A Connecticut U.S. District Court judge has denied Priceline.com’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that claims the search site’s markups on Spirit Airlines fares means it cannot guarantee the lowest fares from that carrier.
Judge Robert N. Chatigny of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut said the plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to support their proceeding with the litigation, including that “even when [Priceline’s] ‘fine print’ is read in conjunction with the prominent ‘best price’ representation, the overall impression is still that Priceline is not actively adding surcharges.”
Later in his ruling, Judge Chatigny again stated that while Priceline’s “’Best Price Guaranteed’ policy is a price-matching scheme, not an absolute promise to provide the best price on all purchases…it is plausible that a reasonable consumer would interpret the contract language to include a promise not to add hidden surcharges.”
The original complaint, filed by Austin Chapman, from Texas, notes that Priceline’s competitor, Expedia, Inc., “makes a similar best price guarantee on its travel website, Expedia.com. However, Expedia discloses on Expedia.com that its best price guarantee does not apply to Spirit Airlines flights (the only exclusion), albeit that disclaimer is buried in Expedia.com’s fine print.”
The original complaint states that “Priceline does not even make this disclaimer in the fine print and there is no warning to a consumer that the Spirit Airlines flights listed on Priceline.com do not carry the lowest available price.”
Jeffrey Kaliel, attorney for the Plaintiff and the putative class, and a partner with Tycko & Zavareei LLP, commented, "Priceline's practice of adding surcharges to Spirit Airline tickets is in violation of its best price guarantee. The Court's ruling on the motion to dismiss is the first step toward achieving an important victory for consumers."
The lawsuit fuels the debate of how after years of being told that the Internet would level the playing field for consumers because they could easily price shop, the industry and internet travel sites often confuse consumers instead.
In a New York Times "Frugal Traveler" story in April of this year, Lucas Peterson wrote about online travel agencies and meta-search sites.
Peterson discussed how he researched a trip from New York City to Chicago from May 26 to 29 using three sites, as well as individual airline sites, and how he struggled to compare pricing.
He noted that Travelocity offered a fare of $338 “for a flight leaving Kennedy Airport around 7 a.m. on Delta and getting back into La Guardia on Spirit Airlines at 9 a.m. on Monday. (For the Spirit-averse, there was an option to bring you back into Newark on United for an additional $6.)”
“Things got interesting when I searched on the airlines’ websites," Peterson wrote. "The Delta flight Kayak offered me was the same price on the Delta site. With Spirit, though, things were a little wonky. The Travelocity flight that had one Delta leg and one Spirit leg cost just $269 if I booked the individual legs on the Delta and Spirit websites, respectively: saving $69. There was also a big difference with the Spirit flight Hipmunk offered: If booked directly on the Spirit site, the same flight cost $65 less.”