Christine Volk’s question may be one of those imponderables that can only be asked but never answered: In the travel industry, what’s the difference between a “shoppable” and “bookable” rate?
If you said there’s none, then you must not buy airline tickets. Give me a few minutes, and I’ll pull up a fare that’s cached on an airline site or online travel agency that displays as available, but actually isn’t. To customers, these phantom prices smack of a bait-and-switch scam, and since the customer is always right, they are.
Here’s what happened to Volk: She recently booked a flight on Virgin America, and at the bottom of the page she found the upsell — a “35 percent off” offer on an Avis or Budget rental.
“I checked on the rates for Budget and they were a good deal,” says Volk. An 18-day rental at Boston’s Logan Airport came to $601, including taxes.
That is good.
“I clicked on the ‘confirm reservation’ button and got a message that the reservation could not be completed,” she says. “I tried several times. Same problem.”
Volk then contacted Budget and was told that the rates were — and I quote — “shoppable” but not “bookable.”
So what was bookable? The rate Budget offered her was $400 higher.
That looked suspicious, so I decided to check with Budget. A representative responded to my question promptly:
Any rate that is retrieved or “shopped,” can be reserved or “booked.”
We have looked into this matter, and we cannot seem to replicate the problem Chris Volk experienced. In fact, we received the $601.94 rate and were able to complete the reservation.
We would be happy to make the reservation for the traveler. Please let me know if we can be of assistance.
Problem solved? Not exactly.
I returned to Volk with this information.
“The statement above from Budget is quite simply a lie,” she said. “Customer service rep after customer service rep was unable to receive the $601.94 rate.”
Really? I asked to see the correspondence.
Volk sent the emails between her and Budget. She identified four separate excuses for not receiving the rate.
Excuse #1 — A rate code has been loaded into the reservation system as “shoppable” but not “bookable.”
Dear Christine Volk,
Thank you for contacting the E-mail Customer Service team know about your disappointing experience. On behalf of our entire Budget team, I apologize that the charges displayed through Virgin Airlines website differed from Budget’s rates.
Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience or confusion this rate issue may have caused. This issue is caused when a rate code has been loaded into the reservation system as “shoppable” but not “bookable.”
Unfortunately, due to this error, you can view the rate, but the rate is not actually available to be booked at the location selection.
Excuse #2 – Someone else already confirmed that rate, so it is gone.
Dear Christine Volk,
Thank you for contacting the E-mail Customer Service team.
Certainly, we apologize for the confusion, a rate may be shoppable for a customer but not bookable when they have reviewed the rate, however someone else has already confirmed and selected the particular rate for the vehicle they are looking to rent. This generally happens when using a 3rd party website to book vehicles, where there may be a delay in retrieving the data from the Budget.com site.