The discount had been offered in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind convention in Dallas. NFB tweeted it out, and Travelocity even re-tweeted it. The terms and conditions of the coupon did not require NFB membership, but many folks who took advantage of the deal joined the National Federation for the Blind — only $10 and it was either in honor of the offer, or to be ‘on the safe side’ since it is members of that organization who were ostensibly supposed to benefit.
But Travelocity hadn’t really anticipated that since it could be used to book hotels in completely different locations from where air travel took passengers to, it would be possible to spend say $30 on a 3-night hotel stay in India or Southeast Asia and take a $170 straight discount on airfare. Or to buy the cheapest possible flights and take perhaps a $130 discount on a 3-night hotel stay.
Travelocity’s response was to cancel everyone’s bookings that they said hadn’t actually attended the National Federation for the Blind convention itself. Even though the promotion’s published rules contained no such stipulation.
They sent out e-mails indicating that the reservations were being cancelled at the request of travelers, and showing a cancellation charge. They’ve since clarified that this was a mistake, and that everyone would get a full refund. Eventually.
It’s a crazy story for how this was handled. The total exposure to Travelocity is potentially a few hundred thousand dollars (they won’t confirm how many bookings were made in this fashion). They’ve added new terms and conditions to the promotion after customers have made purchases, they’ve spent tons of resources managing customer communications and handling cancellations and refunds. And they have had a constant barrage of negativity on their Facebook wall. (There’s a dedicated Facebook page were affected customers are complaining, as well.)
The media is even beginning to pick up on the incident. A Baltimore Sun piece has Travelocity explaining that my blog was the cause of the affair.
The online travel agency allotted several thousand redemptions for the code. Frey said as the weeks went on, there was a normal number of redemptions of the code until a blog was posted on the travel website BoardingArea.com in late July.
After that, he said “It went crazy. We saw a huge spike in redemption of the codes. So that made us pause, and we took a look at it.”
Travelocity’s spokesman acknowledged that they re-tweeted NFB’s publicizing the offer.
Meanwhile the New York Post (HT: Jeanne) calls Travelocity a ‘short-sighted website. (Ouch. That’s like when a friend of mine once wrote an op-ed describing the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act as being ‘like the blind leading the blind’. Umm….)
A travel Web site used e-mail to cancel reservations, including those of blind customers — apparently forgetting they couldn’t read the messages or might not even have e-mail, The Post has learned.
Travelocity had offered a special promotion to 2,300 visually impaired people attending a National Federation of the Blind conference in Dallas over the Fourth of July holiday week: $200 off any three-day hotel and travel package.
But the Web site tweeted the offer to some 67,000 of its Twitter followers without mentioning the federation-membership requirement.
When it realized its mistake, it canceled the reservations of everyone who had jumped at the offer.
…A Travelocity spokesman said the company is trying to determine which of its canceled customers were at the conference, and said their discounts would be honored.
My issues with Travelocity in all of this are:
- Taking a week to decide to cancel tickets that were booked in accordance with terms and conditions.
- Claiming that the discount included terms and conditions which it did not.
- Implying that it was improper to use a discount code they had tweeted.
- Not refunding customer funds right away (it may take weeks in some cases) once they made the decision to cancel, and after telling folks they wouldn’t even be getting all of their money back.
You win some, you lose some, and in full disclosure I did not book any of these tickets myself.
But Travelocity’s pitch, the unique selling proposition they developed for themselves to differentiate from other online travel agencies, was that they stood behind bookings made on their website completely — hence the motton, “You’ll never roam alone.”
They probably should have set up the code not to allow hotels in a different city than airfare, or to specify in terms and conditions that only the targeted group was actually eligible to use the discount.
Not having done that, I do think they should stand behind the booking. And I suspect that the cost of cancelling and the loss of goodwill will exceed what they would have incurred by standing behind their offer.