Delta Is Being Accused of Sneakily Tricking People Into Booking Much Worse Seats Than They Think
I’d heard about this strange occurrence. So I tried it for myself.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
When I book flights, I try to be patient.
Perhaps like many people, I go to Kayak or Google Flights, and hope to find everything that's available.
Then, I might wait a few days to see if prices go up or down, depending on the urgency of my booking.
It's like playing with your cat, really. Most of the time, Tibkins is quicker. Just occasionally, though, you get him.
A strange, slightly disturbing anomaly, though, was recently spotted by God Save The Points.
The accusation was that Delta Air Lines made ordinary Economy Class flights appear as if they were Premium Economy when booked via Google Flights.
Or, as the Points-Saving God puts it: "Delta displays economy prices for Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy, and at no point during booking does it actually specifically tell you you've got the wrong deal."
In essence, if you go through the Google Flights search process, wanting to book, say, return flights from London to LAX, you get what seems like a wonderful deal.
If you book via Delta's site rather than its partner Virgin Atlantic's, that is.
The price difference is more than $1,000. Which is clearly the very definition of a steal.
Because you like saving money and feelings clever, you click on that deal and still believe you're booking Premium Economy.
It's just that, if you look closely, it has a novel and delightful name: Economy Delight.
This is actually Virgin's fancy name for something that's slightly better than so-called Economy Classic, but is still very much Economy Class and not the wider seats and more pleasant experience of Premium Economy.
Which Virgin calls, oddly, Premium Economy.
For all you know, however, Economy Delight is what Delta calls Premium Economy.
There are so many names these days.
And nowhere, said God Save The Points, is it clear that it isn't. After all, why are you being shown this option when you searched for Premium Economy fares?
I asked Delta for its view.
An airline spokeswoman told me:
Delta recognizes the limitations of some current shopping experience on third-party sites may not be ideal. That's why we are leading industry collaboration to ensure customers have access to all of Delta's products, no matter where they shop.
Ah, so it's Google Flights' fault?
Delta seems to think so. Its spokeswoman continued:
It's time for third-party displays, including Google Flights, to invest in the technology necessary to display the various products available so customers can view all their options clearly, just as Delta has done for customers on delta.com.
An airline mocking Google's technology? That resembles entertainment.
So I asked the Silicon Valley company for its reaction and will update, should I hear.
I remained perplexed. If Virgin Atlantic's fares are accurately depicted, why aren't Delta's?
I was so moved by all this that I tried the search for myself.
I got very similar results to God Save The Points.
I was given the choice of booking on Delta for $756 or on Virgin Atlantic for $1,865. This seemed like comparing American's First Class with JetBlue's.
Not exactly close.
I clicked through to Delta's site and there it was, the Economy Delight designation.
Only if I scrolled down would I see that an upgrade to Premium Economy would cost an additional $257.75 each way.
This all feels a touch unhealthy.
Delta says it's the champion of the people, but airlines aren't always so keen to play with third-party sites, where many people go to make comparisons.
Moreover, the FAA Reauthorization Bill, in danger of becoming law and supported by the airlines, may actually make the actual cost and details of fares even more opaque, by omitting the taxes and fees from the fares originally displayed.
Risibly, the airlines' lobbying group claims this is all intended to increase, please wait for it, transparency.
It might even, say the comparison sites' lobbyists, threaten the ability of fare comparison sites to operate.
Worse, the airlines seem to believe that third-party sites should deliver all the detailed information that airlines have, yet those same airlines refuse, in some cases, to give those sites that very information.
Which all should make emptors do a lot of caveating.
And we thought technology is going to make things easier.
Easier for corporations, perhaps.