Delta Airlines and slippery pricing

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.

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.