Delta Airlines and slippery pricing

Delta Airlines and slippery pricing

Summary: Flights are offered at one price on Delta Air Lines' website. When a purchase is attempted, the price goes up. Company claims focus groups said this was acceptable behavior.

TOPICS: Travel Tech

I faced an immediate need to fly back home to attend a funeral. While trying to obtain tickets for both my wife and me, I discovered some unexpected and unacceptable behavior on Delta Air Lines' web site.

The situation

Customers are presented a complex set of screens showing a number of ways to select flights. The source, the destination, the travel dates and travel times are selected and a number of flight options are shown. A price is presented for each option.

When a specific routing is selected, a number of other steps are required to provide information on the passengers.

Once that information is selected, the website presents screens asking for credit card information.

I tried three different sets of flights, at different times and through different Delta hub airports. Each time the result was the same. before I could enter my credit card information, the website showed an increase of nearly $125 per ticket per person to complete the purchase.

It seems inappropriate to change the pricing mid transaction like this.

First contact with Delta

I contacted Delta and complained about the slippery pricing and received the following reply:

Online booking allows you to arrange your travel safely and securely by providing you with real-time schedule and fare information. Each Delta flight has numerous fare structures for every flight segment offered. Our lowest priced fares are limited per each segment and once sold out are no longer available. When reviewing fares, they are never guaranteed until you receive a confirmation number at the end of the booking process. In very rare cases, a fare observed while reviewing flight segment options may sell out prior to you actually finalizing your purchase with a credit card. I am very sorry that the fare you originally observed was no longer available for your travel itinerary once you were ready to purchase the ticket, and I can certainly understand your disappointment.

I responded to this message by telling the Delta representative that I thought changing the fee in mid transaction appeared to be a "bait and switch" operation and that is unacceptable to me.  I also pointed out that seeing the same price increase for three different itineraries in a matter of a few minutes didn't seem to be a "rare case."

Second contact with Delta

Here is how a Delta representative responded to my second message:

Please allow me to explain that our policies are based on extensive research done by our marketing team. We have a dedicated team of analysts who analyze the features of the policy before they are implemented. At the same time, we also respect the sentiments of our passengers and welcome your comments as an attempt to improve our overall performance. This said, I have forwarded your comments to our Customer Service Leadership team for further analysis and internal review.

Snapshot analysis

Delta, I realize that you wish to maximize the value of each customer transaction. I also know that slippery pricing doesn't lead to customer trust or customer satisfaction no matter how your "extensive research" was conducted.

I don't think that your customers support changing the price of tickets in the middle of a transaction. I did a rather unscientific study at the airport and couldn't find a single passenger that thought that was acceptable supplier behavior. If you offer a product at one price, that price should not change mid transaction.


Topic: Travel Tech


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • thieves!

    why is the DoJ silent on this unfair competition?
    LlNUX Geek
  • Absurd

    How can this not be criminal?
    • It's Not Criminal, It's a Civil Matter, Can You Say Class Action?

      If you are very principled, you can write and file your own civil suit complaint. There are plenty of law suit complaints available to use as a template on many legal websites. While you cannot file a Class Action suit pro se, you can file an individual pro se suit, and request discovery regarding others that have experienced the same predicament.

      When you discover there are many other victims and there are grounds for a Class Action you will have no problem finding an attorney that will take the Calls Action on contingency.

      That scenario is not likely to happen. If indeed your complaint is legitimate the defendant will likely make an offer to settle. Even a simple suit is going to cost a corporation such a Delta in excess of $50,000 to defend. Especially if they know they are vulnerable because they are indeed using unscrupulous practices.

      Delta is one of the more reputable air carriers. If you want to experience extreme scandalous corporate behavior try flying fly Spirit Air.
      They are worse than even Air Tran. Air Tran is the airline that cut corners and in doing so crashed a plane and buried it in the Everglades swamp.

      May 11, 1996 as a result of a fire in the cargo compartment caused byValueJet improperly storing cargo on a DC-9, killed all 110 people on board.

      On September 24, 1997, ValueJet Airlines changed its name to AirTran Airlines.

      Spirit Air is more scandalous than ValueJet/Air Tran based on my personal experience. No that may not be accurate. I just remembered why I hate Air Tran.

      When on layover in Atlanta catching a flight to Dallas. I too was going to a funeral, my father's. I was approaching the Air Tran gate one minute before the gate closed, they saw me coming, I saw them rush the stand by passenger that had paid big bucks for my cheap seat and quickly closed the the door in my face one minute early. They said they would book me on the next flight from Atlanta to Dallas. What they did not say I would be stand by. After being bounced from the next two Air Tran flight to Dallas I booked a flight with another airline.

      Spirit I do not like because they charged me $40 for a carry on bag. Then my ex and children got stranded in NY by Spirit. They had checked in online. The flight was delayed. The reason the flight was delayed is because they did not sell enough seats on that flight for the type of plane scheduled. They made a change to a lower capacity plane that had few seats than the number of people at the gate. There was a lot of upset people. They issued vouchers for a free round trip ticket. When my kids tried to redeem the voucher Spirit refused to honor the voucher. That's not all. The reason, this is difficult to believe if you do not know my children, they were told they could have found the voucher laying on the ground.

      Deltas looking any better yet? They do when you compare them to the worst. there was a day when Delta was a top notch airline.

      Maybe they purposely pick on people flying to funerals. They are generally distraught and the thought of filing a suit is inconceivable while in morning. Too hard to believe? Did you not read what they have done? If the shoe fits, put it on and kick them with it.

      I have heard and experienced nothing but good on JetBlue.

      As far as checking available flights, i almost hate to say it because they were acquired by the evil Google. Matrix Airfare Search (matrix.itasoftware dot com) has the best site for checking available flights and prices. They do not include Southwest Air but the Southwest flight search is very good also. Both are much better than Travelocity and Orbitz. Matrix hands down finds better prices. Matrix does not sell tickets, car rental, or hotel rooms. Use matrix to find the fight then book directly with the airline. The other sites mark up the price of the same flight and price you will find on Matrix.
  • Delta - The airline run by crooks

    Delta has long been on my personal no-fly list to avoid whenever possible even if the other carrier's fares are higher. They have been a sleazy operation for over a decade now; going on 2 decades.

    Somehow this does not surprise me. If you quote me a price for a transaction either it is fixed until the transaction is completed/abandoned or you notify the person there is a time limit that the price is valid for (eg you have 30 minutes or until 9 PM EST to complete the transaction) and the higher price will be.
    • Continential Was on My List Until They Went Belly Up

      Otherwise they would be still on my list.

      Currently on my list is:

      Air Tran
      Spirit Air
      Pizza Hut

      I am not at liberty to disclose those on my postal list. Let's just say there are some people that should pray for my good heath so I do not develop a terminal illness. And I do understand Ted Kaczynski. I say that just to screw with the FBI and NSA's monitoring of all electronic communications. You believe me right? Right? No matte3r, this is just one more of many red flags I have sent to full mast.
  • Definitely bait and switch

    Makes me want to stop doing business with them.
    • If You Will Not Fly an Unscruplous Airline...

      You, at least, will never have to deal with TCA ever again.
  • Robbed!

    That's like going to the supermarket and having the cashier scan your $5 box of cereal. Then asking for $10 dollars after you pulled out your wallet because the person at the cash register next to you bought the same cereal and now there's one less in inventory.
    Andrés Uribe
  • Frankly

    I have never seen any reason to do business with Delta. Continental for me. Now United (sob).
    • Continental, They Sure Were Dirtbags

      It is no wonder Continental no longer exists.
  • trust in airline business?

    What planet are you from ? "customer trust or customer satisfaction" in an article about the airlines, let alone Delta. Try Spirit sometime. They canceled a 6:30 a.m. flight while I was in line to check-in. Told me rebooking was my problem. Made no effort for 2 weeks to refund my AMEX payment, and tried to charge me for the return flight when I called to cancel it. (since ended up driving).
    • Sounds about right

      At this rate, even when the Airlines start charging you for a "happy ending" after they grope you because something lit up on their see-you-naked scanner I suspect we'll all be only barely surprised.
      x I'm tc
    • no trust in airline pricing

      I live in a rural area and my initial carrier choice is fixed unless I am going to drive half a day to a larger airport. The carrier used to be Delta until they tried to play games with Uncle Sam over subsidies, and now it is a United feeder. In both cases the first (or last on return) hop is to the carrier's hub. Consistently with both carriers the cost of travel terminating travel at this hub is BARELY less expensive than flying almost anywhere else in half the continental U.S. Further the typical layover at this hub is long enough that a ten-hour drive to my destination is nearly as fast - and guess what, since I no longer need to rent a car, it is in fact cheaper to just drive. I have eliminated at least half of my business travel via air.
      Jim Johnson
  • This constitutes fraud

    I think my State (WI) Attorney General will be interested in this.

    I already forwarded it on to some news organizations.

    I guarantee it won't be this way for long and I smell a class action lawsuit in their future.

    Question is; Is Delta the only one doing this?
    • You live in Wisconsin?

      You've forgotten who the current Attorney General is. He has no interest in crimes by corporations (or Republican legislators; or polluters; or campaign finance cheaters)!
  • oh, btw, there's gambling in Rick's Cafe

    Airlines have been selling seats at various prices like this for years. Based on your naritive I can see them claiming you restarted the transaction a few times. If you call a res center (an airline phone sales group) and don't follow through with a particular flight option but keep asking for more options you can get the same result.

    Not that anyone likes it.

    If you want this type of thing to end make all ticket sales permanent. If you don't fly you loose your money. If this was done for all tickets a lot of the pricing issues with airline tickets could go away.
  • They're all bad.

    I was unaware of this practice. It sounds to me as though the people formerly running Northwest (I called them Northworst!) have filtered up the chain of management at Delta. But when you get right down to it, the airline industry is among the most customer-unfriendly in the world. They have no obligation to get you to your destination in a timely manner; their liability when they lose your luggage is limited to a ridiculously low amount; they have no liability for delaying you or your luggage even when their reason is merely to save money (e.g. canceling a flight because it's not full enough); they flagrantly seat grossly obese people, who do not fit in the tiny seats, next to others, so that you are deprived of 5, 6, or 7 inches of already narrow seat width as your neighbor overflows into your space; and they are notoriously unforthcoming about the length of delays or the reasons for them, leaving you completely in limbo as to when your flight will actually depart.

    I fly several times a year, and it is a miserable experience as I never know when I will get to my destination, or whether my baggage will be on the same plane with me. I have heard (though I have no direct knowledge) that they will intentionally bump baggage to make room for higher-paying cargo, in complete disregard for the suffering of passengers when their bags fail to arrive with them.

    We desperately need a passenger's bill of rights, imposing severe penalties on airlines for lost and delayed bags, delayed flights (except for legitimate weather issues), and such nefarious practices as are described in the above article.
  • Even worse than reported

    It's actually worse the the article reports. This happened to me, and I thought it was a glitch. I waited an hour and it happened again. Then waited a few minutes more and it happened again. Then went to Travelocity and purchased the ticket with no problem at the originally quoted price.

    Then I tried to get Delta to honor its website's low fare guarantee. They said that they only honor it if you actually purchase the ticket from them and then subsequently again from the third party at the lower price. In a chain of emails, I got the same runaround as reported.
  • Me too

    I have also seen this behavior so my practice is that I search out information using one computer and with out logging in. After I figure out what I think I want, I switch to a different computer, and log in, and usually the price is back down to the original. I guess it is legal, but it reflects that they are out to get whatever they can.
  • Benefit of the doubt... least in terms of competence. I know that occasionally United's feed (not necessarily their site) will say that a seat upgrade 'can be had' for X price, but upon clicking on the seat arrangement you find that those seats are already sold. It seems to me that Delta doesn't feed the seat availability and price into the initial selection. There are probably less than legitimate reasons for them to not fix it, but technologically it's a much easier (and lazier) way to pull it off.
    Evil Sandmich