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Few people pay attention to the minutiae of changes in award program terms and conditions. A snippet added here. A deleted phrase there. These often don't matter much.
One recent change, however, deserves attention. It's part of a growing trend that combines the worst of dynamic pricing (where you don't know how many points/miles you'll need for an upcoming award redemption) with the worst of anti-consumer behavior (where you think you've found a great price, only to have your booking canceled).
If we don't know what the price should be, how can we know when a redemption is the “wrong price?” Here's what's going on.
IHG One Rewards Changes Terms
“In the event of an erroneously published Reward Night point price, IHG One Rewards reserves the right to cancel the booking and refund the points. Members will be notified in the event that this occurs.”
This is the same section discussing how to redeem your points for hotel stays.
The problem is that this new phrase allows IHG to cancel “an erroneously published” price. But IHG One Rewards doesn't publish award prices. Without an award chart, how should consumers spot incorrect prices?
Why This Is a Bad Trend for Award Travelers
To be clear, IHG is not the only program that cancels reservations it thinks are too cheap. Air France is notorious for canceling tickets it says were “accidentally” sold at a price it later deems to be too low. And ANA recently reneged after selling business class tickets from Southwest Asia to the U.S.
While some people may hunt for these bargains meticulously, the average consumer may think they've simply stumbled on a deal. Without a defined price list, how will consumers know a right price from a wrong price? Airlines and hotels no longer operate like restaurants, providing menus with clearly-indicated prices.
If we don't know how many points or miles we need for a flight or a hotel stay, how will we know if the price is too low in the eyes of the loyalty program? That's especially unfair if you book directly with the hotel or airline itself (as is required when using points and miles). And then the hotel/airline later says it has canceled your reservation because you paid too little? Come on.
Conversely, how will we know if dynamic pricing has gone too far in the other direction? If the price was “too high,” will the airline take or hotel take the same approach, canceling my reservation and allowing me to rebook at the “correct” (lower) price? Will someone contact me to refund some of my points to make up for the “erroneously published” price? I doubt it, and that's my biggest issue — the reason I call it anti-consumer — since it will never work in our favor with award redemptions.
What Does IHG Say About These Changes?
We reached out to IHG to ask about these new terms. Our question was how travelers should know what a wrong price is without a published award chart. A spokesperson for IHG said,
“This is a precautionary term, and was added strictly to be able to quickly address rare situations where point prices are published with extremely low or high irrational and incorrect amounts.”
Thus, if a price seems too good to be true or results in overbooking as people scramble to grab a mistake price, IHG wants people to know these reservations could be canceled.
I'm very wary of IHG putting it in writing that it can cancel “erroneously” priced awards without providing clarity on what the correct award prices should be. With dynamic pricing in airline and hotel programs, we don't really know what the correct price is. Since the price changes, how will we know if it's right or wrong?
After booking a hotel or flight, people make other travel arrangements: scheduling a taxi to the airport, booking non-refundable tours, etc. Imagine the shock people feel when their flights or hotel rooms are canceled because the “deal” they found is now labeled an “error.”
I consider it highly unlikely that we'll ever see cancelations for prices being too high by mistake, and it's very anti-consumer for programs to cancel our award reservations after deciding the price was too low. That's doubly true when they don't tell us the correct prices in the first place, now that they've eliminated award charts.
What do you make of these changes? Which programs are doing right by award travelers?
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