(The narrative of my trans-continental train rides in Australia will continue next time.)
A number of years ago, I was shopping in one of the Honolulu supermarkets and heard the following announcement over the store’s PA system:
“Attention shoppers! For the next 15 minutes, our premium ground round, normally $2.49 a pound, will be on sale for just $1.89 a package.”
People immediately began converging on the Meat Department to take advantage of the deal … all except one woman who was tapping away at a little pocket calculator.
“Hold it!” she said quite loudly, “This is not a bargain.”
Then she held up one of the packages and announced that most of them actually contained about twelve ounces of meat … four ounces less than a pound. She had spotted the deception: the store was comparing the cost per pound with the cost per package. Her calculations showed that — ounce for ounce — the so-called bargain package was actually a little bit more expensive than a package containing a full pound of meat.
The point is, if it’s to their advantage and if they can get away with it, a lot of businesses will deliberately try to deceive you. Take the airlines, for example.
A couple of years ago, the government established a rule that said when an airline promotes a fare, it has to include all the taxes and fees that apply. So if American Airlines advertises a fare from Maui to Los Angeles of $394, I can count on paying that exact amount to get me and my carry-on bags aboard that plane and all the way to L.A. (Optional charges — for checked bags and seat selection, for example — do NOT have to be disclosed when advertising fares.)
But now the airlines are busily lobbying Congress to revoke that rule. They want to be able to promote just the base price of their flights, leaving you to comparison shop without knowing what the eventual cost is going to be. Now I grant you that, should the rule be changed, and assuming all airlines go along, consumers will still be able to make fair comparisons among all the various base fares. It’s just that we will settle on a fare of $325, only to discover that the total cost, once taxes and fees are added, is actually $69 more than we had expected.
It’s all well and good to simply say “Caveat Emptor … Let Him Beware”. But without rules, backed up by law, many businesses will deceive us if they can. That’s not only an unfair burden on us, but it essentially forces other, more ethical businesses to engage in those same deceptive-but-legal practices.
The non-profit organization Travelers United is going to bat for us consumers on this issue.