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A Note about Not Receiving 83,000 Miles for a Pair of Headphones

There is an absolutely ridiculous thread over at Flyertalk about a pair of headphones that were recently available on the American Airlines Shopping site that would net you, supposedly, 83,871 miles with purchase. I say “supposedly” because the site did say that you would enjoy 83,871 miles with the purchase of a $60 pair of headphones, but also because everyone knew that there was some sort of mistake at play here.

If you have several days of free time available to you, you can read through the now 151 pages (yes, 151 pages) of discussion about suing somebody-or-other to get their damn miles that they deserve and should get and although it was plausibly a mistake there are lots of lucrative legit offers out there and this is just another one of them and how dare anyone screw me etc etc etc

I wanted to comment on two things:

1) Roughly 100% of the people who bought the headphones knew that there was something amiss. Yes, there have been lucrative offers in the past. But even so. Next to nobody tripped across the offer; they read about it on a blog, where no doubt the author of the post noted that it was a longshot that anyone would get the points, then they chose to go forward with the purchase, essentially gambling that the $60 would net them 83,000 points. I don’t begrudge them the choice to go forward with the purchase, but for the sake of this discussion I’d like us to stop kidding ourselves that anyone did not think this was a mistake.

2) My day job is running the e-commerce business for a large clothing company and in that capacity I have made some errors. Most of those errors (say, allowing the name of the company to be spelled incorrectly in an email) were caught before anyone outside the company saw them. Other times I was not so lucky. I once ran a contest with no official rules. That wasn’t a good day. During the busy Christmas period of 2009 we sold 3,000 more of a sweater than we had in inventory due to a glitch in our inventory system. Oops! In each of those cases I was horrified beyond words, but I was also lucky that a) I had a boss who was understanding and b) I worked for a company where rectifying those situations would not drown us financially.

There are two ways of looking at the headphone error. First, you can scream your head off that AA screwed you. Or second, you can think that someone – an actual person – at either AA, Verizon (who was selling the headphones), or at the AA shopping mall site made an error at work. Maybe they were half paying attention when they uploaded the spreadsheet. Maybe they were on the phone with their wife while they were working. Maybe they were trying to do 3 things at once. All of the things we all do during a day at work. And we all make mistakes. I’m thrilled for those of you who can mess up at work and not have that mistake become public. For those of us with roles where what we do is visible in some way to consumers, we can only hope that we work for a company that’s supportive of us when we do, inevitably, blow it.

Verizon responded by acknowledging the error and offering 2500 miles per person, more than they had to do – they certainly could have just sent an email apologizing for the error. Of course, there are 151 pages worth of people unsatisfied with that. But I have to ask: what if the original offer said you could get 830,000 miles for the headphones? Or 8,300,000 miles? Would you have expected the company to give you the miles? What about 83,000,000 miles? If the point is that the website said that consumers would receive 83,000 miles with purchase, and if people are saying that they can sue if Verizon doesn’t follow through on the Terms and Conditions, would they be this upset if it said 83,000,000 miles? Or 83,000,000,000 miles?

I’m not at all suggesting a Romney-esque “corporations are people” philosophy. I’m just saying that instead of freaking out about 83,000 (or 83 billion) miles you knew you weren’t going to get, perhaps you should just be happy that it wasn’t you who screwed up at work and caused 115 pages worth of people to complain about it on Flyertalk.

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16 Comments.

  1. I always know when I come over here after reading the other big guys that I’m going to hear about the same deals, but with a dash of common sense. Not to mention pithiness as well. Feel free to take that as a compliment.

  2. I will take it as a compliment, thank you :)

  3. Rapid Travel Chai

    Great indeed to have a witty sense of perspective on these things. Many of these companies are generally good sports about endless credit card churning exclusively for bonuses and all the other ‘hacks,’ so it is only fair to be a bit charitable in return.

  4. I bought the headphones. I stopped reading that silly thread a long time ago. I am not one of the people going nuts there. 2,500 miles is not a great or poor outcome.

    I am not a fan of your argument here, though. When I make a mistake at work, someone takes the other side of the trade, and I am out potentially millions of dollars. There’s no “I was having a bad day” excuse available to me. There’s also no “I was on the phone with my wife” undo button. I’m not going to do any screaming at AA, but it would be nice if they had to live up to the offers it posts like many of us.

  5. The deal was live for over 15 hours. They had to know, given all the orders, and no one stopped it. I’ve receive no communications from any of the parties regarding 2500 miles, although all my packages arrived.

  6. I can tell you from someone working in ecommerce that they did not necessarily know (maybe they did, but why in the world would they leave it up?) or if they did know, there may not have been an easy way to take it down. There was certainly no benefit to leaving up a mistake like that for that long.

  7. I can understand giving it a shot, but knowing you’ll accept it when they realize the mistake. I didn’t bother with the offer because I knew it was a mistake and then I’m stuck with headphones I don’t need and lucky if I get enough miles to cover the cost.

    In the end the people who take advantage are the ones that kill the actual good deals.

  8. Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s fine with me that people took a shot, but it’s absurd to insist on getting 83K or the better part of 83K with some going to charity (?!?). The company should just facilitate free returns and the 2500 free miles. That’s actually a decent outcome.

    Even worse, in my opinion, are the people setting up fake job ads on that sitter company for 2500 points. Come on!

    This hobby is turning into extreme couponing!

  9. @jen Thanks for mentioning the sittercity issue. Oddly enough, my wife opened a sittercity account late last week (we’re looking for a nanny), and I’m actually sorta disgusted that people are posting fake ads there for a few miles. I appreciate the passion people have for this whole hobby, but c’mon.

  10. Thanks for your great blog. I appreciate your common sense perspective and willingness to call it like you see it, even though I’m sure you expected to get some flack.

  11. Ok, granted, mistakes happen. My question is: where is the leniency from the airlines or cell phone companies when the customer makes a mistake? Our fee is never reduced by 97% because we made a mistake in booking a flight too early or going over our minutes by accident, and they make a lot of money off our mistakes. A

  12. Have you ever been on the other side dealing with AA or Verizon? For that matter any large company.

    Press this for this and pressthis for that. Two hours on hold and then they disconnect you or the problem is not reolved

    This time the consumer should be the screwor instead of the screwee

  13. @Jim and @Calvin I’m sorry – are we actually resorting to acting like we’re on the playground in second grade? If they’re not nice to me, I won’t be nice to them?

    Let’s assume that most interactions you’ve had with companies have been poor. Have you had any positive interactions with companies? Any? How many would it take before you’re willing to say that perhaps we should not try to screw over a company? 100% of the interactions would have to be positive? 100% of the actions with every company? You’ve really never, ever benefitted from a company being good to you? Never?

    I’m not saying this was an optimal situation – obviously, someone screwed up. They’ve tried to make up for it with a reasonable offer. Dealing with companies can be frustrating; but pretending that no company has ever not screwed you over is just ridiculous.

  14. If i screw up at work someone could die… people should care more about their job and do it right

  15. 83,871 AAdvantage Miles - Time To Move On | Million Mile Secrets - pingback on August 21, 2011 at 4:02 am

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