Delta (DAL, Fortune 500) acknowledged that a glitch caused steeply-discounted tickets to be offered online Thursday — some for as low as $12.83, according to customers. They celebrated their finds on social media, including cross-country flights for $40 and Boston to Honolulu lifts for $68.
One customer said she bought tickets between Tallahassee and Los Angeles for $27 each way. Those routes normally cost between several hundred and several thousand dollars.
There is the problem right there! The variance in the price ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars. There is no way of knowing if the price is right or wrong. It’s not like the fare can be negotiated.
NPR’s Mark Memmott asks this question; The Price Is Wrong And You Know It: Do You Buy That Ticket?
Headlines such as this come along every few months:
“Delta To Honor Extremely Cheap Mistake Fares.”
The news, says The Associated Press, is that:
“From about 10 a.m. to noon ET [Thursday], certain Delta fares on the airline’s own website and other airfare booking sites were showing up incorrectly, offering some savvy bargain hunters incredible deals. A roundtrip flight between Cincinnati and Minneapolis for February was being sold for just $25.05 and a roundtrip between Cincinnati and Salt Lake City for $48.41. The correct price for both of those fares is more than $400.”
There is no such thing as a correct fare price for any route. IF there were, then there would be no price variance ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars from a consistent point A to point B.
NPR’s article concludes with a three question pole centered on the ethics of purchasing and expecting the airline to honor their pricing glitch. The responses, as of now, range from 70-80% affirmative in favor of buying and using the ticket.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a glitch is a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or fault of equipment. The glitch was caused by price programming error/malfunction on Delta’s website. This is the problem with over-reliance on automation. Things happen when they are no longer being deliberately touched by a human mind. Not to mention the complex & convoluted computer spaghetti code. One well intended software patch for one bug fix may cause unintended consequences with inter-related features. Untouched by human minds, inadequate change control, poor off-line testing before release, and the congested holiday season all contributed to this ‘glitch’.
Let me share one of my own experiences with variable airline ticket pricing. Several years ago we took an Alaskan cruise. This included flying to the Seattle, driving to Vancouver, boat to Seward, Alaska, drive to Anchorage and fly back home. Our tickets were purchased well in advance through an orbital website that promised low price guarantee. What a scam/farce that turned out to be. Let me explain.
By buying early, our tickets were economically priced to fill up the plane. As the departure date neared, the value of the ticket increases. Our one-way fare from the east to west coast was $100. One week before the departure, the value of the ticket became $1500. I was checking and here’s why.
In order to sell that $1500 ticket and avoid selling it consistently at $100, the suborbital website CHANGED MY FLIGHTS. I would get emails telling me of the change. Then I would call their customer service center, conveniently located in the Philippines and get put back on the original flight and in the original seats.
This happened twenty times. I kid you not. Ten times for the going flight and ten times for the return flight. Some of the routes assignments were absolutely absurd. One flight from Alaska back to Maine included connections in Texas. Does anyone have a map?
Once again, these unethical changes were being done automatically. Untouched by human minds. All with the obvious intent of selling higher ticket prices while ‘honoring’ the low price guarantee. Needless to say, I no longer use an orbiting website to schedule airline flights.
So, back to the NPR article and poll questions. “The Price is Wrong & You Know It” is a false premise. There is no such thing as a consistently route based flight price. It’s all day, date, route & time of day driven as determined by programmed complex computer algorithms designed to efficiently maximize profit-untouched by human minds.
What would you do? Would you buy the low price ticket and expect Delta to honor it?
I would. As I gaze out my window, across an icy snow landscape and forest, that $68 flight from Boston to Honolulu is quite enticing.