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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Curious web design experience lately:

I've generally been very happy with Independence Air. In general, I've found their website to be very effective, and probably the 2nd best-designed website for checking on purchasing flights (behind Southwest). It's light years ahead of USAir, which gives you the impression the hamsters in the back room are very, very tired.

I recently wanted to book a flight on Independence Air. $89 for the first leg. Finished comparison shopping, came back to book it. $139. For each person, meaning the flight was now $100 more expensive than I thought. My initial thought was I had just bumped up against a price change. I put the purchasing aside for a day. The next day, I happened to get an email about sales. I logged back on. $89. Great, I'll book it. Two minutes later, two tickets? $139/each.

I finally managed to figure out, and called in to verify, that only one ticket was left at the $89 price. As soon as two were going to be purchased, both would be $139. This raises a couple of questions...beyond whether this was part of a deliberate plot to drive consumers crazy...
Question #1: If I purchased two tickets, would I get the discounted price on the first...Answer: apparently not, unless I booked one ticket, logged back on, and booked another, while, hopefully, the prices didn't change any further.
Question #2: If I called in, was there any chance they'd give me the lower price on both tickets, as I was now frustrated, and likely to book on another airline?
Answer: No. And supervisors wouldn't be able to do anything either. To the credit of the two people who talked to me on the phone, who very clearly did not speak English as their first language, they listened politely, and then told me there was absolutely nothing they could do.
Question #3: How difficult would it be to program the website so that if there was only one seat left in a particular fare, something more consumer friendly could be done?
Answer: Probably trickier than I think. If you don't show the low price, what if someone only needs one ticket? Where would you draw the line? People buying two? three?
Question #4: What is the likelihood sending an email pointing any of this out gets a response?
Answer: So far, zero. Of course, it's only been three days.
Question #5: Is this griping going to do anything, when Independence Air has bigger issues?
Answer: Probably not.

UPDATE: It took 7 days, and I got a response back. Key excerpt below: It seems clear a human must have looked at the email for at least 3 seconds before sending the form letter. The basic message does seem to be consistent, the fares are what they are, until they're not :)

"The key thing to remember about our fares is that there are only a certain amount of seats available on the plane for any given price. Once these seats are taken, the fare will move to the next level of the tier. We encourage our customers to book as early as possible in order to obtain the lowest possible fare. Unfortunately if you wait, you may find out that your lower fare has been sold. All of our fares are based on one way travel. "

3 Comments:

Blogger Robert A. Feisee, JD, CFP(R) Professional said...

Sounds like a classic catch-22. Independence air's stock has been plummeting ever since CEO Kerry Skeen has set forth their business model. Granted skyreocketing fuel prices coldn't have come at a worse time; but failure to have decent customer service reps and stories like yours makes me weary to invest in such a company.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous mjb said...

Josh, the intrepid traveler. I think you're actually onto something-- when purchasing multiple tickets, the fare basis always seems to disappear into a murky world, no matter what airline you're booking. Basically, you're asking for the fare basis to appear throughout the booking process. And you're also asking for their computers to be a little smarter and capable of providing multiples (cheapest-available) fares on a multi-passenger ticket purchase. Not unreasonable, but certainly unheard of to date.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Robert A. Feisee, JD, CFP(R) Professional said...

That's good news to see positive action. I am going to check out their webiste to see if I can actually execute!

3:13 PM  

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