Disclosure: I am NOT a flyertalk member but I read it regularly. Why? Because I can learn from it and get entertained at the same time.

    Here is another site that publishes airfare deals:
    AirfareWatchdog dot com.
    It is run by George Hobica (a friend of Elliott I believe).

    Read how the site responded to a Delta GLITCH (mistake) fare:

    Delta’s Boxing Day Fare Glitch
    Q. I was curious why Watchdog didn’t pick up these fares when there was a glitch in the delta system?

    A. Actually, we did catch them and we tweeted about them. If you’re not following us on Twitter, you should be.

    And we also sent out many of them by email. However, the sale only lasted a short while, and frankly a lot of people saw the email alerts too late (in some cases, the next day) and called us “bogus liars.” You know how that goes.
    Consider, too, that there were literally thousands of these fares,
    and we are not automated, so it was impossible to list all of them.

    I don’t think you would call George a scammer, would you?

    I suggest people here in this site lighten up on the morality play.

  • HJ

    Sure if its all simple as that. Sorry but we do not have the time for this, and it is hell a lot of trouble for 300 Euros, and it will not come in time to solve the problem in time for this August’s cruise. If customers need to take Costa to court to make them hornor their contracts, then I think it says everything about Costa as a service provider already.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I”m afraid I don’t speak Italian, But I find it interesting to note that the previous one that your posted, which I don’t see any more, was for January 2013. You had to go back 18 months to find something during a different season and different route.

    Presumably, if you could reproduce the same price and itinerary you would have.

    Just more evidence that this was a mistaken rate and you guys knew it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I suggest people here in this site lighten up on the morality play.

    Why? Why should we adopt someone else’s morality and ethics.

  • TonyA_says

    Thank you HJ.
    There you go folks.
    Can you think of other infractions why these innocent buyers are now thieves?
    Let’s see what you can come up with next.
    These people were screwed (of a dirt cheap fare).

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    This was the original posted picture

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The original (and now deleted) post. Note that its for a trip, 18 months ago with a different itinerary.

  • shulyan

    Why do I have to think it was a mistake? If I made ​​a mistake, I would apologize. But it’s not my fault. Why should I pay for someone else’s mistakes?

  • TonyA_says

    Because you cannot simply smell a mistake fare like you said.
    No one is forcing you to adopt anyone else’s ethics and morality.
    But when a person accuses someone of abusing a mistake fare you better have more evidence than just a smell test.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You’re not paying for someone else’s mistake. You’re not out any money. You merely at not getting to keep the benefit of your dishonesty

    If I believed that it was an honest mistake by you guy, I would have a different perspective. But I believe that you guys tried to take unfair advantage of Costa. Morality aside, you gambled and lost.

  • shulyan

    About reasonable price. Here is no wonder the price from Costa. How many cases do you need to make sure that it is often the price?

  • shulyan

    Ho-ho-ho! What a price? Look, you may buy it right now. Or mistake? (((

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Lol.

    The smell test is a strawman. No one mentioned the smell test. The uncontroverted information is sufficient to show that it is more likely than not that these folks purposely availed themselves of a fare that they suspected was a mistaken fare.

    Is it proof beyond a reasonable doubt? No. Does it meet the preponderance of the evidence. Easily.

  • shulyan

    Conspiracy Theory? Do you sleep well? Don`t you dream of green men?

  • shulyan

    Simple question. Even if we assume that is possible… Points: “IF” “possible”. If you know all about that and able to quickly assess, why don`t you use it?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Ad hominem attacks merely make you look more guilty, assuming that were possible.

  • shulyan

    Why do you think that my quetion is attack?
    Your assumptions attacks. And I’m not going to defend. It’s simple:
    Costa offered me the price, I am satisfied with the price, I made an advance payment, Costa have agreed to prepay and sent me a confirmation, then confirmed it.

    In accordance with the provisions of art. 4.4 of the EU Directive 90/314, The prices laid down in the contract shall not be subject to revision.

    No options.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Equally simple answer. Because I try to behave ethically. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Why do you think that my quetion is attack?

    I think the following answers that question…

    Conspiracy Theory? Do you sleep well? Don`t you dream of green men?

    Your assumptions attacks.

    No. You guys came asking Chris’ help. Chris asked us for our opinion. We gave it to him. A simple dispassionate analysis of the situation.

  • shulyan

    One more time. Look for words: Costa offered me the price, I am satisfied with the price, I made an advance payment, Costa have agreed to prepay and sent me a confirmation, then confirmed it.

    In accordance with the provisions of art. 4.4 of the EU Directive 90/314, The prices laid down in the contract shall not be subject to revision.

    No options.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    It may be simple to you. To many of us, if the price was an error, and if you believed that it was an error, then booking it was unethical. Legal perhaps, but unethical.

    If you wish to rely on the law, i.e. the E.U. directive, then your remedy is to pursue legal action. However, as Chris asked for our opinion, the ethics of the situation become relevant.

    Many of us have opined that this is not an ethical situation and as such, it does not deserve Chris’ assistance.

    You may disagree with that perspective. That is of course your right.

  • shulyan

    Is it ethical to look for something I do not? Maybe you are pursuing the interests of Costa, hmmm… And all about hiding behind Chris… Good job, guys.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    So let me ask you directly.

    When you booked the fare, did you have any suspicions that Costa posted the fare accidentally?

  • HJ

    Hi Jeanne, if you have taken into the fact that many affected by this problem are Russians, you should not be surprised to see that many people are named Alexander. It is the most popular male name in Russia, and Sasha is the short form of it. It is also better not to pay too much attention to their phrases used in describing the situation, as neither is a native speaker of English.

  • shulyan

    Never think about this. What I Do:
    1. look at the service,
    2. give money
    3. get confirmation
    4. use the service.

    And I`m happy all time I did it.

  • bodega3

    Haven’t a clue.

  • bodega3

    Do note that the LW and Imagenature’s names are exactly the same. You can access Imagenature’s website from his login on CC. Quite possibly two people with the same name, from the same country, both having their reservations revoked is just a cowinkydink, but I think something else is up.

  • HJ

    Well, if you check out their Russian forum, you will find more people from Russia named Alexander.

  • Lindabator

    I agree 100% with you, Chris. Advocate for those who do NOT game the system, as those who do hurt the rest of the travelling public in the end.

  • HJ

    Hi John, thanks for your understanding. We mailed Chris. However, I think in the current situation, all affected customers are treated equally by Costa, so it might be very difficult to look at each case individually, as there are so many people affected. It is not in Costa’s interest to check how people purchased these cruise tickets, this has been very clear from the beginning.

  • bodega3

    Their first and last names are exactly the same.