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March 11, 2000

Consumers spent an estimated $20 billion shopping for merchandise online in 1999. In one growing area of online shopping--bidding sites--customers make an offer of what they are willing to pay for a service or item, like an airline ticket, and if their bid is accepted, they are obligated to complete the purchase. While many online shoppers tout the convenience and potential savings of this kind of consumerism, misunderstandings do arise. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke to a dissatisfied online shopper and a representative from the company she dealt with.



Bakery clerk, Cypress

Recently, my husband went online to purchase airline tickets for me to Las Vegas on He mistakenly entered the wrong return date of March 25, 2000; I need to come home March 24 in order to be at work the next morning.

He made an honest mistake but no one at seems to care about the predicament I am in. The choices I was given were to live with the mistake, pay an additional $50 to change the return date (making my $107 ticket $157), or pay $50 to completely cancel the transaction.

I paid the $50 cancellation fee for the honor of having to deal with an uncompassionate company called, a company that doesn't have any tolerance for human error. I cannot fly on the itinerary I was given and hopefully I have cost this company a small portion of revenue, just as it has caused me to lose a small portion of my income. does not provide a service to people. It is taking advantage of lower- to middle-class Americans. People who work hard for their money and are out looking for the best possible deal. People who have to work hard for a living. People who have children and/or elderly parents to care for. is not a quality, customer service-based organization. Replies


Vice president, communications department,

In order to get tickets at prices up to 60% below the lowest prices they can find anywhere else, customers agree that their ticket offers are nonrefundable and noncancellable.

In order to ensure that all offer details are correct, customers are required to review and initial their offers before electronically submitting them. If finds a ticket at the price the customer has specified, we buy that ticket from the airline on a nonrefundable basis.

In extraordinary cases such as this one, we may agree to cancel the ticket for a $50 fee, with absorbing the rest of the cost of the ticket, since our overriding goal is to be fair and satisfy our customers. has more than 4 million unique customers. We had approximately a half-billion dollars in sales last year. Since our Web site has the feature where customers must review and approve their offers, instances like this one are rare.

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