El Al Airlines has just announced that they will honor tickets that were offered for sale earlier this week at 1/3 the normal price, due to a programming error on several travel sites.
The question is, is it ethical to take advantage of this pricing mistake? The word spread quickly via Twitter and other social media, and for 2 hours until the error was discovered and corrected, 5000 travelers had purchased tickets at the reduced price.
The following article appeared at the 5 Towns Jewish Times:
The Dan’s Deals regarding the El-Al tickets at 1/3 the price of normal sparked a number of developments:
1] a Selling Frenzy
2] Dan’s Deals Server to fail due to the excess traffic
3] A number of Halachic Shailos were posed to Rabbis as to whether there is an obligation to reverse the sale, since it was due to a mistake.
Below we find one such email:
I was alerted today to the fact that due to what was likely an error, one could purchase round-trip tickets on El Al from JFK to Israel for under $400. This is perhaps 1/3 of what the price should be.
El Al has caught on to the error and fixed it, but in the meanwhile many people were able to take advantage of the error and purchase tickets.
El Al has acknowledged that this was an error, but is bound by law to honor the tickets.
Was it permitted to take advantage of this error?
Are those who purchased tickets obligated to offer to return them to El Al?
In general, once one knows that an item is obviously mispriced, is one allowed to take advantage of that error and purchase additional items, knowing that the vendor will either not know about it or will be compelled by law to honor the price?
If I see that a vending machine says that a can of soda is priced at $1.25 and dispenses a can after I put in $.25, am I allowed to put in more quarters so that I can buy more cans? (Even if we assume that I do not have to return the first can, where I had intended to pay full price, does that mean that now that I know that the machine is mis-programmed that I can buy as many more as I like?
Short answer: legally, El Al will honor the tickets. But it is not ethical to take advantage of what was clearly a programming glitch. Consumers should offer to reimburse the carrier.