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EL AL Price Glitch: Jewish Ethics & Halachic Perspectives

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.

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. 

About the author

Dani Klein

Dani Klein is the founder of YeahThatsKosher, is passionate about global travel, good kosher food / restaurants, social media & the web, technology, digital marketing, and spending time with his friends & family.

Dani has an MBA in Marketing and works in the Social Media Marketing field for a large media agency.

  • the irony is that if we
    weren’t talking about ElAl I might agree. but elal is known for
    ridiculously overbooking flights. if you don’t show up at least 3 hours
    before your flight during a peak season you might not get on it. there w
    ill
    be no refund of your ticket or voucher or refund of any accommodations
    for your trip. you’re just sh*t out of luck and they don’t care because
    it’s their business model. quite frankly i think their business
    practices don’t justify my caring about their bottom line because they
    don’t extend the same courtesy to me.

    • Lisa

      I didn’t get the cheaper tickets, so in all honesty I can’t say how I would react, although my gut instinct is that I would not take advantage of someone else’s mistake. That said, I object to your notion that, and I am paraphrasing your words here, “because they don’t do right by me, why should I do right by them”. Well since when has that been EITHER a halachic stance (in fact that attitude is a clear cut lav m’deoriasa does the the word nekama ring a bell), or an ethical/moral stance?! I spend my children’s entire childhood reinforcing the idea that WE must do the right thing regardless of what others do, or do to us.

      • being right and being nice are not the same thing. certainly not acc’ to the Torah (some examples include: amalek, eye for an eye, forcing a rapist to marry a victim)
        Yes we must strive to be good people but we need not be taken advantage of. This means I avoid flying ElAl because of how they treat their customers. I was not aware of this sale at the time, yet had I been I would have bought tickets and would not have felt bad. The low price would be the only motivator to fly the airline.
        For those who did score tickets, the mistake was not theirs, they did not misrepresent themselves in the process of the purchase. The company (or a third party) erred. That’s something that they need to deal with internally. To the public, they should take the opportunity to bask in the potential for positive PR (which I believe they fumbled with all their back and forth) because it’s something they don’t get too often.
        The same thing happens in grocery stores all the time, if an item is mislabeled or a circular is misprinted stores honor the misprint and people take the opportunity to stock up. The store eats the loss and reaps rewards in a loyal customer base due to the fact that they stand by their word.

        • Orly, the only thing I’d disagree with you on here is that although they did temporarily flounder with their hemming and hawing whether or not they would honor the deal, when they did come out and honor the deal, the fact that they came out with an additional option to upgrade the tickets to a direct flight was something unexpected, and welcomed, thus turning this into a very positive PR story. Furthermore, many people called in to cancel their tickets (because they didnt want to “take advantage”) but was assured by EL AL customer service that they wanted them to fly, even with the discount.

          Also, because of this “upgrade” option, they may actually turn it around and make a profit.

      • I would also disagree. We are not Christians.
        The halacha mandates harsh punishments and vengeance. This is what keeps the
        immoral from prospering. I say we have a halachic/ ethical obligation to take
        advantage of E/lAl in response to their notorious abuses of their captive
        customer base. We are the relative of the manslaughtered who must strike fear
        into the heart of the perp forcing him to upend his life and seek refuge. Only
        when everybody decides not to turn the other cheek will we live a “good” society.

        • Wow. Someone got burned by ElAl. Whoa.

        • Lisa

          Clearly you do not understand the biblical concept of Nekama! I never espoused the clearly Christian concept of “turning the other cheek” nor do I endorse it AT ALL. That, however, is not the applicable halacha here. No one forces anyone to use EL AL (whom I DO support) It is a free market and you are free to fly any airline you choose!!! There are other airlines that fly to Isreal!! El Al happens to be the safest! Your analogy to a neherag b’shogeg and ir miklat to this situation shows your unfortunate ignorance of biblical law. This is certainly not a case of manslaughter, it is a business venture, governed by an entirely different and unrelated set of laws!

  • As i have said elsewhere on the topic. People who claim it is wrong to take advantage of the mistakes of others dont actually mean it. they only mean it sometimes. in an adversarial setting they would never say it. athletes exploit their opponents weakness all the time. lawyers do the same. is negotiation ever allowed? clearly it is.

    i believe (and you are more than entitled to disagree with me here – as well as pretty much anywhere) that retailers and consumers are engaged in an adversarial relationship today. that was the not the case years ago, but sadly, it is today.

    as a result, taking advantage of an opening here is fine from an ethical standpoint.

    if you disagree, then i hope you remain consistent and never speed, never park in a metered space without paying, never fight a ticket that you deserved, etc…

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