Expedia offer: Misleading bold text clarified in finer print. Is that OK?

Summary:Last week, via e-mail, I received a reminder from Expedia that I had a $200 travel coupon available to and that it was about to expire. The subject of the e-mail was "Two weeks left to use your $200 travel coupon.

Last week, via e-mail, I received a reminder from Expedia that I had a $200 travel coupon available to and that it was about to expire. The subject of the e-mail was "Two weeks left to use your $200 travel coupon." Inside, near the very top it said "Use your $200 coupon by March 31, 2007, for travel through June 30, 2007." The e-mail is an HTML-based e-mail and includes a HTML-form (see image, right) that appears to be very free form in nature. In other words, it's not tied to any specific departure city or destination. You can enter anything you want and it was the first visual cue to me that I could apply the $200 to any travel I wanted to. 

Also in the HTM-based e-mail (as see in the image below), high up ("above the fold" as they say..which, in the online world, means whatever appears above the bottom of your screen when the windows is fully scrolled to the top), it says "Two weeks left! Use your $200 travel coupon today." Then it says:

Book a 5-night package by March 31 for travel through June 30. Get ready for fun-in-the-sun savings and use your $200 coupon on a five- (or more) night package to paradise.

Followed by (in bold text):

Need ideas for your $200 coupon? Here's a little vacation inspiration

The e-mail goes on to list four destinations (Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean) with links to package deals (again, see below). Maybe it's just me. But, by the time I got to this point in the e-mail, I took it to mean that I had a $200 coupon that I could apply to any travel that I booked on Expedia (especially given the open form), but that if I was looking for a some inspiration on how to use that coupon, here were four potential destinations.

As it turns out, that's not the case (as I learned after making a phone call to Expedia to book some travel). The coupon is only good for travel to one of those four destinations. Below the fold in the e-mail, in the section immediately following the "inspiration" section (you see it once you scroll down), is another section that starts off with the bold text:

It takes just four easy steps to redeem your coupon. Here's how

In that section, the second step says "Book a vacation to Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, or Florida." So, there it was. It wasn't exactly fine print (it was in a normal font-size used elsewhere in the e-mail). But I still felt as though I had been baited and switched since I never scrolled below the fold. Instead, I went directly to the form and started to fill it out, only to find out later in the process that my $200 coupon was not good for the travel I was booking.

Am I being hypercritical here? Or, should the e-mail very clearly state (perhaps in its subject) something like "Save $200 on a trip to Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean?" 

Here's what the top of the email looked like. The image is ever so slighty trimmed so it can fit in our blog template. Also, there's an update to this post.  Expedia may be sending these e-mails in violation of the Can Spam Act.


Topics: Collaboration

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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