Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why is Expedia lying to me?

For an upcoming trip to Florida, I booked a rental car several weeks ago. Using, an ugly but useful site owned by travel giant Expedia, I have been keeping tabs on changing rental rates during the week I’ll be away. The trend has been truly remarkable.

In the past four weeks, prices have been falling steadily. Today you can rent a car (from a second-tier, off-airport brand such as Payless or Fox) for just $6 a day during the week I will be away. I have never seen prices this low.

Even the big brands are part of this sell-off. Alamo is offering cars for $10 a day, and Thrifty for $14 a day.

And yet… continues to lie to me. An urgent looking notice at the top of the results page declares: “We are experiencing high demand at Tampa International Airport - Florida (TPA) in May. Book today to secure your car.”

Obviously, this notice is a generic closing device rather than a legitimate warning. But why would a company sacrifice its credibility like this? Does it have data showing that these warnings are so effective at compelling visitors to complete deals right now that it justifies making false statements?

Customers who use aggregator sites such as are sophisticated consumers. They know that rental prices vary greatly, by brand, by location, and by day. Plus, booking a rental car costs the consumer nothing, so they may keep checking the site and making new reservations without cancelling their old ones. I just don't see any advantage in trying to scare/intimidate customers into buying now by giving them false information. 

I see only the downside: making people even more skeptical, more wary, of small-minded businesses lying to them for self-serving reasons. Distrust costs companies and consumers billions of dollars a year – in longer sales-closing times, generous discounts, warranties and return policies, customer churn, etc. Studies show that trusted brands are more profitable than non-trustworthy brands.

So why would a smart business like Expedia feed this distrust?

New management welcome.