Hey Southwest, if this isn’t bait-and-switch then why does it feel that way?

By | December 24th, 2009

It just happened to me.

For years, I’ve patiently and dispassionately explained that when the price of your flight doubles while you’re making a reservation, it’s not bait-and-switch; it’s a function of the airline industry’s imponderable yield management software.

And yes, I’ve gotten the “I’m sorry, the fare is no longer available” message while I’ve tried to buy a flight online.

But never like this.

I’m flying from Orlando to Las Vegas in early January. Fares are ridiculously expensive (about $600 roundtrip through one of the legacy carriers) but Southwest Airlines’ rates were around $300. Or so I thought.

Let me draw your attention to the final leg of my journey, as originally quoted.

Wow. Just $114 for a flight from Las Vegas to Orlando (the clicked radio button). Not bad!

So I clicked on the “book” button. Which pulled up an ERROR message and the following result:

Wait, wait! I thought they said it was $114. I thought the next available fare was $424. Why $234?

I feel victimized.

Southwest quoted me one price but then changed it during the booking process. That’s just wrong.

On the the other hand, I understand why it did that. Other customers tried to buy the same fare while I mulled my purchase (it took maybe a minute between the time I pulled up the first fare quote and the time I tried to book, which is probably average). Southwest shouldn’t have to hold that price indefinitely, of course.

But hasn’t technology progressed to a point where you can show a passenger the seat inventory in real time? If I had been notified that there was only one seat left at $114, I might have booked faster instead of having a minute or so of hang time on my purchase.

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I bought the flight, anyway. Part of the reason is that I’m a big fan of Southwest, imperfections and all. And part of the reason is that it’s still less expensive than the other carriers flying the same route.

But I’m not happy with the way tickets are sold online. Southwest, you can do better than this.

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