Thai Airways online sales in legal mess

Thai Airways has refused to honour bookings made on its Web site after incorrectly pricing some flights, despite sending out confirmation letters

In the latest example of a pricing error to hit the Web, Thai Airways has been practically giving away first class flights from London to Bangkok, asking that customers only pay the taxes.

A number of high-profile blunders in the past have seen companies such as Argos, Amazon, First Choice and Kodak all make trouble for themselves by advertising products at the wrong price. But this latest instance shows us that companies don't seem to be learning from the mistakes of others.

Most recently Amazon was offering HP iPaqs for the bargain price of £7.32 (plus postage and packing). In keeping with Amazon's stance, Thai Airways is resolutely refusing to honour the sale.

One disgruntled Thai Airways customer, reader Hannah Evershed, alerted us to the pricing blunder, having booked two return flights to Bangkok for just £111.40, including taxes.

"It is not uncommon to hunt out a bargain on the Web, and cheap airfares are just one example. To find out my reservation will not be fulfilled, despite receiving an email confirmation, left me feeling thoroughly disappointed," said Evershed.

"Yes, it seemed that I was getting a good deal but the very nature of online offers is to find the bargains," she added.

Certainly many short-haul budget airlines have offered 'all you pay is the tax' style fares, and many industry watches have suggested it is only a matter of time before a long-haul flight is offered on similar grounds. But this was not that time.

However, Evershed received an email, seen by, from Thai Airways, confirming her reservation. Receipt of this email makes the airline's decision to renege on the offer a controversial one.

A second email from Thai Airways to customers who had booked the bargain flights said: "On 23rd April 2003, the prices shown on Thai Airways International's website for flights on the London to Bangkok route contained an error... Although you have sought to make a booking, I regret to inform you that the nature of this unfortunate but obvious mistake was such that Thai Airways International is unable to issue you with tickets."

In past cases lawyers have offered opposing opinion on consumers' rights in these issues, particularly when an automated confirmation email confuses matters.

At the time of the Amazon debacle, a statement from law firm Beale and Co said: "Confusion arises from the confirmation email. Is this meant to be acknowledgment of the order or confirmation of the contract? We would always advise e-tailers to make the first email an acknowledgment of the order, and state that the contract is not formed until the consumer receives a further confirmation email."

At the time of writing Thai Airways had not responded to a request for comment.

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