Fly business-class for a fiver? Don't be ridiculous

Sales promotions can have expensive consequences, as Aer Lingus has become the latest to discover...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Irish airline Aer Lingus is in serious hot water after apparently reneging on an online offer. The promotion was supposed to be a ‘two for one’ sale on business-class seats, but thanks to some kind of technical gremlin, some of the tickets went on sale separately at a knock-down €5. Over 100 sharp-eyed punters immediately snapped up these tickets – but Aer Lingus is now refusing to honour their claims.

‘These were business-class seats which would normally sell for €1,775 one way,’ a spokesman said today. ‘I think anyone would have known it was a mistake when they made the bookings.’ Naturally those concerned are suggesting that’s not really the point – but so far the airline is insisting it will not pay compensation to the poor souls left with their feet firmly on the ground. Let’s just hope they didn’t get around to booking hotel rooms and onward flights….

To be fair, airline passengers should know by now that if an offer looks too good to be true, that’s probably because it is. Both Ryanair and Easyjet have been hauled before the regulator in recent weeks because the cheap fares they were advertising on their websites didn’t actually seem to exist on closer scrutiny. The airlines deny this vigorously, of course, but some suggest they don’t mind either way given the free publicity these spats generate – for example, our sister mag Marketing reckons Ryanair has benefited from well over £1 million of extra press coverage as a result.

Speaking of Ryanair, the low-cost airline has gleefully launched on this opportunity to put the boot into Irish rival, with whom it’s not exactly on the best of terms. In a flash, it’s launched its own rival promotion, promising 10,000 €5 seats (including taxes) – ‘and unlike Aer Lingus’ phantom €5 seats, Ryanair will honour them’ it sneered today. ‘On aerlingus.com a low fare is a ‘mistake’, on www.ryanair.com, it is guaranteed.’ Nothing like a bit of industry solidarity when times are tough…

But before you start thinking that this strategy might actually be a winner, let us whisper one word to you: Hoover. The US firm nearly crippled itself in the early 1990s with a disastrous promotion, where they promised free flights to the US for anyone who bought their vacuum cleaners or washing machines. They ended up being so overwhelmed by demand that it cost the company £48m and dragged its name through the dirt.

So the moral of the story: if you’re not careful, promotions can end up costing a lot more than you expect...

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