Is Obfuscation of Information the Way to Conduct Business These Days?

The number of companies which seem to use the obfuscation of information as a way to conduct business with consumers seems to be increasing — and not just with companies in the travel industry.

Is Obfuscation of Information the Way to Conduct Business These Days?

The elimination of award charts by numerous lodging companies and airlines — including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines as only two examples — allow for the dynamic pricing of awards and render the members of their frequent travel loyalty programs to basically and initially guess as to exactly how many of their points and miles they need to redeem for award travel or reward nights…

…and no award charts means that dynamic pricing can occur at any time for no reason with no warning or advance notice. While sometimes that means that the cost of redeeming miles or points for award travel may decrease in such places as East Squeedonk, Idaho, you can bet that the cost of redeeming miles or points is far more likely for award travel in the Maldives or the Seychelles.

Lately, travel companies — such as Hertz, Marriott, Hilton and Wyndham — have been accused of engaging in obfuscation of information by customers who claim that their frequent travel loyalty programs have been devalued with no notice or advance warning.

British Airways engaged in its own bizarre form of obfuscation of information. Towards the end of April of 2019, members of its Executive Club frequent flier loyalty program were informed by the airline that changes to the redemption of Avios for award travel was going to change for travel with partner airlines approximately a month in advance — but no further information was given until the changes were officially implemented — and the airline also changed the way it charges customers for selecting seats in the business class cabin with no warning or advance notice.

Mandatory resort fees are another form of obfuscation of information with regard to room rates which are advertised by hotel and resort properties. In most cases, only when the consumer starts the booking process does he or she find out about the resort fee and its details — and the fact that guest must pay it, as it is mandatory.

In terms of advertising, basic economy fares tend to be another form of obfuscation of information, as customers who for years were used to assuming that the lowest airfares offered by legacy airlines included such benefits as seat assignments and early boarding at no extra charge — only to be warned at the start of the boarding process that those enticingly low airfares were for seats from the basic economy fare bucket.

Not Just Travel Companies

Companies outside of the travel industry seem to have been engaging in obfuscation as well. For example, Red Lobster had a special offer with which you received a discount of 15 percent off of your entire order when you used promotion code tuesday while ordering via its official Internet web site and picked up your order. The promotion code was not valid for dining in a restaurant…

…but I found out that the promotion code was suddenly invalid. No warning or advance notice was given; and a person who I know found this out in the middle of placing an order.

On behalf of the person from whom I learned of the sudden end of the promotion code, I sent a message to Red Lobster and asked if the restaurant company eliminated coupon code tuesday for takeout orders. The response I received was as follows:

Hello. Thank you for your message. Our to-go Tuesday discounted special is no longer available.

There are many ways you can get coupons to Red Lobster!

1) Sign up for our Fresh Alerts by texting “JOIN” to 67766 from the text messaging system on your smartphone or tablet.

2) Join our Fresh Catch Newsletter by scrolling to the bottom of this webpage and entering your email address information:

3) Download our My Red Lobster Rewards app on your smartphone or tablet. More information on this can be found here:

We hope to welcome you to one of our restaurant locations, soon!

I forwarded the information back to that person, whose opinion is that although information on how to secure other forms of discounts is appreciated, none of them seem to be as good — or as formerly reliable — as promotion code tuesday

…and that information may or may not be perceived as deflecting from the original point of the message: the elimination of the promotion code with no warning or advance notice.

On a smaller scale, I recently dined at a restaurant and ordered a meal with which dessert was included — but my preferred choice of dessert was suddenly no longer an option unless I purchased it separately. This is an insignificant issue on the grand scale of things in general; but it is still mildly annoying.

Mandatory gratuities and required service charges are another form of obfuscation of information, as their amounts are not included in the advertised prices of services.

Summary

I remember a time not too long ago when if a customer had no knowledge that an offer was no longer valid or something had changed unexpectedly, the customer would still at least be granted an exemption and be given what he or she originally sought — along with a heartfelt apology — while simultaneously being informed of the change or changes for the future.

The business practice of obfuscation of information is mildly deceptive at worst. “An educated consumer is our best customer” was the slogan cited by Sy Syms, who was the founder of a chain of discounted clothing stores called Syms Corporation, which was based in the greater New York metropolitan area. Customers deserve to be given information which is important in their decisions pertaining to whether or not to patronize a company. Few things are more irritating than being ready to execute a purchase of a product or service — only to find that obfuscated information about which you did not know would have affected your decision had you known about it beforehand…

…and that leads to issues of trust for the company in question who is perceived to engage in the practice of obfuscation of information from its customers — but I suppose that trust has unfortunately been deteriorating in importance as a factor in whether or not a consumer should conduct business with a company.

Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “Is Obfuscation of Information the Way to Conduct Business These Days?”

  1. Christian says:

    Ah, Syms. I got my first suit there. A well run outfit.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I see what you did there, Christian. Excellent.

  2. Jacob says:

    Excellent article Brian. It amazes me how many people working at various companies have no conscience whatsoever and use their creative talents to figure out ways to dupe and short change their customers/potential customers. They are not as bad as outright thieves, but they are a close relative to thieves. It seems like some people seriously enjoy shortchanging/hurting others when they have an opportunity to do so.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Even worse, Jacob: many of the people seem to be nice enough individually; but as part of the company itself, their personalities seem to change significantly…

  3. DaninMCI says:

    As much as we hate travel companies doing away with award charts it “could” be genius. They take the PR hit once from folks like us but then after that, they can tweak it every day with fewer people pointing out the trends.
    I think it will backfire as they are taking away the “dream trip” factor. It used to be I’d sit on the airplane with no wifi and forced to read the airline magazine since I’d already seen the doppelganger of my boss with the giant blow up airplane sleeping pillow deal in SkyMall enough.
    The airline magazine was a travel dream. They had fancy maps with millions of routes (even if they only had their own metal on some of these). It also had pictures of the planes and stats on the fleet and sometimes award travel information and award charts. You dreamed of saving up those 60,000 US Air miles to fly in angled flat luxury to Europe across the sky like royalty. You knew that your boring domestic flight from Wichita was earning you 600 miles toward your goal. Arriving at your destination you are excited that you flew with US Air that day because it got you 1% closer to your travel “dream trip”. Your spouse will fall to your feet and forgive you of all that business travel as they call their parents to take care of the kids because “we’re going to Europe” (in February). All my friends on MySpace will be so jealous.
    I know I hope US Air buys out American Airlines. Think of all those extra planes, extra award inventory and routes into Europe I can take advantage of with my stash of travel gold. Gosh, I think I love US Air it is certainly the best in the world, why would I fly anyone else, look at those fools on Southwest. They will never fly anywhere like “MY” airline does. I can’t wait to log into AOL when I get home to see all the routes with award seats just waiting for me. Wait maybe I should check in over at Mommy Points and see if Summer is talking about the next “Grand Slam” promotion. Everything is Awesome (Lego Pun Intended).

  4. AlohaDaveKennedy says:

    “If you can’t convince them, confuse them” as Harry S. Truman would say. Give ‘Em Hell Harry might have had a stellar career in the travel industry if President Roosevelt hadn’t died in office.

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