The main objective of ‘travel hacking’ is to get as many travel perks as possible, for as little as possible. Whilst working within the rules and systems created by credit card companies, hotel chains and airlines, it’s possible to get ‘freebies’ by systematically taking advantage of bonuses and offers. As long as you stay within the rules the companies themselves have created, from a moral standpoint, this is acceptable, right? At the end of the day, these global companies are obviously making big money out of these systems and they have decided on their customer terms and conditions.
But what if you get a freebie by accident? Is that still OK? Just a day or two ago I had this debate with some work colleagues. A colleague told us they had bought food at a counter and the person serving them then finished their shift and didn’t ring it through. They waited for the next member of staff, but had to return to the queue to do so and after 10 minutes of waiting with their food, they gave up and accepted the freebie. I agreed that this was the business’s inefficiency and they’d tried to pay, but shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced to highlight the error. Another, far more moral (!), colleague countered that they’d have persisted in case the original server got in trouble, and wouldn’t have felt comfortable walking away without paying.
Ironically, soon after I was faced with my own equivalent. I recently booked a hotel stay, with a global brand, and had reserved two rooms. The first was part points, part cash, the second was a standard cash booking. On the morning of check out I was slightly confused to have an invoice for just the cheaper part-points room posted under my door, but thought little of it. The full amount for both rooms was pre-authorised on my credit card, which I produced on check-in. At check-out there was a queue, so I dropped both key cards into the express check-out box. A few days later, the points for both rooms appeared on my account, but just one receipt – again for the cheaper part points room. This was the followed by the pre-approved transaction for the full amount disappearing from my card, replaced by just the lower amount. I’d effectively been given a free night on the more expensive room.
I tend to evaluate situations like this based on the context. Being very honest, if a global business makes a mistake in my favour, if I can see no direct impact for an individual and if the error isn’t mine, I tend to just go with it! If the same situation occurred with a small independent business or a sole trader, I’d have a very different outlook. I might also have felt differently if it was obvious before the event and there was an in person opportunity to highlight this. Whilst I only received one invoice under my door, at that point I didn’t expect this to have any impact on the charge. After the event I don’t then feel enormously inclined to take time to call the brand and highlight the missing charges.
I think the other thing with large companies using complex IT systems is that these kind of situations are also relatively common. I can think of a number of occasions where charges for extras or breakfast haven’t been applied. That said, I’m the first to challenge when there’s an error the other way, or my points don’t post correctly!! Perhaps there are also some similarities with booking ‘error fares’ for flights. If you know you’re not paying the correct amount, but this is a product of the business’s error, then is it OK to take advantage of this?
So, what would do in the same scenario? Is accepting an accidental freebie a travel hack step too far? Or are you happy to accept whatever you can get from multi million pound profit making global chains?!