The mistake is the most recent in a series of web site pricing errors that includes Argos, Kodak and, most recently, Amazon.co.uk.
Thai Airways sent an immediate acknowledgement to those who tried to book the bargain seats. This is standard practice for web sites. But it's also inevitable that, on occasion, pricing errors will occur. The risk for web sites is that they may become legally bound to fulfil orders placed. To avoid this risk, there are three things that an e-tailer must get right.
First, the wording of the conditions of sale must make clear that the point at which a contract is formed with the customer is not the point at which the automated acknowledgement is received. These conditions should state that when an order is placed, the customer is making an offer and that if accepted it will result in a binding contract. (See the article "How to protect your site against pricing errors", linked below)
Second, the conditions of sale must be properly incorporated in the on-line sales process. They are not binding if the customer could not be expected to find them. (See the Netscape stories in the links below)
Third, the wording of the acknowledgement must reflect the conditions of sale – making it clear that the acknowledgement is not to be interpreted as acceptance of the customer's offer. (See the Amazon.co.uk stories in the links below)
According to Silcon.com, users of ThaiAir.com did receive an automated acknowledgement for their bookings. But the wording – which is crucial in determining whether a contract exists – is not revealed.
A brief study of ThaiAir.com suggests that on-line sales are in fact only possible on certain routes, not including London to Bangkok. For routes from London, the conditions on the site suggest that only reservations can be made and that "Booking on THAI Flight Reservations is subject to issuance of ticket".
Those who made bookings apparently received a subsequent e-mail:
"On 23rd April 2003, the prices shown on Thai Airways International's website for flights on the London to Bangkok route contained an error... Although you have sought to make a booking, I regret to inform you that the nature of this unfortunate but obvious mistake was such that Thai Airways International is unable to issue you with tickets."
Unless the wording of the acknowledgement contradicts the wording of the conditions of sale, or the conditions of sale were not flagged-up to users of the site, it is likely that Thai Airways is justified in its refusal to honour bookings.