El Al airlines said it will honor all tickets purchased during a glitch that had thousands of round-trip tickets selling for as low as $330.
The airline also announced Thursday that those who purchased tickets three days earlier at the hugely discounted fare would be given the opportunity to convert their tickets to a direct flight provided by El Al for an additional $75 each way rather than fly with a codeshare partner with a connecting flight in Europe.
“Although a review of this occurence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service,” said Danny Saadon, El Al’s vice president of North America, in a statement released Thursday. “Hopefully we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”
A full refund without penalty also will be offered to passengers who wish to cancel their ticket.
Suzanne Mazel, one of thousands of excited customers, said, “It’s an incredible mistake. I thought a trip to Israel was out my financial reach; I never imagined that my next trip to Israel would have come so soon and so unexpectedly. For the reputed thousands who managed to book these discounted tickets, El Al will surely have their sincerest and most heartfelt gratitude. I know they have mine.”
The glitch was the result of a third party subcontracted by El Al to post the Israeli airline’s winter promotional fares online. According to El Al, the discounted airfares were the result of the subcontractor failing to add the fuel surcharge to the total price.
In an interview Thursday with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy’s.
“If we’re honoring passengers’ tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection,” Saadon said in explaining the company’s rationale behind the add-on offer.
On Tuesday, the day after the glitch set off a three-hour buying frenzy, an El Al spokesperson told The New York Jewish Week that the status of tickets purchased during the frenzy was “unclear.” The position was reinforced Wednesday by a follow-up statement posted to the company’s Twitter feed.
“Thanks for your patience,” the tweet read. “Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized.”
The wavering was in contrast to two separate Twitter posts on Monday afternoon that pledged to honor the tickets. Saadon in the JTA interview acknowledged that the company’s posts via Twitter on Monday may have been a contributing factor in the decision to honor the tickets.
“Once we said it, we may as well follow our word,” Saadon said.
The decision to honor was “mainly to save face with El Al,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of passengers. Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”
To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, Saadon said that El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of two hours before the process is finalized.
“I’m very pleased with the decision we made,” he said. “Our customers are very important to us and we want them to fly El Al.”