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.
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.
Bob Slattery booked a room at La Maltese Estate Villa, a hotel that exudes the ambience of a privileged “members only” private club in Santorini, Greece. The rate? An unbelievable $110 per night, snagged through the site Vacationist.com.
Too good to be true, right? Right.
Kathi McGaffigan and Bruce Nordqusit’s upcoming Italy cruise on the Celebrity Constellation came with an unpleasant surprise just a few days before they set sail. The company discovered a pricing error and reset their rate from $999 per person to $1,549, and although it apologized for the mistake, it insisted on charging the couple the difference.
These pricing errors — often called “fat finger” fares — are not uncommon in travel. I’ve written about them several times, and I generally believe a company has the right to fix a legitimate price mistake.
But this didn’t fit the traditional definition of a “fat finger” rate, and Celebrity had no business changing their price at the last minute.
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.
Royce Smith planned to visit Sydney during spring break to attend an arts festival and work on a book, when he found an unbelievably good fare on American Airlines’ Web site: A round-trip ticket from Wichita to Sydney for just $1,198.
In first class.
“I jumped on the deal,” said Smith, an assistant art professor at Wichita State University. “I entered credit card details and double-checked American’s booking code to ensure that first class was indeed what I was purchasing. Everything indicated a confirmed seat in first class.”
He shouldn’t have believed it.