Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program

When you buy a travel package through an online travel agency, you expect the price to be significantly less than if you booked each item separately, right?

So did Thao Tran when he was shopping for a trip to Chicago on Orbitz. But just for kicks, he asked for a price quote for the hotel and airfare.

Shockingly, the a la carte price was less than the package rate.

What the …?

Tran explains:

While booking a trip to Chicago, I noticed that the “packaged” price for a flight and hotel on Orbitz was priced at $585.81.

However, using Orbitz to price the two items separately, with the exact same information, the flight was $250.69 and the hotel was $319.44. This totals to $570.13 — almost $16 less than the packaged price. Of course, I could easily book it separately to get the lower price, but I had a coupon code for $50 off a hotel and flight package, and I wanted to maximize my savings.

I called Orbitz to find out why this may be. The person in sales confirmed my findings and said it was the first time he has seen a package price be higher than the sum of the individual components. However, he had no idea why that may be, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He then transferred me to customer service, who didn’t even bother looking into my inquiry but dismissed it as “the dynamic nature and variability in prices”. This explained nothing to me, as I expect any hotel and flight package on any site to be, at the very least, equal to what I would purchase on that same site in separate bookings at the exact same time.

I then requested to speak to a supervisor, who also mentioned that this is the first time she has seen a package priced higher. However, she insisted that there is nothing she can do, that there is no one else I can talk to, and that the system is just the way it is.

I also want to ask… is this common practice?

No, it is not. I asked Orbitz about it, and a representative blamed it on “an anomaly in the algorithm related to variable nature of hotels and airlines setting their prices.”

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Packages should always cost less than the sum of their parts.

Tran’s experience makes an important point about doing your due diligence when you’re booking a travel product: shop around. Compare the price on another Web site and on the site you’re on.

Packages are typically a great deal. But not always.

(Photo: Refracted Moments/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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