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Low-price guarantees or empty promises?

Following in the footsteps of the major hotel chains, many U.S. airlines are offering low-price guarantees (LPGs), assuring travel consumers that the fares quoted on the airlines' own websites are the cheapest available. Or at least among the cheapest.

American, Northwest, and United promise to pay consumers the price difference plus a $50 travel voucher if they find a comparable ticket for at least $5 cheaper.

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Continental's LPG challenges shoppers to find a ticket for $10 less, offering a $100 voucher in addition to the price difference.

Do LPGs insure you'll get the lowest price by buying on the airlines' websites?

Absolutely not!

Low-price guarantees are contingent promises at best: If you, busy consumer, are willing to spend the time to price-shop and, further, if you do find a lower price for the same product and, further, if you follow the prescribed steps to advise us of that lower price, then, and only then, we will match said lower price.

In fact, LPGs are the corporate world's way of steering consumers away from comparison shopping, by seeming to assure them that no such comparisons are necessary.

Travel buyers should not be lulled into complacently accepting the claim of pricing superiority implicit in LPGs. Comparison shopping is as necessary as ever.

As Ronald Reagan cautioned: trust, but verify... with the emphasis on verification.

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