Low airfare offer crash-lands

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 13, 2013 10:47 hrs
India's SpiceJet aircraft prepares for takeoff at the airport in Mumbai

The big-bang airfare sale, started by SpiceJet on Friday, left many question marks over how transparent the deal was.

Within hours of the sale starting, hundreds of enthusiastic consumers complained to the airline and travel portals for being let down. They expressed their anger over social networking sites. Online servers of travel sites such as MakeMyTrip and Yatra found it hard to handle the surge in demand, suspending connections with airlines. Several consumers failed to get ticket confirmation even after making payments.

Also, it remained unclear if the discounted fares were still on offer, even on select routes.

SpiceJet claimed 50 per cent of the inventory put up for sale was still available. But none of the routes reflected the reduced fare today.

  • 500,000 seats sold by SpiceJet in two days
  • 15,000 tickets booked each hour,claims airline
  • 40,000-45,000 tickets usual daily sales of airline
  • Airline and online portals blame each other for problems in booking seats

SpiceJet CEO Neil Mills said, "We said discount tickets were available on all routes but we never promised it would be available on all the flights. We cannot sell unlimited number of seats at reduced prices."

Jigyansha Jena, a brand consultant who booked return tickets from New Delhi to Hyderabad today at a discounted price on MakeMyTrip, did not receive confirmation for one ticket and the invoice for another. Waiting for a refund, Jena said, "My money is blocked till I get the refund for the unsuccessful bookings on SpiceJet flights. When I went to the airline website, I found no announcement as to how a flyer can get assistance when a ticket is not confirmed."

Another person with a similar experience said all phone lines of the airline were constantly busy.

SpiceJet yesterday announced a 72-hour window for buying discounted tickets on select domestic routes between February 1 and April 30. On offer were one million one-way tickets at Rs 2,012, all inclusive. IndiGo followed with a similar offer.

SpiceJet claimed it had sold 500,000 tickets till today, against the usual per-day sale of 40,000-45,000 tickets.

While the discounted fare of Rs 2,013 was shown available for some of the destinations today, when one tried to book a ticket, the price rose to over Rs 5,600 in many cases. Both the travel portals cited issues with the SpiceJet airline system for the flaw. Yatra directed customers to share their contact details, so they could be contacted once SpiceJet systems were back to normal.

Faced with congestion on its website, MakeMyTrip ran a message saying, "Due to a temporary connection issue with the airline servers, we are unable to confirm your seats on this flight right now."

But SpiceJet's Mills blamed the IT systems of the travel portals for the mismanagement. He told Business Standard, "It is an issue with online travel portal's IT systems. Our server did not crash. About 80 per cent of tickets were booked on our site and about 15,000 tickets were issued every hour."

Yatra stopped bookings on SpiceJet on Saturday afternoon to avoid passenger inconvenience. "I think SpiceJet did not anticipate so much demand and its website has not been able to handle the load," Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer, Yatra.com, said.

MakeMyTrip, too, temporarily suspended connections to SpiceJet and IndiGo inventories. "We communicated the same to our customers through tickers on the website, updates on our Facebook page and Twitter handles," a statement from MakeMyTrip said.

Yatra promised refund after several passengers were not issued tickets even after making credit card payments. "The refund claims are processed immediately but it takes four to five days," Dhall added.

IndiGo did not give out any information on its inventory and the number of tickets sold on discount.

Experts said SpiceJet, like most airlines, used a revenue management tool that identifies projected flight loads based on trends. More discounted seats are offered on flights with projected poor loads.

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