Over the past few weeks, I have been hearing many points of view and articles regarding Jews taking advantage of a Jewish company's mistake in the EL AL price glitch ordeal earlier this month. I agree, that ethically or morally, this is a gray area considering that the tickets will surely cause the airline to lose money, and they would never knowingly offer tickets at that price. On the other hand, the airline decided to honor the tickets, as well as offer ticket holders an option to upgrade to direct flights on EL AL. On top of that, as a company, EL AL is receiving, in my estimate, millions of dollars of free publicity.
In the end, this still leaves us with a moral and halachic gray area.
Now, I am no halachic (rabbinical) authority, but I've been reading a few rabbinical opinions on the matter, which I'll share here.
- Rabbi Eliyahu Fink (@efink) (Pacific Jewish Center): My Opinion: Don’t Use Your Uber-Cheap El Al Tickets
Here's a snippet from Rav Fink's article:
I don’t believe in “finders keepers”. I believe in doing the right thing. I think the right thing to do here is for El Al to honor the tickets. It was their mistake. But people who got the tickets should ask El Al for their money back. If El Al is feeling generous, it might the nice if they would offer some incentive for not using the tickets, like elite status or free upgrades, or something like that.
Think about the Kiddush Hashem that would be created if we all agreed not to use the tickets. That has to be worth at least as much as a trip to Israel.
- Rav Chaim Kohn (Dean Business Halacha Institute): Is It Permitted to Use A Mispriced El Al Ticket?
(The following excerpt is from the weekly emails sent by BusinessHalacha.com.)
(Listen to a shiur on this topic on their site: THE EL AL PRICING ERROR. While the halachic authority giving this audio shiur does state that there is no halachic issue (in accordance with the position below) he did mention that publicizing the "deal" which I was guilty of, was problematic, since I was knowingly publicizing a price where I knew the seller would lose money on the sale. This is something that I will need to be aware of should similar siutations arise in the future.)
Had such a glitch occurred in any unregulated industry, it would be a classic case of Onaa'h and Mekach Ta'us. Besides for the fact that the quoted price does not reflect the correct market value of the merchandise, it is also clear that the seller never intended to sell for this price and the merchant could render the sale null and void. On the other hand, if the merchant wishes to honor the sale, he may obviously do so. As such, in the case of a sale where the merchant will find out his error before the execution of the sale and the buyer took advantage of the mistake hoping that the merchant would honor the sale – although he is not obligated to – he may halachically do so, since his action has no legal bearing on the merchant.
Similarly, had El Al decided to honor the sale for charitable or public-relations motives, the whole matter would be a non-issue. However, the airline industry is tightly regulated in all areas of operation, including sales. It is for this reason that El Al didn't have much of an option and did not revoke the sales. This raises the question from a halachic perspective. If the validation of the sale is forced upon the airline by the authorities, the above arguments do not apply and the sale would seem to be halachically void.
However, the sale is in fact halachically valid. The airline has agreed to operate all areas of its business in accordance with the regulations set by the authorities, including the conditions regulating sales and sale prices. As such, the sale is halachically valid.
Even if the sale is valid, was it incorrect to purchase a ticket that forced the airline to honor the sale? In reality, as explained earlier, the issue in question is not about a forced regulation but the result of a voluntary acceptance to do business in accordance with those regulations. As such, there was no halachic prohibition against taking advantage of this glitch and purchasing tickets for a cheaper price.
We're interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Feel free to comment below.