Friday, May 3, 2013

Expedia's expediant deception

Let's say you're eating at a nice restaurant. You ask the server, "How much would it be if I ordered a steak, salad and a Coke?"

"$15" says the server.

"Great," you say. "I'll take it."

"That'll cost $29," says the server.

"Wait a minute," you say. "You just said it was $15."

"Oh, that's the price for the steak," the server explains. "With the salad and the Coke, it's $29."

"But I told you I wanted the salad and the Coke when I asked the price."

"Whatever. It's $29. Do you want it or not?"

Does this seem like a ridiculous way to do business? Perhaps so, but it seems to be the practice at the travel website Expedia.

I was trying to book a hotel for my family's upcoming trip to Kenya. At Expedia, I searched for prices at the Voyager Beach Hotel for two adults and two children and entered our dates of arrival and departure. Upon prompting, I also entered the ages of our kids.

Expedia responded with a couple options including one nice room priced at $157 a night. Considering that the Voyager Beach is considered a top-notch hotel, and the price included breakfast and dinner, this seemed like a great price. But when I went to book, I was in for a surprise.

On the next page, the room cost abruptly jumped to $235 a night, and $59 more in taxes and fees were tacked on too. In all, this "$157" room would cost $294 a night.

What happened? An Expedia agent told me that the $157 price was for two people, not four. But I had already told the system that our party had four people
why would it give me the price for two?

The agent had no answer, but I suspect it comes down to two words: bait and switch.

Sure, many people like me will be miffed, but a certain number will pay the bigger price, making the deceptive practice profitable for Expedia. Some people may even be in such a hurry they don't notice the price change.

The "taxes and fees" category also deserves a mention. On top of the room rate, they add a further 25% to the cost. Unfortunately, with this website's murky system, you can't tell whether these are truly government-imposed taxes or just pad-the-bottom-line fees going to Expedia.

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