The rate error story that got away — in a big way

Pavel IgnatovShutterstock
Pavel IgnatovShutterstock
Anyone who reads this site probably knows my position on rate errors, which is to say I think it’s wrong to take advantage of someone else’s mistake, even if it’s made by a big travel company.

So you can imagine how dismayed I was when I got a call from Howard Steinberg, who owns several Budget car rental franchises in the United States. Not only had one of his customers exploited a rate error, he says, but I had helped the traveler do it.

How’s that?

Well, to get up to speed on this story, here’s the Q&A column that started it all. It involved a reader named Brandon Chase who had received a mysterious phone call from Budget’s auditing department, notifying him of a billing error. Budget re-charged his credit card $85, apparently not giving him a discount it had promised.
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Oh no, Budget had second thoughts about my discount

Maria Scaldina/Shutterstock
Maria Scaldina/Shutterstock
Question: I’d like to share my recent Budget Car Rental experience with you that has me committed to never doing business with them again.

A couple weeks ago I received a voicemail saying the Budget at the Kansas City airport would be charging me an extra $104 because an “internal audit” found they gave me too much of a discount. My receipt shows the $85 discount, which seemed right since there was an advertised discount.

So, they billed my credit card without my authorization, and then added in all the additional taxes and fees to bring the amount up to $104. I called Budget corporate and the franchise, but nobody would help fix the issue, even though I had a receipt to prove we “agreed” on the lesser amount.
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Attack of the airfare thieves


Who could have predicted the furious reaction to the recent story about a woman who booked a cheap airline ticket from Myanmar to Canada, and my characterization of her as an airfare thief?

Not me. But I’m circling back to her case, and the broader issue of fare errors, because many commenters asked me to.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve written about the ethics of taking advantage of a price mistake. I covered the issue in 2010, when a British Airways fare error affected hundreds of travelers. I also refused to mediate a Korean Air fare mistake once I learned that many passengers had knowingly — some would say fraudulently — booked the erroneously-priced tickets.
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Help, my CenturyLink bill is $#!*#d up — can you fix this thing?

Question: I’m trying to get a billing problem fixed with CenturyLink, but am having no luck. I recently signed up for a CenturyLink-DirecTV bundle without phone service through the CenturyLink website. I agreed to pay a rate of $24.95 a month.

When I got my first bill, I saw several fees and charges I didn’t recognize, including an “Internet” charge of $34.95 and a related one-time fee of $5.95.

I called CenturyLink and was advised that the $24.95 rate was only valid for a bundle package of home phone and Internet. I showed a representative the order form on the CenturyLink website, but even after I did, the company refused to adjust my bill.
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So you have a screen shot of your Expedia booking — so what?

How much more proof does he need?
One of the cardinal rules of getting better customer service is keeping meticulous records. When you’re booking online, a screen shot of the purchase is your trump card.

Paul Towse thought he had that trump card when his Expedia UK reservation didn’t turn out as expected. Back in January, he booked a flight between San Francisco and Las Vegas on flights offered by US Airways and operated by United Airlines.
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Korean Air cancels tickets because of fare error

Here’s a case that’s been keeping me up at night.

It’s not just because this one’s about errors — one of my favorite topics. It’s also because it raises several difficult questions about ethics, journalism and consumer advocacy.

I’ve spent my career studying errors and have made plenty of my own. But back in September, it was Korean Air’s turn to screw up.
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Is this enough compensation? Crossed wires leads to canceled SeaWorld passes

Annual pass holders are the lifeblood of year-round theme parks. Without these die-hard fans, who often plunk down thousands of dollars for the privilege of visiting the park, Orlando would be a ghost town in September.

So when Hal Flomerfelt had a little problem with his SeaWorld passes, he assumed the park would take care of it right away. After all, both he and his wife had been loyal passholders for nearly a decade.

He assumed wrong.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Can I redo my Disney vacation, please?

Question: I recently booked a vacation package to Disneyland through Southwest Vacations, but I mistakenly entered the wrong date — September instead of December. We were away when the tickets were delivered, and I didn’t notice the error until it was too late. We were considered “no-shows” for our vacation.

This error is extremely unfortunate, since we planned this trip for my husband’s birthday. It was an honest mistake.

I contacted Southwest Vacations, and they said they would be willing to rebook our airline tickets and re-issue our theme park tickets, but that there would be a $500 penalty for the Disney hotel. Southwest asked Disney to waive its rules, but Disney hasn’t responded. I know they are under no obligation to rebook our package, but can you help us? — Pamela Metcalf Kunelis, Fair Oaks, Calif.

Answer: I agree, neither Southwest Vacations nor Disney was under any obligation to refund any portion of your vacation. The fact that Southwest had agreed to re-issue your plane tickets and theme park tickets was more than you — or I — could have asked for.
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“We are now stuck in a communications abyss”

Technology can be a helpful tool for the traveler, or it can be the tool of the devil. In Cindy Lammert’s case, it’s definitely the latter. Her recent online booking at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost through the Accor site got so screwed up that no phone calls or emails could fix it.

“We are now stuck in a communications abyss, with no resolution, no place to stay, and a $550 bill,” she told me.

How did she get drawn into this vortex? Is there any hope for her? And how can you avoid the same thing?
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Rooms for $58 a night at the Ritz Carlton Chicago? No way!

When Jack Whalen found an unbelievable room rate of $58 a night at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago — and on a holiday weekend, no less — he was thrilled. “This was to have been an anniversary trip, and my wife would love to stay at a high end hotel at a great price,” he says.

But the price, which he found through Travelocity, was unbelievable. Turns out it was a fat finger rate. A Ritz-Carlton employee had misplaced a decimal point, turning $580 rooms into $58 rooms. Oops.

Although Ritz-Carlton tried to make it up to him by offering a discounted, but significantly more expensive rate, Whalen is unhappy.
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