Okay. So on Saturday morning, whilst reading one of our national newspapers over a bagel and coffee, I stumble upon a full-page colour ad for a discount airline offering seat sales for the upcoming summer. The ad brags a cost of $98 to fly from a certain southern Ontario city to certain Maritime city – the former of which I live in and the latter of which I’m in the market to fly to during the same timeframe as the airline’s sale. Conveniently, this discount airlines flies out of Toronto’s “Billy Bishop” island airport, which is not very far from my day-job office.
Now being the brainiac that I am, I understand that the “$98” is clearly a lure, that it’s only the one-way price and does not include any of the myriad taxes and service fees that are the accoutrements to the modern-day airline ticket. Still, I think, surely the final round-trip cost can’t be any more than three times the advertised price, which would put it at a maximum of $294 for a round-trip flight, everything in. This is still a mighty fine price to fly home in the middle of summer. The ad indicates that, to take advantage of this wonderful offer, I need to book my ticket by May 18.
So during lunch today, I check out the airline’s website. Curiously, after selecting (through its online booking engine) my dates and destination, all in accordance of the ad’s offer, I discover that the price is wildly different from the ad: $585! Surely this is some mistake. The offer, I think, must be available only by calling in person, and perhaps this was mentioned in the microscopic, 3-point font fine print that went on for two paragraphs at the bottom of the ad, which - my bad - I didn’t read all that closely.
So I call the airline’s toll-free reservation number. After spending 13 minutes on hold (Wow, I think, everybody’s got the same idea as me!) I get through to a human being. I tell her about the sale and my desired dates and destination. “Let me check,” she says. “Oh I’m sorry,” she says, almost instantly. “There are no more tickets available at that price.” Before I have time to point out that today isn’t, in fact, May 18th and, in the spirit of the ad, the price should still be available to me at the advertised price, the lady retorts with, “But I can give you right now a 30% discount on the regular price.”
Through some magic of mathematics, the final price she offers me – round trip, everything in – is $428. Which is still $18.50 more expensive than 30% off of $585, and still preposterously more expensive than the $294 I thought I’d pay – at most – for the ticket before I called. Needless to say, I curtly ended my conversation with her and hung up.
So is this a scam or what? Is there anything stopping this or any other airline from advertising a too-good-to-be-true seat sale, a sale that the airline has no intention of honouring, a sale that it is only used to goad people into calling and then offering them an inferior discount on an already over-inflated price? I mean, are these sorts of advertisements in our national newspapers not regulated? Or am I just being naive and should just go back to ignoring them altogether? Can someone shed some light?