After initially saying El Al would honor bargain-basement fares purchased online through an error on Monday, a spokeswoman Tuesday did an about-face and said the airline was looking into the matter.
"It's unclear," said Sheryl Stein. "We'll know more tomorrow."
The cheap fares, initially seen as a promotion, led thousands of hopeful travelers to sites such as Orbitz and Expedia after a tip from the bargain-hunter site Dan's Deals.
Bethany Mandel and her husband, Seth, of Washington Heights had planned on a vacation in February but never dreamed it could be to Israel.
“We couldn’t afford it,” Mandel, 26, said. “I have enough miles [airline loyalty points] for a domestic flight, but not enough to fly overseas.”
But while working Monday as the social media manager for Commentary Magazine, Mandel said the bargain-hunter site Dan’s Deals tweeted a link about a sale at El Al. She said she didn’t find the sale at Orbitz but found it at Expedia. After conferring with her husband, an editor at Commentary, she booked two nine-day round-trip tickets in February at a total cost of $700.
Mandel said she then contacted a friend who is planning to be married in Israel later this year and that she booked flights for her wedding party. On Twitter, Dr. Mike Cohen, who lives in Israel, said he paid $186 plus tax for flights to the United States in November and January.
Sheryl Stein said Monday that it was a third-party mistake and that all of the tickets will be honored. “When any airline files fares, they get filed to an outside company who posts the fares,” she said. “We filed our fares, and the outside company neglected to add in the fuel surcharges. The mistake was theirs, not ours.”
Mandel said via Twitter that when she called an El Al representative, she was told the flight would be honored. “The agent said ‘oh wow…’ when she saw what we paid.”
The incident sparked a debate on Jewish ethics with some saying it is not permissible to benefit from a company’s error. Commenters on the VIN site story cited the Talmudic concept of Mekach Taut, or deriving a benefit from a contract with a flawed understanding by one of the parties, which the sages prohibited.
On his Facebook page Meir Weingarten, president of Ariel Tours, noted that “Hillel taught the convert 'do unto others what you want others to do unto you.' Think about your own life. If you made a costly error how would you like others to act? Are we acting in the same way?”