A very expensive typo.
April 6, 2006 8:33 PM   Subscribe

A very expensive typo. For twelve hours on April 5, a business class fare on Alitalia from Toronto to Lanarca, Cyprus was $39 CAD instead of the usual $3900. Someone at farecompare.com with access to ATPCO airfare feeds found the error and posted the news to FlyerTalk, which started a stampede for tickets that lasted until the fare was belatedly corrected. Alitalia initially tried to cancel the already issued tickets, sparking debates debates over whether the obviously wrong fares should be honored. Alitalia eventually relented, and a lucky 500-2000 people (according to some guesses) will be flying to Cyprus for under $200 including taxes.
posted by komilnefopa (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
We have cameras airline tickets.
posted by mathowie at 8:35 PM on April 6, 2006


I can't believe that I forgot to work the obvious reference into my post.
posted by komilnefopa at 8:37 PM on April 6, 2006


Heh. Maybe now that airline will have to fire some of it's pesky safety inspectors and flight attendants. Way to screw "the man."
posted by ColdChef at 8:38 PM on April 6, 2006


Yeah, it seems like they have a pretty reasonable argument for canceling the tickets. Perhaps all the ticket holders will end up in the invasive security check lane.
posted by 517 at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2006


Ok, mefi is fat and old. Someone else gets the cameras.
Now, watch this drive ...
posted by R. Mutt at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2006


And when this happens with electronics, they just say "Sorry, our bad!" and cancel the orders. I suspect that the same thing will happen here.. unless Italian law prevents it. Since Alitalia is an Italian airline, which jurisdiction would the inevitable lawsuits happen in? Italy or Canada? :)
posted by drstein at 9:13 PM on April 6, 2006


Why wasn't I informed of this???
posted by lemur at 9:26 PM on April 6, 2006


I like debates about debates.

Also, eat shit Alitalia.

Also, I suspect an employee at their company will no longer have a job.

And finally, I wonder if Alitalia will have a right to sue farecompare for their part in this.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:33 PM on April 6, 2006


I recently got the shaft from a book club I belong to. Their website advertised a book for $9, but when I added it to the shopping cart, the price shot up the $35. I took a screenshot and wrote customer service, hoping to get the cheaper price. The refused to honor the lower price. "Sorry, Charlie." In a regular retail establishment, if an item is marked wrong, in the customer's favor, the store has to honor that price, doesn't it?

On the other hand, I rhink I remember reading about a national chain of restaurants that nearly went out of business because the managers miscalculated the price of king crab legs. It's costly mistakes like these that can drive a company into bankruptcy, especially when the profit margins are so lean, like in the restaurant or airline industries.
posted by crunchland at 9:43 PM on April 6, 2006


Shouldn't this implicate the Pepsi Points - Harrier Jet ruling?
posted by banishedimmortal at 9:49 PM on April 6, 2006


Folks jumping on airline errors is not that uncommon. I read within the last year or so (New York Times, I think) about a bunch of New Yorkers (naturally, LOL) who got dirt cheap tickets to Scandinavia because of an error. And the airline honored the tickets.

I also know that in many instances when a store has a sign on something for such and such price, they have to honor the price even if they screwed up and priced it wrong. For example, my brother-in-law had picked out a nice necklace as a gift for my sister. Somebody must have priced it too low. They tried to tell him he couldn't have it for the low price. Being a lawyer, he pointed out that if they had a sign on it (or something like that) for a given price, the law in Maryland said that they had to give it to him at that price. He got the necklace.

And there used to be some serious loopholes in the online Amtrak ticket purchase system. Like there was a discount code on tickets to Boston (from upstate New York) which just happened to work on tickets to NYC (the complete opposite direction). Once you had the ticket, they were always honored. The loophole has since been closed, however. Bastids.
posted by bim at 9:56 PM on April 6, 2006


drstein wrote "And when this happens with electronics, they just say 'Sorry, our bad!' and cancel the orders. I suspect that the same thing will happen here.."

There was a time when even Dell would honor price mistakes... especially when they weren't smart enough to catch them yet.

I almost booked this ticket to Cyprus as a means of getting to Western Europe this summer, but the connecting flights were so expensive that it was a wash, excepting the business class seat. Anyone got London fare secrets from Boston?
posted by VulcanMike at 10:19 PM on April 6, 2006


I got a great "blooper" flight thanks to airfarewatchdog.com -- not as good as the deal mentioned, but I'm paying half the price at an expensive time, and the flight is fully refundable. I won't get my miles, but I don't care.

Of course, it always helps to do "flexible search"....
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 10:25 PM on April 6, 2006


The normal $3900 fare is somewhat skewed due to the fact that the flight from Cyprus to Toronto is a favorite of snake smugglers.
posted by HyperBlue at 10:25 PM on April 6, 2006


In Canada, a vendor is not legally obligated to honour a price which is obviously a clerical error.
Many large businesses have policies which let the customer have the product at the erroneous price, though.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:27 PM on April 6, 2006


And it's good PR.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:29 PM on April 6, 2006


"In a regular retail establishment, if an item is marked wrong, in the customer's favor, the store has to honor that price, doesn't it?" (crunchland)

An acquaintance from France told me that was the law there, but I'm sure it isn't in USA.

Worst case on one side, insider posts a wrong price for friends; worst case on the other side, bait-and-switch tricks. My view is that "price tag rules" ought to be the law: it provides an incentive for correctness, and retailers are responsible for their employees.

Online there are usually terms in the fine print saying that the listing of an item is not really an offer and what the would-be buyer thinks of as accepting an offer (put it in the shopping cart) is only an offer which the store can accept or reject. Similarly in B to B, it's "battle of the forms". The UCC has rationalized it somewhat.
posted by jam_pony at 10:43 PM on April 6, 2006


Mistakes are mistakes. I don't see a whole lot of difference between a company pulling a malicious bait-and-switch versus a bunch of "customers" (and I use that term loosely) rushing to snap a price they know damn well was a typo and then banging their fists in righteous anger when the airline tries to correct it.

Here's a nice bit of logic from the deadbeats (linked): "If they're going to let this go on for 12 hours without doing anything about it, they deserve to get screwed." Yeah...12 hours. An eternity. Must have been a deliberate ploy to attract attention to their website. That's the ticket.
posted by cribcage at 10:49 PM on April 6, 2006


Are the camera references from this? In which case, I don't get it.
posted by spiderskull at 11:08 PM on April 6, 2006


In Norway, if the posted price is not obviously wrong, the retailer has to hounour it. And my heart does not excactly bleed for the people who rushed to by the - quite obviously - underpriced seats and then complain when they don't get them.
posted by Harald74 at 11:33 PM on April 6, 2006


As I understand it, in Canada, at least, a price-tag is considered to be simply an offer, or an "invitation to treat". A contract isn't formed until there is an offer, an acceptance, and an exchange of valuable consideration.

If a retailer mistakenly price-tags an item incorrectly, this is a mistake under law, neither party is obligated to honour it, and it may be revoked at any time. However, once a customer purchases the item, the retailer can not then renege on the price, as a contract has been formed. Some retailers, usually supermarkets, have a policy under which they will accept an incorrect price, but by no means is this the law.

This makes sense if you think about it . A supermarket can easily absorb the loss of a case of incorrectly priced Rice A Roni, but the independent Consumer Electronics retailer who mistakenly tags their $3000 Plasma at $300 could be driven out of business in an afternoon by just one customer with a Visa Platinum card.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:48 PM on April 6, 2006


Reminds me of someone who's ad mistakenly priced their precious vintage 'vette in a car magazine at $2,500 (instead of $25,000). You Better believe I responded to the ad! I actually spoke with the fellow for awhile, and he was upset as he made it perfectly clear to the magazine that he wanted $25,000, and now was inundated with calls from several thousand people due to the price. Of course, he was not obligated to sell it to anyone for that price, but he wasted the money (according to what he told me about a conversation he had between him and the magazine's ad dept.) for the ad, and there was pretty much nothing he could do about it...
posted by Debaser626 at 12:32 AM on April 7, 2006


As I understand it, in Canada, at least, a price-tag is considered to be simply an offer, or an "invitation to treat". A contract isn't formed until there is an offer, an acceptance, and an exchange of valuable consideration.

As far as I'm aware this is the situation in Ireland as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was most anywhere. That being said, in most instances stores act in good faith where product has been mislabelled by the stock room staff.
posted by macdara at 12:53 AM on April 7, 2006


Yeah, it's the same in the UK too I think: 'invitation to treat' not a done deal till you've paid for it I think is how it works - I seem to recall there was a similar online cock-up here a few months ago and those who had already got the thing charged to their credit cards had more solid ground for forcing the retailer to honour the purchase. Any other Brits know more on this?
posted by biffa at 2:25 AM on April 7, 2006


Having a credit card charged does not necessarily constitute an acceptance of an offer. e.g. the retailer might offer to refund the money if the purchaser does not accept the terms of (what would amount to in this case) a counter-offer at the correct price. There are some famous cases where this has been upheld.

The other defence is claiming a unilateral contractual mistake. This can occur even if a contract has been formed and money has changed hands. In this case it would require showing that most of the people buying the mispriced ticket probably knew the price was a mistake.

By the way, the quintessential "invitation to treat" (or "invitation to bargain" as it is called in the US) case in the UK was Boots.

(Reading this reply constitutes an acceptance of my offer of legal services at 200 quid an hour. PayPal accepted.)
posted by zaebiz at 2:42 AM on April 7, 2006


One of my friends purchased a pair of these tickets. He will regularly catch cheapo flight errors like this. Last year, he got a business class flight from Oregon to Tahiti for like $11 or something.
posted by antifuse at 4:48 AM on April 7, 2006


Funny, there's sweet f*ck all in the italian news about this that I can find. A quick skim of their ticket & tariff rules on the web site mentions nothing about price errors. There's no terms of use for the website either. So the typical clause used by Internet vendors here (Vendor reserves the right to cancel order due to price error) is missing.

'Whoops' is a bit of an understatement.

I am reminded of the Trenitalia internet fiasco where you could reserve tickets online and pick them up at automated kiosks in the stations; somewhere in the process was a hole that resulted in free tickets. Don't quite remember the details, though and my Google-Fu is weak in Italian...
posted by romakimmy at 5:06 AM on April 7, 2006


Biifa: it was Argos in the UK.
posted by patricio at 5:40 AM on April 7, 2006


and apparently they have form on this too.
posted by patricio at 5:42 AM on April 7, 2006


FareAlert finds nothing but deals like this (and they did have this specific one, in fact). If you sign up for their email list, they'll send you an alert whenever a ridiculously good travel deal pops up -- like $3/night at the Hilton Osaka, which is the last one they sent out.
posted by Acetylene at 6:23 AM on April 7, 2006


spiderskull, the camera reference is specifically to NortonDC's beautifully understated response to this post in that thread.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:54 AM on April 7, 2006


The normal $3900 fare is somewhat skewed due to the fact that the flight from Cyprus to Toronto is a favorite of snake smugglers

Are you trying to tell me that people bring snakes..... on planes?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:12 AM on April 7, 2006


Many of the following details are probably incorrect...
Sometime around 1980 a thoughtless electronics dealer had a newspaper ad offering some object for "only 200 bananas", by which they meant dollars.
Unfortunately for them, a banana cost less than a dollar.
Many people showed up with the required price, which was grudgingly honored. I forget how the bananas were disposed of.
posted by Aknaton at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2006


why would anyone want to fly to cyprus except cypriots? and are there that many in toronto?
posted by Hat Maui at 10:34 AM on April 7, 2006


Toronto, 2001 census, 85K Greeks, 9K Turks.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on April 7, 2006


why would anyone want to fly to cyprus except cypriots?

Presumably because they could enjoy $39 business class comfort all the way to Cyprus and then hop Easyjet or another cheapo airline to Dublin/Paris/other more attractive destination?
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:12 PM on April 7, 2006


hey, thanks, GuyZero. that explains it.

also, jamesonandwater, that makes sense as well.
posted by Hat Maui at 3:23 PM on April 7, 2006


jamesonandwater wrote "Presumably because they could enjoy $39 business class comfort all the way to Cyprus and then hop Easyjet or another cheapo airline to Dublin/Paris/other more attractive destination?"

As I mentioned above, I wasn't able to find reasonable flights from Cyprus to Western Europe when I heard about the deal -- I'd assume that Eastern Europe would be a different story, however.
posted by VulcanMike at 10:14 PM on April 7, 2006


why would anyone want to fly to cyprus except cypriots?

vacation?
posted by mr.marx at 2:21 PM on April 8, 2006


why would anyone want to fly to cyprus except cypriots?

How about for the beaches, the relatively cheap accomodation, restaurants, beer and bars, and the pleasant climate this time of year? Good grief, I sound like an ad for Cyprus Tourism.
posted by normy at 2:38 PM on April 8, 2006


Meh. Amazon never honors their price fuckups, so why should this company? Forget it, non-issue.
posted by ktoad at 11:33 AM on April 9, 2006


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