By Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press, thecanadianpress.com, Updated: November
TORONTO - It was either a generous early Christmas gift for scores of online shoppers or a massive mistake that could cost Expedia.ca big time.
Thanks to the online travel company, Colin Campbell will be doing his last-minute shopping in New York City this year and fly back into Toronto just in time for Christmas Eve. It wasn't his plan all along, but when Expedia.ca offered him a return flight and a few days in a hotel for just $40 all taxes included how could he possibly refuse?
Expedia won't say whether the seemingly too-good-to-be-true offer that Campbell and other web surfers took advantage of last weekend which in some cases actually paid travellers to fly was the result of a pricing error.
The promotion offered a $300 discount off a flight and hotel package to Cancun, Las Vegas, New York or Riviera Maya. It didn't take long for Canadian web surfers to find packages for just over $300, making the trip almost free after the discount.
"I wasn't sure if it was a mistake or not but I did get an email from Expedia saying everything was booked. But I still wasn't sure," Campbell said.
"So I actually gave them a call and confirmed with a manager that it was in fact correct and it wouldn't be cancelled."
Lindsey Kerluke of Vancouver was able to book a trip to Las Vegas for just $34. It didn't take much arm twisting to get his brother and a handful of friends to tag along.
"I was worried at the beginning just because there was a lot of talk online that Expedia could take it back but then I slowly started reading the (fine print) more ... and I realized there was nothing they had listed that I was not following."
It was the lack of restrictive terms and conditions that soon made the deal go viral outside Canada, and experienced bargain hunters pounced.
While there was a limit of only one $300 discount per booking, there was no limit on how many separate discounted bookings could be made per person. And while the terms of the discount stated it was for "Canadian bookings only," users around the world were still able to place orders. It wasn't until the day after the promotion was posted that Expedia stipulated the flight in the package had to depart from Canada.
On the Canadian website Redflagdeals.com a discussion about the deal has generated about 1,000 posts and has been viewed more than 90,000 times. The deal made an even bigger splash at Flyertalk.com, a forum dedicated to frequent flyers, where it spawned about 3,000 posts with more than 261,000 views.
A few Flyertalk deal-hunters boasted that they took advantage of the promotion for more than 10 bookings. Some had no interest in actually going on vacation and instead used the almost-free trips for so-called mileage runs, in which travellers fly just to build up frequent flyer miles and earn first-class perks.
And some U.S. users actually made a tiny bit of money on the deal after the exchange rate conversion generated a profit of a few dollars.
Voitek Rab, a Flyertalk regular for nearly a decade, said it's not the best deal he's taken advantage of through the site but it ranks in the Top 5. The school teacher recalls a pricing error that got him a couple return flights to Romania for $200 each and another for a business-class trip to New Zealand for about $1,500.
While Rab didn't hesitate to book the Expedia deal, he wasn't sure the price would be honoured.
"In the old days three years ago or so they all went through, but now the last two big deals got cancelled," he said, noting that most of those in on the Expedia deal were anxiously waiting for Monday morning to see if tickets would be cancelled.
Expedia declined an interview request.
About the only drawback in the deal for Campbell is that his New York package only includes a stay at a hostel. The online reviews are less than glowing and some claim to have left with bed bug bites.
"I might book a hotel separately in case I decide not to stay at the hostel," he said with a laugh.
"Still, I ended up paying $40, which is a steal."