A Travelocity typo triggers ethics crisis

oceanThe total price for a three-night Bahamas cruise package came to $2,058 on Travelocity. But that was before John Zimmerman applied a $1,000 rebate offered for a mid-level cabin through the online agency.

Then the rate was too good to be true – literally.

Shortly after booking the cruise, Travelocity unexpectedly reduced the $1,000 rebate offer to $100 and then eliminated it entirely. Appeals to the company were met with silence, so Zimmerman asked me to help.

”No $9 first class airfare to Europe situation”

Zimmerman insists he did everything by the book. “The rebate offer appeared throughout the booking process in pop-up windows,” he remembers.

He wanted to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. The cabin class and the ship, RCCL’s Majesty of the Seas, passed the litmus test.

“We cleared browser cookies, opened an incognito window to ensure the offer was for this particular cruise, and took copious screen shots during the booking process,” he remembers. “The total price, with the rebate applied, was still more than twice the price of a regular cabin, but I felt this would be an opportunity to splurge.”

In other words, “This wasn’t a $9 first class airfare to Europe situation.”

Zimmerman showed me the screen shots, and after reviewing them, I agreed to contact Travelocity.

I can already hear some of you crying foul. But bear in mind, asking a company to review a transaction doesn’t guarantee anything.

I thought Zimmerman had a few things going in his favor:

Watertight documentation. It’s unusual for a customer to take screen shots of a transaction all the way through, but that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t seem to be trying to hold Travelocity’s feet to the fire if this turned out to be a mistake, but to ensure that this deal was legit.

Not too good to be true. Even after factoring in the rebate, he was still paying $1,058 for a three-day cruise for two people. That’s not a “fat-finger” rate, from all outward appearances.

The right motives. Travelocity offered the rebate in a pop-up window. He didn’t find it on a blog or website dedicated to pricing errors. Had Zimmerman learned about this “deal” online and attempted to take advantage of a rebate he knew was a mistake, then I would have politely declined his case.

Then I heard back from Travelocity. A representative told me there’d been a “typo” in the terms and conditions on the promotion.

“The $1,000 credit should have read $100,” said the representative. “We recognize this as our error, however, and will give him the full $1,000.”

Is that right?

I have mixed feelings about this resolution.

On one hand, I’m happy for Zimmerman. He got an excellent deal on his Caribbean cruise, subsidized by Travelocity. On the other hand … well, it was subsidized by Travelocity. Maybe it caved because I contacted it on Zimmerman’s behalf. I wouldn’t have done that if it had responded to his emails asking about the status of his rebate.

If you venture off this site to some of the darker crevices of the blogosphere where people intentionally book mistake fares — yes, I still call it stealing — you’ll find my critics who say the “consumer advocacy” I do is really nothing more than a form of high-tech extortion. When I contact a company on behalf of a consumer, there’s an implied threat that if I don’t get what I want, I’ll write a story.

These critics apparently don’t read my blog, where I write about my many advocacy failures and often side with the companies that say “no.”

But after reading this case, I can see how the haters would think I’m just running a racket. Travelocity might have just ignored Zimmerman and correctly charged him $2,058 for his Majesty of the Seas sailing trip if I hadn’t gotten involved.

A part of me wonders if I should have.

Should I have gotten involved in this case?

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • BobbyC

    $1048 is a very reasonable price for a 3-day cruise for 2. Looks more like bait-and-switch than a typo!

  • backprop

    I am not much of a cruise person, but from all appearances, over $1000 for three days doesn’t strike me as an unthinkably good deal, either. I agree with the decision to become involved.

  • john4868

    Two things that you and I seem to disagree on and both of which appeared in this article.

    1. Anytime a business offers me a price and they accept payment at that price, the deal should be concluded. Most often the business isn’t going to give me “backsies” and allow me to cancel the deal without penalty, why should they have an advantage I don’t?
    2. Anytime you contact a business as a member of the media, the threat of bad media coverage, if you don’t get what you want, is so implied it might as well be stated. I have yet to see you tell a “the business did everything right story” even when the customer has unreasonable demands or expectations. It almost always gets twisted that the business did something wrong (but what else would you expect from a consumer advocate?). The business is going to give you what you want to avoid the bad press whether you realize it or not.

    This one turned out exactly as it should.

  • Alan Gore

    When customers make mistakes in booking a trip, it’s on us. A deal is a deal. You should have booked through a travel agent, bought the insurance and hope that this time, it works.

    So is it too much to ask that when the operator offering a trip makes an error, it pays in the same way?

  • Raven_Altosk

    I think this is a case of Stupidity Tax on Travelocity’s part. As the OP said, it was not a $9 fare in FC to Europe, but just a fantastic deal on a cruise.

    I think this one came out fairly. Mistakes happen, and a good company doesn’t blame the customer because it’s proof reader didn’t have enough coffee.

  • cjr001

    “Appeals to the company were met with silence, so Zimmerman asked me to help.”

    I find the above line to be as much of the problem as Travelocity’s ‘typo’.

    As much as Christopher gets involved because companies refuse to share responsibility in a situation, Christopher often seems to have to get involved because companies refuse to communicate with their customers at all.

    But then, this is Travelocity, and folks probably shouldn’t be using them in the first place.

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes. As a consumer advocate you will get involved in all types of cases. Being able to influence a company is a sign that you are doing a good job. I would have a problem if it turned out that you were threatening a company with bad publicity or unflattering stories if they did not solve a problem to your satisfaction.

    In this particular case a $1000 off a three day does seem excessive but I am not sure what was included, maybe airfare, hotel, rental car…

    On this particular ship a three day cruise can run from $188/person up to $1529/person.

  • Bonnie Russell

    If people have to be responsible for their errors, why shouldn’t corporations? I don’t understand this double standard.

  • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

    I too was going to say that $1000 is an expensive 3 day cruise without any promotions or discounts. The real story may be in the “MSRP” that Travelocity was offering to show the steep discount

  • Cheryl

    I booked a 5 day cruise out of Florida for under $500 pp, so his cruise does not appear to be a bargain of any sort!

  • calbff

    A done deal should be just that – done. If I walk out of the store after purchasing an item for the wrong price, you can’t chase me down, take it back, and hand back my money – so why is it ok online?

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Did Travelocity give him the option to cancel when they changed his rebate value? If so and he didn’t, that’s a pretty ballsy move to hang on to the tickets in hopes they would come good.

  • devansroc

    I appreciate your consumer advocacy, but there are times when your advocacy falls on the side of the business. As others have observed, the value in this deal is nothing special. It’s ridiculous for you to hint that the customer might have done something wrong, or that you should not have advocated for him.

    It’s way-out-of-bounds outrageous for you to refer to people as thieves when they book appealing deals offered by providers. It’s not my responsibility as a consumer to vet the prices set by suppliers. I help run a business that lists thousands of prices online. Sometimes we deliberately sell items at a loss, and sometimes we do it inadvertently. Either way, we honor the prices we set.

    Perhaps even more important, we respond to people. Whether it’s an angry rant or a simple question from a customer, we reply and engage in a dialogue. With very few exceptions, you don’t get that from providers in the travel industry. If Travelocity had any level of concern for the customer, they would have replied to his appeal — and they probably could have struck a compromise.

    When people in the travel business refer to demanding and unreasonable customers I would say, “What goes around comes around.”

  • Charles B

    If I read all these mixed up numbers and cabin classes correctly: he could have booked a “regular cabin” at about $500, but instead booked a “cruise package” for $2058 minus an expected $1000 rebate from Travelocity. So what else was included in that cruise package to drive the pre-rebate price up so high? Higher class of room seems implied. Airfare and ground transfers are probably also part of a cruise package. Add those items to that $500 room and how does that total compare to the post-rebate price?

  • sirwired

    Really, I think this is a situation where a “meet them halfway” would have been an appropriate resolution.

  • S E Tammela

    Yes, Travelocity might have made a mistake, but it’s possible he wouldn’t have booked that trip without the rebate. If they had decided not to honour it, I’d hope they would have offered a refund as an option.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    I think you’re wrong in your characterization of the price offered as “too good to be true”. With the $1,000 discount, it’s roughly half off, which isn’t particularly unusual for cruises. Those sorts of deals are running around all over the place, especially during “wave season”, which we’re in right now, and especially on higher-end cabins like cabins with a verandah or mini-suites. Travelocity shouldn’t be allowed to get off on not honoring this fare by calling it a mistake. Regardless of whether Mr. Zimmerman was the only person to escalate this to you for a resolution, you absolutely should have gotten involved.

    I’m not going to bother re-litigating my arguments on why I think your whole take on “mistake” fares is wrong, but I’ll leave it by saying that this, Chris, is the slippery slope you create when you argue that travel suppliers have the right to not honor “mistakes”. Legitimate sounding fares can be yanked just because the business decides it was a “typo”, and in your world, the customer has no recourse since expecting the fare to be honored is either “stealing” or your travel is “being subsidized by Travelocity”.

  • Bob Davis

    You hear about the guy in Virginia that bought an SUV at a really low price? The dealership had the cops arrest him for theft. It was all dropped, but still.

  • john4868

    Actually the whole story on that was the guy bought an SUV and the next morning decided that he wanted a different one that was on the lot that had a higher price tag. The dealership’s story was that they informed him of the higher price and he said he’d pay it. His side was that they didn’t inform him of the difference (http://hamptonroads.com/2012/09/dealership-apologizes-error-customer-arrest-0 ) and his contract didn’t reflect that.

    Edit: Discus decided to add a ) into the link. Fixed

  • TonyA_says

    Why wasn’t this obviously a mistake? A $1000 rebate of a $2058 cruise is about half (50%) of the cost. Does an AGENT make 50% commission on a cruise (and rebate ALL or most of it)? NO.

    Added: Here’s a link to Charlie Funk’s (a regular poster here) Travelweekly article on agency commissions. http://www.travelweekly.com/charlie-funk/the-shrinking-cruiseburger/

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yeah, but I constantly get things in snail mail offerings “2 for 1 bookings” on some lines. So, I think it could be believable.

  • TonyA_says

    Me, too. Have to trash them all the time. The difference is those junk mail is from the cruise lines themselves. They are selling us their distressed inventory. But Travelocity is an agency and not the cruise line. They only make money from commissions. A huge part of the total cruise cost is not even commissionable. So there is no way Travelocity can be giving away $1k on a $2.5k cruise cost, IMO. Also Elliott probably knows this (typical industry commission rates).
    Added: this price may even had airfare included in the cruise package

  • emanon256

    Yes Chris should have taken this case. In my mind this is clearly not a mistake fare or someone trying to game the system.

    The total price, with the rebate applied, was still more than twice the
    price of a regular cabin, but I felt this would be an opportunity to

    When a person buys a $500 business class ticket on a route where coach is $1,600, in my eyes that is an obvious mistake and they are trying to steal. Especially when they read about it on-line and had to use miles to place them selves appropriately and knew it was because of an exchange rate issue.

    In this OPs case, where he is still paying more than double after the coupon, it does not in any way appear to be a mistake. I am glad Travelocity came through in the end, but appointed that it ignored him until Chris got involved.

  • emanon256

    I don’t think people reach out to Chris when the business did everything right :) Though I was happy to see the backpack story the other day.

  • emanon256

    He said that the $1,058 price after the coupon was more than double the base price, but he was willing to pay extra for an upgraded room that regularly went for $2,058.

  • Meghan Guilford

    That article was not found… can you try posting the link again? Thanks!

  • John Keahey

    I’m with you on this one, Chris.

  • jerryatric

    Wonder no more about the people who take advantage (stealing in your words) of any error made by any travel company.

    Every minute of every day we hear about Car Rental, Airlines & most of all, On Line travel companies figuring ways to “cheat” (steal) the travellers money. This is 1 more case in point. If they are totally legit than a company should honour an “error” such as this, instead of trying to weasel out. We need more people like Chris, as on our own they will continue to run right over the average traveller.
    If Chris had not taken on this case, Travelocity would have told the client to just get lost.
    Like rats they don’t like to come out to the light of bad publicity.

  • DavidYoung2

    Agree – this isn’t a ‘too good to be true’ situation. If the customer reasonably believes the deal is legitimate, the company offering it should honor their offer. And this deal isn’t outside the realm of ‘reasonable.’ Pretty simple.

  • emanon256

    I didn’t think about it as a commission issue.

    I read it as:
    Option A: Pay ~$500 for a regular room.
    Option B: Pop up – Pay ~$2,000 Now only ~$1,000 through this Travelocity special for a fancy room.

    In my eyes I would have not though of it as a mistake fare. But a fake markup, to make it look like a better deal. That’s why I would have not thought of it as an obvious mistake.

  • MarkKelling

    I buy those type of tickets all the time – $800 domestic 1st class where coach can be $1200 – $1600.

    UA routinely offers a discounted 1st ticket on the routes I fly for right around $800 (sometimes as low as $700 and sometimes as high as $900) where an economy Y, B or M class is going for $1600. I don’t consider that stealing. United is just trying to not have to give away the 1st seats to their frequent flyers for nearly free.

    Just now I looked at DEN – IAH round trip 06/16 – 06/28. 1st is $748, economy B is $1350. Of course you can get the most restrictive seat for $308 RT.

  • john4868

    @emanon256:disqus I would disagree. We have seen cases where customers had unreasonable demands and the business upheld its end of the contract. Chris still wrote a story making the business look bad. (http://www.elliott.org/can-this-trip-be-saved-2/is-this-british-airways-flight-bad-enough-for-you/ ). Proving the point that the business is in a no-win situation once Chris contact’s them. The story won’t be about the passenger not understanding what he was buying (which it could have been in this case) but about how the airline is screwed up. After all he is a consumer advocate and that is the angle he’s going to write from.

    Edit: I forgot to add that I totally loved the backpack story too

  • emanon256

    You are comparing discount first to refundable coach, that’s not really a fair analogy. I was referring to one of Chris’s posts where a person learned about an exchange rate glitch, and booked a $500 business class fare on an international flight where the lowest published restricted discount coach ticket was $1,600.

    So apples to apples, your example is $308 for coach and $748 for first. Paying $748 for first class when coach is $308 is not stealing. Paying less for restricted first class when refundable coach cost more is also not stealing.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I see that all the time and it’s just the worst possible thing a company can do. An mistake is made and everybody just wants to run and hide, like ignoring the customer will make them magically forget about it. Why on earth couldn’t a standard response have been put together explaining the error? People would still be upset, but they respect you much more if you own up to errors and explain them rather than play dumb and disappear.

  • pauletteb

    I’m not as willing as Chris to believe Zimmerman took all those screenshots to make sure the price was “legit.” Sounds to me more like someone who suspected Travelocity had made an error and wanted “proof” to back up his claim once the error was corrected.

  • emanon256

    You are totally right. I was thinking of cases where the business did everything right and the customer also thought they did everything right. But there are plenty of cases where the business did everything right and the customer was still demanding more.

  • IGoEverywhere

    You are the first person that responded with the right answer. A+ to you. A %1,000.00 for a 3 day cruise on a old ship is already a steap price. Cruises are priced with full tariff rates and 10-15 reasons to discount. The 1000.00 rebate probably was the “con” to initiate the booking. Every ASTA travel agent in the world knows this. Travelocity wanted them to pay full retail. I wish all of my clients were that dumb. Research first, book second.

  • Nigel Appleby

    My feeling is that if the travel companies hold customers to a”fat-finger” mistake and charge horrendous fees to change a date or the spelling of a name for instance, then the travel companies should be held responsible for their own mistakes.

  • steve rabin

    And according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people :-)

  • steve rabin

    Nigel, I tend to agree. Take for example airline fares: why is it that the airlines cannot put in software traps, where the system compares the current fare to the ‘normal’ fare, perhaps an average over the last 6 months. If the percentage change is of a certain level or higher, management is notified and should be investigated. This would prevent fat-finger mistakes on their parts–instead, the airlines prefer to play victim when this happens.

  • bodega3

    Those travel companies are selling a product and there are fees involved with mistakes. Usually, if the product is through a vendor of the travel company the vendor has fees assoicated with changes and the travel company is not going to eat your mistake. There is also a time value involved and your mistake or change will cost you.

  • bodega3

    In the GDS we see all the fares offered, from the lowest APEX to First Class for every route on a requested date. We also see all the flights and what classes of service are available for that route and date. Online, You don’t online and it isn’t required. Does Macy’s show you the high and low price online that they have charged for the Hillfiger jeans over the past 6 months? Why would you expect the airlines to do this when other retailers don’t? They want to sell you what is on the screen and sell it now. Online prices and availablitly for air travel are not regulated, so you are right to be concerned about if you are getting the best/lowest price or best flights. I do check online and compare to my GDS, so know that I have access to a lot more flights, availablilty and pricing than you do on any one site.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I believe that companies need to honor the prices that they advertise to the public. Mistakes can happen but companies should take the steps (it is a cost of doing business) to insure that the prices are correct. If a mistake is not caught then the company needs to take responsibility. If a company is not held responsible for their mistakes then there is no incentive for them to improve their quality, services, etc.

    As I reported previously in this blog, we had a sales rep provided a proposalquote for a software system to a company by under quoted by $ 80,000. We honored the quote because it was the right thing to do. The client was impressed with our integrity, values, etc. that they ended up buying three more software systems for their other plants at full price.

    In regards to travel, if a traveler makes a mistake (i.e. selected the wrong date), the travel provider usually is not going to allow the traveler to change without some kind of a financial hit unless you were purchasing airline tickets and caught the mistake within 24 hours.

    Back in 2009, British Airways made a mistake with the fare from the US to India. What should have been a $ 40 increase in the fare turned into a $ 40 base fare but the fees, taxes, surcharges and etc. resulted in a fare of $ 550.00 for an economy seat. In article, http://www.elliott.org/blog/sorry-those-40-fares-on-british-airways-werent-for-real/, Chris wrote that it is stealing. You may disagree with Chris’s beliefspositionsopinionsetc. but you must respect Chris for being consistent.

    In the comments, one person stated that he paid $ 750 for a round trip ticket between EWR-BOM. If this price of $ 750 was true, a traveler is getting a 26.67% discount ($ 750 – $ 550/$ 750) with a $ 550 fare. I don’t know what were the fares (base fare and taxesfees) between the major US airports and major India airports back in 2009; therefore, I went to the Orbitz website this morning. The current total cost fare (departing 4/1/13 and returning on 4/15/13) between JFK and BOM ranges between $ 1,100 and $ 1,300 on eight airlines. The total cost fare on British Airways is $ $1,422.87. Using 2013 fares, the discount would have been ranged between 54.12% ($ 1,200 – $ 550/$ 1,200) to 61.34% ($ 1,422.87 – $ 550/$ 1,422.87).

    In today’s story, the rebate should have been $ 100 instead of $ 1,000. The ‘discount’ on the rebate was 900% ($ 1,000 – $ 100/$ 100) due to the error. I would like to know what was included (i.e. airfare, what type of cabin, etc.) in the three-day cruise. At $ $ 1,958 ($ 2,058 – $ 100.00) or $1,058 ($ 2,058 – $ 1,000), it doesn’t seem to be a good deal. At the US Airways Cruise website, http://www.usairwayscruises.com/, I can find prices ranging from $ 50 to $ 100 per passenger (these prices are cruise only). A 4-night Bahamas cruise on Royal Caribbean that departs on May 6, 13, 20 and 27 ranges from $ 329 ($ 82) per passenger for an interior room to $ 1,159 ($ 290 per night) per passenger for a suite.

    Without knowing what was included in the cruise package that the OP purchased, the error on the rebate was 900%. If Chris thinks that a 26% to 62% error on an airfare is stealing, then it must be stealing if the error on the rebate was 900%. This was a fat-finger error on the rebate…someone hit the zero key one extra time.

    Chris thinks that it is stealing when a person takes advantage of a ‘fat-finger error. I think that it is stealing when a person purchase a non-refundable fare but want a refund when they can’t make the trip…they want the benefits of a refundable fare without paying that fare. A traveler can purchase a refundable fare. If you can’t afford the refundable fare…you have to assume the risks of buying a non-refundable fare. If you don’t want to assume the risks, you can transfer some or most of the risks to a travel insurance policy.

    In the past, I have seen those Southwest TV commercials of “fly anywhere for $ 39”. I know that it cost Southwest Airlines more than $ 79 ($ 39 x 2) to fly a passenger from Manchester, NH to LAX. Companies run promotion to generate future business. They have lost leaders. I get special deals on hotel rooms every week that are unbelievable. There are airlines that have specials like Southwest’s $ 39 fly anywhere promotions.

    Some airlines (i.e. British Airways being one of them) will use fees over fares since fees are not taxable…the fare could be $ 200 but the total cost of the ticket is $ 1,500. In the case of 2009 British Airways error, how could a person knew that a $ 550 fare was a ‘fat finger’ especially if regular fares were $ 750 to $ 1,000.

    Just because a price is listed on Flyer Talk, doesn’t make it an error, a fat finger error, etc. My wife subscribes to a website that point out coupon deals and grocery stores such as a store that is increasing the value of a coupon to a dollar and the price of the item is a dollar…so the net cost is zero or even a refund. There are several websites listing deals. What is wrong in pointing out a deal?

    In this case, if Chris wanted to stay consistent that a fat finger error should not be honored and it was a fat finger error of someone typing an extra zero…then he should have asked Travelocity for the correct rebate of $ 100 instead of honoring the fat finger error of $ 1,000 rebate.

  • Michael__K

    I don’t get your objection.

    If the column is factually accurate, then the business only looks bad to readers who expect something more from the business than meeting the minimum terms set in the contract.

    If you don’t expect more, then why would you even say the story makes the business looks bad? For all readers, it’s a potentially illuminating and educational data-point. What’s wrong with that?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Its not an obvious mistake because cruise line prices aren’t nearly as well known as airline tickets or car rentals. I haven’t taken a cruise since senior year of high school. No idea what a three day cruise costs. I suspect many people are in the same boat. Although if the cruise were $10, I’d assume it was a fat fingered fare.

    Also travelers don’t consider commissions when booking travel.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I do screen shots when I am making 1) a major transaction; 2) making a payment on the last daydue date; 3) making a transaction in a promotion because I know that systems are not perfect.
    I would like to see what was included in the $ 2,058 package before making a comment concerning the OP making screenshots.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    Raven has said it perfectly. Travelocity should not penalize a customer for its mistake. Suck it up, Travelocity.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree.

    I believe that companies need to honor the prices that they advertise to the public. Mistakes can happen but companies should take the steps (it is a cost of doing business) to insure that the prices are correct. If a mistake is not caught then the company needs to take responsibility. If a company is not held responsible for their mistakes then there is no incentive for them to improve their quality, services, etc.

    We had a sales rep provided a proposalquote for a software system to a company by under quoted by $ 80,000. We honored the quote because it was the right thing to do. The client was impressed with our integrity, values, etc. that they ended up buying three more software systems for their other plants at full price.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    There are times that people reach out to Chris where travel providers did wrong. I have been reading this blog for years and there have been several people that contacted Chris because they purchased a non-refundable, non-cancellable, non-changeable, etc. fareratetouretc. and something came up and they wanted a refund.

    Chris thinks that it is stealing when a person takes advantage of a ‘fat-finger error. I think that it is stealing when a person purchase a non-refundable fare but want a refund when they can’t make the trip…they want the benefits of a refundable fare without paying that fare; therefore, it is stealing since they are taking benefits without paying for them. A traveler can purchase a refundable fare. If you can’t afford the refundable fare then you have to assume the risks of buying a non-refundable fare. If you don’t want to assume the risks, you can transfer some or most of the risks to a travel insurance policy. If you don’t they assume the risks.

  • calbff

    I think you’re dead on. I have a serious problem with Chris referring to customers as thieves because they pounce on an erroneous offer. Would he feel the same if the person bought something in a store for a ridiculous price? I just don’t get the logic – I don’t do it myself, but that’s capitalism.

  • Joshua

    I thought Steve meant that the software should be programmed to catch any fares that are too far below the range for the last 6 months and alert management before customers start booking an extra-low fare. The 6-month range would be for the company’s internal reference, not to show to the customers.

    After all, if the users of certain web sites can take the time to look for pricing errors to take advantage, then surely the airlines themselves can take the time to stop pricing errors from being made available to their own disadvantage.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. There’s one really important detail that both of you are overlooking. If you don’t know it’s a pricing mistake, I think that’s a different issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    That’s what happened here.

    But if you know that a business has mislabeled its merchandise — and then tell all of your friends to come by and buy a product that you know has the incorrect price — then yes, I think that’s wrong.

    I don’t see how anyone could say that’s acceptable. Care to enlighten me?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    “I suspect many people are in the same boat.”

    Love the pun.

  • bodega3

    I get what you are suggesting but is this really necessary?

  • calbff

    For what it’s worth, I think there’s validity in what you’re saying Chris. I suppose in a case where the individual definitively knows that there’s an error, you could make an argument that it’s wrong, but I think it’s rarely the case that people know 100%, and I don’t see it as a responsibility of a customer to question the validity of prices. I can’t add much to what I said before, other than to reiterate that if it occurs in a real store, I don’t know many people who would think they were doing something wrong by purchasing – perhaps I’m naive, but that’s how I see it. I just see it as capitalism. Maybe something is warped in my thinking, but that’s how I feel.

  • NanaD

    Actually, they salesman had the contract for the second SUV written up with the original SUV price, the purchaser signed the contract, and then showed up with the agreed upon amount in cash. The salesman discovered his mistake and tried to get the purchaser to pay more. When he didn’t, the salesman went to the pollice and said that the purchaser had stolen the SUV and told the police that is was a loaner, not a sale. The salesman made a mistake and tried to cover it up with a series of lies. The original story had several follow-ups in the local news here in Hampton Roads. The dealer owns several dealerships in Virginia and North Carolina. He is not new to the business of selling automobiles.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    “I think that it is stealing when a person purchase a non-refundable fare but want a refund when they can’t make the trip”

    Really? Was that sarcasm? One relates to purposely engaging in a transaction based upon the mistake of the other party. The second relates to asking for a modification of the contract which the other party is free to decline.

    Regardless of whether you think its stealing, they’re hardly comparable behaviors.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I concur. Although I disagree with Chris often, he tries to be fair to all parties. He has chastised customers and declined other cases.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The short answer is that in the travel industry, payment is often made prior to delivery of services. Accordingly the customer has not taken “possession” of the services. As they say colloquially, “Possession is 9/10ths…

  • davidglass

    Basic contract law. Offer and acceptance.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Someone is about to become very rich. And rightfully so,

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If a car dealership offered to sell a new $40,000.00, but misplaces the decimal point so its advertised for $400.00, would a reasonable customer know its an error? I think so.

  • TonyA_says

    If I understand you correctly, it seems that Travelocity is INCREASING the cost of the upgraded cabin and then offering a large rebate to make the offer look good. In that case, it will be difficult to determine a mistake fare since it is hard to compare it with similar packages.
    Question: does travelocity really do this? I thought cruises were using some kind of flat pricing model where everyone matched the selling price of the cruise line itself and some cruise lines allow rebating of commissions.

  • Joe Julio

    Exactly Chris. I have stood at a register at a store and been charged the wrong price (too low) for an item (unmarked building goods) because the cashier picked the wrong code. I let the cashier know they got it wrong. It is called integrity.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    “If a car dealership offered to sell a new $40,000.00, but misplaces the decimal point so its advertised for $400.00, would a reasonable customer know its an error? I think so.”

    I don’t think anyone would argue with you on that point, but a few years ago, when BA had the economy class fares to India for $520 fiasco, Chris very quickly and violently referred to anyone who took advantage of these fares “bottom feeders” and thieves. At the time, that was a little less than half off a discount fare you could get through a travel agent. So what percentage discount is a reasonable person supposed to know is legit and what requires multiple levels of verification before being branded a thief for taking advantage?

  • andrelot

    The problem, @facebook-1284012132:disqus , is that cars are relatively narrowly-priced, whereas travel products have a wide range of prices for the very same service.

    You will very, very rarely found a new car selling 30% off the regular prices. If you are buying a Prius, it might be selling for a couple thousand dollars more here or less there, but that is pretty much about it.

    Now, let’s move to the travel industry: airlines themselves routinely, every single day, fly airplanes with passengers paying 2, 3 or 5 times more than the lowest-paying passenger for the same economy seat. Hotels routinely knock down prices for last minute deals. Then it comes the whole “un-bundling price” world of hotels that make lots of money with fees, casinos etc.

    I like Chris Elliot a lot, but I dislike his usual over-skeptical stance on costumers that, contrary to him, are not closely following the industrial as professional and can’t be expected to know a deal is an error, especially when someone didn’t use any hidden “discount code”, didn’t use some unpublished web link to a special site etc.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    With all due respect, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the average, non-travel expert to understand the ins-and-outs of TA pricing for cruises, and to immediately recognize that this is more than a usual discount. I’m always bombarded by the cruise lines with offers for close to, if not more than, half off list price. I would think it’s reasonable for the average person to think this is a legit offer.

    If this were someone who had booked 25 cruises in the past, that might be a different story.

  • calbff

    Of course you’re right – I just don’t think that should be the way it works. You got my money, deal done.

  • Joshua

    Hey, if the airlines are OK with offering mistakenly ultra-discounted fares, that’s fine with me. I’m suggesting an alternative, and it’s up to the airlines whether they want to follow my advice or not.

    (Most likely, the airlines will never see this comment, and if they do program their software to avoid fat-finger ultra-discounts, it will be because they thought of doing that on their own.)

  • TonyA_says

    Carver, actually the very large cruise lines act or work like airlines. They are participants in the major GDS reservation and distribution systems.
    Sabre boasts of 14 cruise lines that are partcipants. Travelocity, I believe, is owned by Sabre.
    It is not surprising that price of the cruise is the same in RCCL and Travelocity since the agent, Travelocity, simply quotes whatever RCCL loads in the GDS.
    To sweeten the pot, Travelocity can give away cruise dollars, rebates, air discounts, etc., but all these gimmicks are probably coming from their commission from the cruise lines.
    Since cruise fares are very competitive, every seller will compete upfront on pricing. I see no logic in providing a $1000 pop up that is not in the front page.
    A $100 pot sweetener to upgrade a cabin is more logical.

    Furthermore, I would not be surprised that the OP shopped around and compared travelocity and RCCL prices for the same cabin. They would have easily seen the disparity. That would make one suspect that the agent probably offered a mistake coupon or rebate. That was my conclusion when I went to both Travelocity and RCCL’s site to compare the exact cruise and cabin.

  • An Avg Consumer

    Tony, you seem to forget that the average consumer does not have access to all the same information or experience you have as a travel agent. What seems clear to you as an unrealistic price discount, may not to the average consumer who doesn’t work travel arrangements as a professional. This is the point Carver was making.

  • TonyA_says

    Yes that’s true. I cannot blame the OP for doing anything wrong or unethical. He did not know it was a mistake and in fact he did try to ask afterwards.
    I’m just trying to explain to people in the forum who are quite knowledgable that the large cruise lines sell fares like airlines. The smaller or boutique cruises are the ones where you see those 2 for 1 pricing.

  • jane4321

    Look, it is not fair that you always blame the consumer. I personally could not have afforded the actual price for the 3-day cruise and $100 off wouldn’t have helped. If an offer of $1000 off kept popping up despite cleared cookies, then I would have re-considered and bought the cruise, which was then affordable to me.

    I have no idea what a “good” or “fair” price is. I only know what I personally can afford. If the company offers me a price I can afford and I agree to pay it, why is it assumed that I am taking advantage of the company and that I should have known? Why should I be an expert in their pricing? And why should I have to be responsibility for somehow divining that their employees have fat fingers?

    Travelocity should honor the price and take steps with their own employees to ensure that their mistake doesn’t happen again, if this is a serious financial drain for them. Neither you nor Travelocity should blame the customer.

  • James Penrose

    “In the past, I have seen those Southwest TV commercials of “fly anywhere
    for $ 39”. I know that it cost Southwest Airlines more than $ 79 ($ 39
    x 2)”

    I think we have found the person who does the pricing for the cruise line. :)

  • James Penrose

    If airline pricing were a simple three tier system as it once was (first, coach and excursion fares), I might agree. But these days, even the airline doesn’t know what it is charging between “yield management systems” and automatic pricing algorithms and the old joke about no two people on the flight having paid the same fare is pretty much true.

    Since airlines do offer incredible fares from time to time (A few years ago I flew rt from LAX/FRA for $400 total, fees, taxes and all on UA) it’s not the purchaser’s job to determine if the airline really “means” it with any given price one finds and sharing a good value with others is hardly “stealing”. $9 fares only occur because someone was too stupid or lazy to put in a limit check in their pricing system to check obvious howlers. It would take about five lines of code but it would require a genuine human to be paying attention and that seems to be where the airlines fall apart: They just don’t bother to actually use a brain somewhere in their processes.

    Perhaps if the airlines didn’t try and ding us for everything under the sun, practice customer methods that they borrowed from Stalin-era Aeroflot and act like they’ve never heard of us when there are problems on their end, people would not be so eager to profit by the airlines’ mistakes.

  • James Penrose

    Depends on how far along the deal went and whether a human was involved. If I went in, pointed at a car and said “How much” and they said “$400”, well they better pony up. If there’s a sign on the car saying $400, I am assuming they mean it. If the dealer has a habit of offering late-night specials as some do if you watch enough local TV where some impossibly low price is offered that you never seem able to get but this time you get it, same deal.

    If the item is marked $9.95 and the clerk rings up 95 cents then yes, integrity requires you point it out. If the item is tagged 95 cents along with every other identical one on the shelf then its not the purchaser’s issue.

  • James Penrose

    Since most “retail price” listings are fiction beyond even George Lucas, most of us take them with a decent grain of salt, so seeing a $1000 discount on a supposed $2500 fare would not make me blink even once as I’d presume the “list price” was as bogus as the smile from your IRS auditor.

  • Philip Brown

    I wish Travelocity would be so EMPATHETIC to my situation where they never informed me that my flight from NYC to Lima, Peru thru Spirit – only allowed ONE (1) CHECKED BAG. I have contacted them at least seven (7) times & no reply; this would seem to be in violation of the new policies on BAGGAGE FEES – I was using contact info provided by Chris Elliott to file a complaint.

    As I was moving there to be married & live; I had four (4) checked bags for which I was willing to pay for at prevailing rates. I was forced to use Aeromexico for my bags; I have asked for a refund since May 2012 – is anyone “listening” to my pleas for help as I am on Social Security Disability & the amount due is almost 50% of my total monthly check/income.

    Sorry Travelocity, in my mind “YOU SUCK!!!”; turning a deaf ear to customers is very BAD BUSINESS & I tell all my contacts to not use your service!!!

  • Philip Brown

    If I had a need for your software systems; I would purchase – due to your INTEGRITY. This $80,000 error was probably close to your overall profit margin (maybe even a loss); great business experience for all owners!!!

  • William_Leeper

    I have been a bit behind in my reading, but as I work with Chris, I can tell you we reject MANY cases by telling the consumer the business is right. While he does not write about them, every day, trust me they exist.

  • Meeksworth

    This turned out just as it should. When a company advertises a price they should be bound by that, even if it is a mistake. Anything else is false advertising. If Travelocity doesn’t want to subsidize cruises they shouldn’t offer erroneous deal. I understand pricing mistakes will be made, but eating them just part of the cost of doing business.

  • naoma foreman

    I read your column faithfully (and have since you have been on line) and think all your decisions are 100% correctly made. Thanks for being there for those who need you. You are doing a wonderful job!